Getrude Dadirai Gwenzi
MSc in Social Policy, University College Cork (2015)
Getrude was awarded an Ireland Fellows Programme award in 2014 to undertake a Masters programme in University College Cork. We spoke with Getrude via Zoom about her time in Ireland and her experiences in education and work since then.
I am from Zimbabwe, and I currently live in the capital city. I am a social worker and I'm also a writer. My first degree was a bachelor's in social work which I studied in South Africa. Before I came to Ireland, I was working as a practicing social worker. That involved working with children, mostly in residential care. One of the other jobs that I did was to work in a place of safety for children. So, at that time, I was a residential social worker, but all the experience I had was within child protection.
When I applied to UCC, I wanted to study social policy as my background was social work. The reason behind that was I started having questions about the practical element of it, like the implementation of the policies that I had to work with on the ground as a social worker as I could not understand some of them. That is probably something to do with the mechanisms of policymaking in the South African context, but at that time, there were a lot of gaps in terms of implementation. So as a social worker, I was now frustrated with my job. I started having questions about what actually is protection, how are we protecting the children if their circumstances are not changing? So, when the opportunity for the scholarship for the fellowship came, I knew I wanted to study more.
By the time I had finished the degree, I had other ideas for my future. I discovered my love of research, and I knew I wanted to do more research work. I realised that I am a bit more academic than I thought, and that opened my mind to a lot of possibilities. I started looking at policy related jobs, thinking about what else I could do besides just social work. Being in a diverse classroom, meeting different people, having different professors leading me and guiding me in my research helped me a lot. So, I gained quite a lot, but it totally changed my career path.
I still talk about my time in Ireland. It was very, very interesting. It was a time of growth for me because it was the first time I had been in a foreign country, or far away from home. I remember the group that I was in with the other international students, the tiny community that we had. I have very fond memories of my time in Ireland. I found my love of research and studying, I did not have any difficulties with my course, I really enjoyed it. I really have fond memories of my time in Ireland from the contacts that I made, the friends that I met, my whole experience was quite positive. We were very well looked after as well. I had accommodation, I had everything that I needed. So, it was an enjoyable time.
I was based in the city of Cork, which had a small number of African people so our population was quite small, meaning we would stand out on the street and sometimes people stare at you. You feel a bit different. That is something I was not prepared for. But it wasn't in an uncomfortable way, Irish people are very friendly, very warm. I never had any bad experiences, but it was strange to stand out, it was my first time being in a place where I am the minority. It was quite a learning moment, just learning to adapt to a new environment. It's a beautiful, beautiful country. I really enjoyed traveling in Ireland.
When I left Ireland, I came back home to my country of birth, and I decided to study further. So, I went and did my PhD. I was fortunate to get another scholarship. One thing I didn't know at the time was that studying in Europe was going to make me an outstanding candidate for the next fellowship that I was applying for. I left Ireland in the summer of 2016 and then I started my PhD in September 2016 in Hong Kong which I finished in 2019. Currently, I am teaching at a university. I'm a doctor, I'm an educator, I'm doing research still in child welfare, because that's my passion. I've moved into a very, very academic role. I love what I'm doing currently, but it is stressful, as all jobs can be. It was the preparation that I got in Ireland that prepared me for this.
When I was in Ireland, learning how they do research and seeing how they support students helped me. I got some really good supervision during my master's so it really paved the way for me to be an independent researcher. As part of the Kader Asmal alumni group, one of the skills that I have gotten is to talk about my experience. Being part of an alumni network that cares about us and our journeys after we leave is amazing. They stay connected and they always find out how we are doing.
I still feel there is so much more I can do. I co-founded an organisation that is supporting other postgraduate students from African countries, where the main idea is to talk about studying abroad and giving them support if they plan to study abroad. If they find themselves in a foreign country where they do not speak the language, like what happened when I went to Asia, we teach them how to cope with that and we help them to excel. I got so much support during my graduate years, and I want to be able to give that to other people. That is all on the side of my teaching work. Another thing that I have been hoping to do is a postdoc. I don't know how much learning I still need to do, but you should never stop learning. I feel like the sky's the limit. There is still so much we can do.
I always, always recommend the Ireland Fellows Programme because, for me, it was life changing. Coming from an African country, there is a limited sense of opportunity, but there is actually so much opportunity, it's just that people might not know where to find these opportunities. Ireland is such a nice place to live. My time there was short, so I am always trying to get back. If you are one of those people who is keen to learn more about different people and living in diverse environments and getting to appreciate other people, it is an exceptionally good experience. There are so many opportunities to engage with other students from many different countries, not just Irish students. I remember we always used to celebrate St. Patrick's Day and it was always fun. I was quite open and willing to learn so I enjoyed myself and had a very rich experience.