Global Conversations: Pauline Gitau

By Joann Li

Stitching a Kenyan identity onto an orange world.

This is part of an ongoing series of stories for International Education Week 2017.

Photo by  Hanna Benavides .

Photo by Hanna Benavides.

When home is 7,422 miles away, you learn to grow up on your own. That’s the case for Kenyan-born Pauline Gitau, who has transformed the Syracuse University campus into her own little nook.

“I believe with the people here and the people back in my place, as much as we’re human beings, there are many differences in terms of culture,” she says.

In the past year, Pauline has avidly involved herself in many on and off-campus activities. Through these experiences, she has not only gained a better understanding of what culture is, but also a solid job at Syracuse University’s Slutzker Center for International Services.

“I’m no longer working at the front desk. Now, I’m helping with archiving all these things that are from the 1940’s,” says Pauline, who worked as a front desk assistant this past summer.

Before traveling halfway around the world, her biggest fear was being alone. This was going to be her first time in the United States. But Pauline mentions that the Annual Retreat for Students of Color helped her find her place.

“I think having grown up in a place that was one kind of people in terms of what they looked like and what they believed, going to this retreat, I met these other people who were diverse,” Pauline says.

The spirited computer science major boasts immense pride for her country. When asked to describe herself in three words, the first word she used was, “Kenyan,” following it up with adventurous and multi-faceted. But despite all this, Pauline says she is still not used to how people here automatically assume her identity.

“I think most of the time people think you’re African-American, because they don’t expect you to be from all of these other places in the world,” she says. “And maybe because the thing is if you’re black, then you’re African-American. That’s the thinking.”

Even though she goes by Pauline with most of her friends, when she wants to make her African origins distinct, she will introduce herself as Gitau.

Almost halfway done with her sophomore year, Pauline says that – moving forward – there are still some challenges to surmount.

“The hardest part is still going to be finding who the person I am and the person I was in Kenya fits in the Orange Community,” she said.

Joann Li is a sophomore studying broadcast and digital journalism and information technology at Syracuse University.