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Law student Olivia Mjomba

Kenian student Olivia: ‘The hunger for knowledge here is inspiring’

Published on 06-12-2022 11:16
It was a ‘dream come true’ for Kenian student Olivia Mjomba (33) when she was accepted for the Master's programme Public International Law at the Amsterdam Law School. Even after almost 10 years of experience as a military lawyer in Kenia she finds herself learning a lot of new things in Amsterdam. ‘It’s making me think, critize and analyse on levels I never thought I would.’
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When Olivia told her mother that her dream was to practice law in the Netherlands, her mom said: ‘If you work for it, you’ll get there’. But they laughed about it because it seemed unachievable. Until she was invited for the Master’s programme at the UvA by the Dutch Ministry of Defense. Her results from a course in Uganda had stood out. Being in Amsterdam made Olivia realize you don’t have to give up on things. ‘Dreams do happen’, she says.

Olivia is a prosecutor and a defence attorney for the Ministry of Defense in Kenia. ‘But I wanted exposure to a different environment and perspectives on the law. Plus my middle name, Msafiri, literally means “traveller” so I wanted to travel in pursuit of this ambition.’

‘The delivery is better here’

There are many differences between the education Olivia got in Kenia and here in Amsterdam. But the biggest difference is the delivery: ‘It’s better here.’ In her undergrad she had mainly lectures in class. ‘Here we also have tutorials, smaller working groups, take away assignments and even a take home exam. In Kenia we had to sit at all the exams and smaller working groups were unsupervised.’ The delivery here helps Olivia. ‘In a class with a lot of people you may not want to speak up but in a smaller more interactive group you can ask all your questions. You also have the opportunity to get to know other students and to walk outside with them in between classes.’

It’s making me think, critize and analyse on levels I never thought I would
Olivia MjombaMaster's student Public International Law

The Master’s programme itself exceeds Olivia’s expectations. ‘I feel you really need to commit yourself to do this Master’s.’ Olivia says reading books is not enough, you need to think outside the box. You need to do your research and indulge other people; pick their brains and also interview people. ‘It’s inspiring how hungry for knowledge people are here. It’s making me think, critize and analyse on levels I never thought I would.’ Olivia is hoping to do well in this Master’s programme for her sponsors. Back home they say ‘Kurudisha mkono’, which means something like you need to return a favor when you are given an opportunity.

At home in Amsterdam

Olivia lives in the naval area. She feels at home in Amsterdam. ‘The majority of the people in Amsterdam I’ve spoken to are from all over the world, even from countries I never heard of. I love it.’ It’s easy to integrate and Olivia feels that the city is welcoming. Next to her Master’s she spends time with friends and she has meet ups with other students. She also found a Kenian community in the Netherlands which hosts events such as a fashion shows on select Kenyan Public Holidays. And on 7 December, a national Holiday in Kenia, Olivia even got invited to the Kenian Ambassy.

‘I’m looking to do the small things that make a difference in people’s life’

Olivia is looking forward to go back home and to apply in her work what’s she learned here. Her plans for the future are still open.

Next year, she’ll be working as a military lawyer for 10 years. She sees this programme as a stepping stone for her next step. Does she want to work in the Netherlands? Maybe, if it’s something along where she wants to go in the future. But she says: ‘I’m striving to do the small things that make a difference in people’s life. I don’t have ambitions to become Kofi Annan. But if it happens, I’ll do it’, she says laughing. ‘Who knows.’