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Diplomacy explored: MDIS students explore opportunities in Europe

Mussels: The food that landed at our table instead of tomato sauce…. language barrier was real!


Academic trips are an integral part of the curriculum at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences and they are meant to expose students to various aspects of their academic studies. This year, students enrolled in the Master of Arts in Diplomacy Intelligence and Security (MDIS) programme had a chance to visit two European countries; namely France and Italy.

The trip, which lasted for six days and five nights – from 15th to 22nd April 2022, was themed: “diplomacy explored”. In France, they visited various academic and historical sites in Paris, while in Italy, they visited various places in Rome. The main objective of the academic trip was to expose the students to the three fields of their study namely: Diplomacy, Intelligence and Security and explore various ways in which they can enhance their knowledge through experience from these countries. Coupled with various lectures from experts at Sciences Po University in France and the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Italy, the students had a lot to learn which in their own words “expounded their world view concerning matters of security & intelligence, as well as diplomacy”.

The places visited included: Sciences Po University for lectures and guided tour of the institution, historical sites such as the Eifel tower, Cathedral Notre-dame and the Kenyan Embassy in France. In Italy, the students visited the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross for lectures and a tour to the famous St. Peter’s Basilica, the Kenyan Embassy, various historical sites such as the colosseum, among others. In all these places, the students were expected to be observant, inquisitive and get information which would assist them in connecting with knowledge learnt in class. These they did quite well as all their lecturers were amazed at the students’ feedback afterwards. Photos were taken, video recordings of the sessions as well as reports of the visit were written. The students had a chance of interacting with various aspects of diplomacy and security. Over and above that, the whole organization of the transport system in the two cities was amazing and this helped all of us to reflect on various recommendations that would be key to our own country, aside from the academic ones. Map reading and connecting trains to various destinations was one of the highlights of the trip!

Adventures with language barrier

Our first lecture was to take place at Sciences Po University, which required us to connect two metro trains to get there. It was a 35 minutes’ train ride, or  25 minutes if we took a taxis or a bus, although a costlier option. So, we had to do quick math and decided to pick the train. We bought metro tickets and were ready! But how were we going to connect the trains? Thanks to Maureen and Jared (two of our students), we quickly learned how to read the maps and connect the metros, and in exactly 40 minutes, we alighted. However, after alighting, we needed to walk to the university. We were faced with yet another challenge when we tried to ask for directions, language barrier! We were given directions in French, which we did not quite understand. So we walked, and walked, and walked, for almost one hour…! Finally, we got our way into the university and eventually into room 26. Thank God!

But alas, we had arrived one hour earlier! What we had forgotten, having been accustomed to East African time, was that Paris is an hour behind what we were accustomed to in Nairobi Kenya. So, as we rushed through the streets looking for the university, we were actually an hour earlier. However, this worked to our advantage as we had time to cool off before the lecture. After a few minutes, our host, Alice, arrived and welcomed us to Paris and specifically to the university.

Day three escapades

The day started quite early as the lecture was to start at 0930hours. Lucky enough, it at the same university and in the same room as the previous day. This was easy as all we needed to do is follow the previous day’s directions. We were there right on time! Alice, our host, was in the class waiting for us and once we arrived, she quickly signaled the lecturer to come in. Prof. Christian Lequesne gave a lecture on “Diplomacy Practices in the World”.

The third day ended so well with the group traversing Paris town and finally landing at a restaurant that offers food from different countries. We were given a menu which was fully written in French. The waiters too spoke only French. One of us asked for “tomato sauce” to accompany the potato fries he had ordered but what came was “mussels”, we all laughed so heartily that the waiter decided to take it away without charging us…sigh!

Day Four

Day four started quite early with breakfast at the Generator hotel. It was the final day of our visit in Paris and we needed to accomplish two key things: Tour Paris and pay a courtesy call to the Kenyan Embassy in France. Being late meant only viewing very few historical sites. So, tickets for the tour bus and the cruise ship were procured the previous day and all we needed to do was assemble and move to the bus station where the tour began at 9am. However, we did not know that we needed to have printed our tickets and thus delayed by an hour and half. 10.30am we were ready and our tour began. We felt so nice as were on this big bus with an open roof and we could view the town, take photos, videos and selfies. We visited the biggest historical sites in Paris, including: Eiffel tower, Louvre Museum and Notre-Dame cathedral, among others. The set-back was the car traffic we experienced. Since the ticket was for 24hours ride, and our appointment at the Kenyan Embassy was fast approaching, we dropped off the bus at 11.45am and took a train to the place.

