'The world isn’t as big as the physical distance that separates us’: GPE student reflects on experience in Kenya

Author: Cassidy Mullen

Img 1596 2

Cassidy Mullen is junior at the University of Notre Dame, studying science pre-professional studies and minoring in compassionate care in medicine. At Notre Dame, she participates in research as an undergraduate in biology, plays on the Lacrosse club team, and is a member of the AMWA club. Mullen spent the summer of 2022 abroad in Kenya through Notre Dame’s Global Professional Experience Program (GPE). She worked at the Brother Andre Hospital in Dandora, supporting a project aimed at assessing the turnaround time for outpatient clinics as a way to process improvement for hospital operations. She writes about the experience and the importance of building strong relationships while abroad.

The first line of a journal entry I wrote before boarding a plane home at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport reads: Never in my life did I think I would love Kenya so much. I had only been to eastern Africa once before and I loved my previous experience, but I had very few expectations for the seven weeks that lay ahead of me when I applied to Notre Dame’s Global Professional Experience program.

For clarification, I had no bad expectations, just a lack thereof. I knew that studying aboard would come with some discomfort and a new level of responsibility that I never worried about while traveling with my family when I was younger. Truthfully, during my first two weeks in Kenya, I faced high levels of discomfort. I was “adulting” for the first time in a city that was completely different from the New York suburbs that I grew up in. It challenged my ability to grow with independence in situations of uncertainty and discomfort.

“Adulting” in Kenya consisted of chaotic walks on the way to grocery stores and learning how to wash my laundry by hand in a bucket (no, you don’t scrunch the laundry around as if you were a washing machine). It consisted of learning how to use new payment apps linked to a new sim card and learning to answer an uber driver’s call with, “Mambo, uko wapi?” (This is Swahili for “hi, where are you?”) On the street, my appearance drew particular attention that made me very nervous when I first arrived, but I soon realized the attention was harmless and part of the dynamic of the city.

As the weeks passed, once daunting tasks became a comfortable part of my weekly routine. Still, when my program facilitator suggested the possibility of making friends, I laughed and thought “how?” I wanted nothing more but had no idea where to begin.

What makes Nairobi a truly amazing city in my heart are the people I was able to meet. I made friends with individuals in my hostel and in my workplace that are adventurous, wise, and hardworking, and all it took was a little bit of courage to say hi to friendly faces. My friend Doreen loves music and Grey's Anatomy and always sees the good in everyone she meets. My friend Tamanda is incredibly compassionate yet strong and selfless and faithful. My friend Renee is funny and spunky and a fearless defender. My new friends were raised in households, communities, and countries that are very different from my own yet we shared many values. It makes me feel that the world isn’t as big as the physical distance that separates us.

The day I left Nairobi, I wrote in my journal: The people I have met here are amazing beyond imagination. I’m not sure I would have taken the initiative to build the relationships if I had not chosen to travel to a city without the comfort of my friends or classmates. My best advice would be to embrace uncertainty and approach difficult situations with tenacity because discomfort is the richest soil for self-growth.

Learn more about the GPE Program.