Graduate Spotlight: Marrying Math and Business for the love of DRC


A kind smile, gentle mannerisms and a mission to change the state of insurance uptake in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). These are but a few highlights of the international student who, over the last few years, has made Kenya his home as he pursued a degree in Actuarial Science.

Irenee Vunabandi stepped off a flight in 2019 with the intention of enrolling in a course at one of the public universities. Perhaps, luckily for him,  the intakes took  too long yet he was ready to begin. He began looking for alternatives, with the best learning environment being the key goal. His research led him right to the admissions office of Strathmore University during the last week of April. On Monday, he was in class.

Why Actuarial Science, it’s a tough undertaking. 

I’ve always had a strong love for mathematics and business; actuarial science was a good blend of the two. With it, I hope to return to DRC and work to improve the uptake of insurance services in the country.

Is there anything else you love as much as math and business? 

Sure! My faith. Learning. 

Oh, and sports.

When he joined the Actuarial Science course, he was the first ever Congolese student in the program. With little guidance, he found navigating the course as an international student in the first few semesters to be one of his biggest challenges to date. Grasping concepts of math, finance and statistics in a language that is not your own would be daunting to any student. Coupled with the fact that this was his first time living alone, away from home… It was a rough start.

However, Irenee remained undeterred. While learning to adapt to a foreign country and a new language, he undertook the task of being class representative. The job involves being the go-between for the lecturers, students and administrative staff. It’s a communication intensive job, but he found support in his co-representative.

Did you participate in any school activities over the years? 

Yes, and it really helped me settle in and make friends. I joined the choir, played the piano for the University band and even sang alongside the Vice Chancellor as a member of the Strathmore Chorale.

Amazing! Did you feel less homesick, less alone? 

I was able to connect with the Congolese community in Strathmore. I have an uncle living in Kenya, but he’s a priest, so I can’t live with him. Getting to know other international students living here was great. I was even able to help new students navigate this new environment 

The sense of community, however, was cut off with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Right before the start of the semester, Irenee started to experience symptoms of the virus. Even with virtual learning, he was forced to miss the first two weeks of classes as he recuperated. Having to get through it on his own, he says, was quite challenging. Even while talking of the challenges, Irenee’s  gentle smile remained intact.

Bouncing back with a bang, the soon to be actuarial scientist represented the University in an actuarial product development competition and won.

This is a cliche question, but I have to know. What are the biggest lessons you have learned over the 4 years?

Hahaha. It’s a bit of a tough one, but I would have to say two things have really stood out for me in this process. First, hard work AND smart work really pay off. You will get what you’ve earned. Second, choose to be intentional about learning. Set clear goals and always be prepared.

With a focused mindset such as his, Irenee knows his next steps. His plan after graduation is to start his career here in Kenya, to build experience and a consulting toolkit. From there, he intends to leverage the people at grassroot level back home in DRC to start solving real problems. He would rather go solve real problems with the skills he already has than continue with  the learning path to become an actuary, which can take up to eight years with a series of papers.

He hopes that, from his experience as an international student, he can make it easier for everyone who comes after him, hopefully inspiring them through their own stay here at Strathmore.

This article was written by Celia Kinuthia. 

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