The pot that brews in different ways


He grew up a proper African boy: running errands to the posho mill, and doing house chores that included kuwasha jiko. Together with neighbourhood boys, they creatively came up with games that sometimes led to his missing lunch because they were too busy playing in the river.

He had never heard of Strathmore until his mother mentioned it as an alternative university where he could pursue actuarial science. He had his eyes set on joining a public university through the government sponsored programme but his KCSE grade, an A-, was a little less than what was required.

Nairobi, he says, was a whole different ballgame. He had none of the things that made his childhood, and at the beginning, he struggled finding his footing. He saw the stark difference between the life he had lived and that which his classmates had experienced. He was confronted by classmates who ate, breathed and sighed in English while for him, Kiswahili came to his tongue faster.

“My first semester was full of funny stories of me handling culture shock. It took some time to adjust to the environment and find my footing, well… and myself. I think I spent that first semester being in awe of the facilities and listening to people, just to hear them speak in what I thought then was the highest level of English my ears had ever gotten the pleasure of hearing.”

His SU journey began in 2012. He came armed with his love for math and business, and with little to no knowledge of what it takes to be an Actuary.  But since then, he has completed 12 out of 13 papers needed to become an Actuary. He is due to sit for the last paper in April 2023- an achievement that typically takes seven to 10 years!

By the time he graduated with his first degree in 2016, he had a solid footing, one that propelled him beyond the borders. Brian Migiro is now a consultant with Mercer Group in the UK, home of the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries. He holds two masters’ degrees; one from the University of Kent (Applied Actuarial Science), and the other from the University of Leicester (Actuarial Science and Data Analytics).

His journey to success has taught him to fit into any culture, handle failure and deep disappointments that dampen hope. He narrates his story.

Are there times in your journey when you’ve been close to giving up?

Multiple times. If there’s one thing that has made me humble in my life, it’s sitting for these papers.

I’ve failed a few papers, one three times, another two, and the other, once. Failing a paper three times is no joke. And this is, for instance, after clocking 700 hours in the library, from 8 am to 8 pm, daily, for three consecutive months! It was an unpleasant knock on my confidence. It gets to a point where you think: I thought I knew my stuff. I thought I’m intelligent…but some of these things are just not getting in!

How do you get up after falling repeatedly? Isn’t it easier to just remain on the ground?  

I took a break for, I think, about a year in which I didn’t sit for any paper. That gave me a chance to recover from the two-year period where I’d sacrificed so much without always seeing returns. I had to battle doubts and disillusionments. Taking a step back helped me understand that there are other things that matter in life and gave me courage to convince myself that it’ll work if I gave it another shot.

Also, that point in time is when you need other people to help you realize that you matter. It’s important to speak about what the failure has done to you. If you keep it to yourself, you end up dying little by little on the inside, crushed under the weight.

For me, family was my cornerstone. My parents knew when I was sitting for the exam and would ask me: Hey, have you passed? And I’d say, no.  Pleasantly, they’d follow up this question with more; How are you feeling? Are you okay? Of course I’d try to hide the emotions but moms always know!

How was the 2nd master’s experience?

I still had the desire to gain that experience so I went back to the UK for my second master’s degree in September 2020. Unfortunately, during that year, I lost my dad due to the pandemic. I came back to Kenya for his burial, returned to the UK and did everything I could to finish on time. I was offered more financial aid from the University, so I didn’t need to worry about upkeep. I didn’t know that grief has some way of making you work harder. It made me focus. It was one of the hardest times in my life, but I ended up graduating with a distinction.

How has the job search been?

I started applying for jobs as soon as I began studying. I applied for hundreds of them, even those that I didn’t think I was qualified for. It was a harrowing experience, going for interviews and not getting any offer. But the good thing is, I knew I was getting noticed. I attended one last interview after which I was determined not to apply for any other. I began having conversations with my parents, preparing them for the eventuality that I’d have to come back as soon as I graduated… But, as fate would have it, I aced that last interview and got my first job!

Funny thing is, I didn’t apply for the job I have now. I applied for a different position, which I wasn’t qualified for, in the same company. During the interview, they let me know I was a better fit for my current position. I am loving every passing moment I have, doing what I love. That’s it for now. Maybe we’ll meet at a season two of my experiences… stay curious, stay tuned.


This article was written by Wambui Gachari. 

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