Jayhawks Around the World – Jennifer Foster (Kenya)

Mount Longonot
Jennifer Foster took this picture from the top of Mount Longonot, an inactive volcano in Kenya.

Where are you now? How long have you been there?

I am living in Nairobi, Kenya, and I have been here for one year.

Where else have you lived?
This is actually my first time living abroad, so every other place I’ve lived has been in the US.

KU degrees?
B.A. (2003), M.A. (2010) in religious studies

Jennifer Foster
Jennifer Foster has lived in Nairobi, Kenya, since summer of 2012.

What’s your job title and the name of your company or organization?
My title is Family Reunification Specialist.  I work for the Resettlement Support Center Africa (RSC Africa), which functions under a cooperative agreement between CWS and the US Department of State to operate the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) in sub-Saharan Africa.  CWS is a faith-based cooperative effort of 27 member communions in the United States that works with partners to eradicate hunger and poverty and to promote peace and justice around the world.  As part of the USRAP, RSC Africa has operated out of Nairobi, Kenya since 1991 and has since helped to resettle over 200,000 refugees to the United States.

What do you do?
I am working on restarting the Family Reunification Program for refugee resettlement in the US, and I handle pipeline oversight for Visa cases that are refugee-specific. Essentially, the Family Reunification Program allows refugees and asylees who have been resettled or granted asylum in the US to apply for immediate family members to join them.

What do you enjoy most about your job?
So far, I have really enjoyed travelling throughout Sub-Saharan Africa to see applicants and new locations. I’ve been in a few refugee camps now, and also to urban locations such as Addis Ababa, Kampala, and Kigali. The complexities of family reunification are incredibly challenging on a number of fronts, but it is a perfect position for me because of this.

Kakuma refugee camp
Jennifer interviews applicants to the Kakuma Refugee Camp where she works in this restaurant at the camp.

What do you enjoy most about where you live?
The weather and landscape, both in Nairobi and outside of the city. Nairobi weather has to be some of the best on the planet! We are near the equator, so I was expecting it to be terribly hot. However, due to the elevation of the city, it actually gets a bit chilly at nighttime! The days are sunny and beautiful, and it never gets too hot or too cold here. We have rainy seasons with lots of storms, which, even though they make life challenging, are incredible to watch.

What are the biggest differences between where you live now and living in Lawrence, Kansas?
The biggest difference between Nairobi and Lawrence for me has to be everyday security concerns and the lack of freedom of movement. Nairobi is a very high crime city, and you have to be constantly aware of your surroundings. Walking after dark is an absolute no-no, and you have to take taxis everywhere, even if it would normally take you five minutes to walk. Petty banditry is also big, so you cannot talk on your cell phone when walking in public, or even in the back of a taxi with the windows down or you risk someone snatching the phone out of your hand!

How has your degree from the KU College of Liberal Arts and Sciences helped you?
I have oftentimes argued that my CLAS education has prepared me much better for this work than more traditional choices for an international career. In CLAS, you learn to appreciate a variety of human experiences from multiple perspectives; historical, anthropological, through literature, and even religious. As a student of Religious Studies, I learned to accept that human experience is not always logical, but understanding can still be sought out in different ways. This has helped me tremendously when working with refugees, who have suffered through some of the worst atrocities you can imagine but are not always able to articulate what has happened to them in a way that is easy to understand. Knowing, for example, that expressions of time are not always linear in every culture, has helped me develop unique skills during interviews with refugee applicants.

Lake Naivasha
Among the features Jennifer says she has enjoyed most living in Kenya are the weather and landscapes. This is Lake Naivasha, part of the Great Rift Valley that runs north to south in Kenya.

If you had to choose, what is your favorite place in the world?
Favorite place in the world? So far, it is a tie between the Rift Valley in Kenya and the rolling hills in Rwanda. But, I have a lot of countries I will be visiting in the next year, so I am looking forward to some new favorites!

Tell us about a favorite KU memory.
My favorite KU memory has to be study sessions that went into the wee hours of the morning with two of my good friends. We were taking a course that was particularly challenging in the Religious Studies department, but we all loved the professor and the work. One night, we were sitting in my apartment on the floor, eating grapes, and discussing varying perspectives of God’s role in the world for an exam. I’ll never forget the conversation, or the company.