We were warmly received by our fellow Kenyans at the embassy. Her excellency Ambassador Judy Wakhungu graciously accepted to talk to us for a few minutes. She explained to us what the mission does and one of the highlights is that, its during her tenure that the French president, Mr. Macron paid a visit to Kenya. This is quite key as he was the first French president to visit Kenya in history of Kenya’s relations with France. She also explained many other remarkable economic agreements that have been made between Kenya and France. We appreciated having missions abroad, as they work as good will and maintain good relations between countries. We also learnt that government officials working on missions abroad are sent out for a fixed term of four years which cannot be renewed until one reports back to the country and serves for a year or two before they can be sent back to the mission. This was quite interesting, and the question that lingered in our heads was, what happens to young families? A policy recommendation loading…

After the courtesy call, we went to the Eiffel tower, which is a few kilometers from the embassy, and we were given a brief history about the tower and why it was built. After that we went for a cruise ship which helped us get more history about Paris and its monuments. The tour guide was quite knowledgeable and explained all the facts about the river we were cruising on and the various monuments. The cruise, which was quite refreshing, took exactly one hour.

An early start

This day started at 3am as we had to catch a flight from Orly Airport in Paris to Rome in Italy. Everyone was at the airport right on time for the flight. We landed at Leonardo da Vinci International airport at 8am and went straight to our hotel at Mater ecclesiae in Monte del Gallo. It was a one-hour ride and we enjoyed the scenery. Rome is beautiful with a lot of green spaces. We arrived at the hotel before our check-in time but the sisters were gracious enough to allow us to keep our luggage. Something very funny transpired while we were negotiating an early check in. We greatly struggled to communicate in Italian, a totally new language to all of us. So in the middle of the struggle to explain ourselves, someone mentioned something in Kiswahili, and guess what? one of the sisters in the hotel responded in Swahili! Alas! A eureka moment right there! we have gotten a breakthrough.

The sister hailed from Congo Brazzaville and she could understand and speak some Swahili, although it was broken. This made our day, and going forward, we all switched to Swahili. Her first statement to us was so precious but funny. She said… “nendeni mu zunguluke kidogo, maana sisi bado naosha chumba chenu”, which in Kiswahili is “nendeni mzunguke kidogo kama bado tunaosha vyumba vyenu”…translated in English as, “please go and take a stretch as we prepare your rooms”. We all burst into laughter as at least we could communicate.

In the afternoon, we went for a guided tour at St. Peter’s Basilica by Fr. John Wauck. He is so experienced in what he does that in two hours, we all learnt a great deal about this sacred historical place. Details about how it was built and all the artwork inside the Basilica was explained vividly. What a blessed place it was! The place is parked with people from all over the world who have come for one kind of pilgrimage or other. It was a blessing to be there. After the tour, we all needed some rest. What a day!

Final day

The last day was another busy day for us as we had two lectures to attend and a courtesy call to the Kenyan embassy in Rome. The day started at 7am when the drivers from the Kenyan embassy knocked at the hotel door asking us to step into the Mercedes Benz vans that were waiting outside to ferry us to the embassy. What an honour! So by 8am, we had arrived and ushered into the board room where the  the deputy ambassador, Connie Maina, welcomed us warmly. All the other staff were also happy to receive us. We had a brief introduction and then Ambassador Maina gave us a brief of what they do. It was quite an interesting morning as we got to experience practically what students learn theoretically in class.

At exactly 9.30 am, we left for the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross where we had two lectures: Vatican Diplomacy” and Ethical dilemmas related to intelligence and national security” delivered by two very experienced lecturers, one them being Fr. Jordi. After the lecture, we were given a brief tour of the university and we learnt that catholic priests and seminarians from all around the world come to study here. After the lectures and the tours, we were hosted to a sumptuous lunch prepared for us. The visit officially came to an end. What remained was a tour to the various historical sites and, most definitely, shopping. The next day was departure back to Nairobi, Kenya and therefore, everyone was at the discretion to decide whether it’s an afternoon of tours or shopping. The day ended well as most people were happy and excited about exploring European corridors!

We landed safely in Nairobi, Kenya at 0610hours. What a trip!



This article was written by DrAnne Maureen Syallow. 



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