From Kenya to America: The Journey of a Motivated Teacher into the World of Education

Purity Nandwa, a passionate and successful teacher with a distinguished record in educating children with autism and emotional disabilities, has migrated from Kenya to the United States in search of new opportunities. Now teaching at Paradise Valley High School in Arizona, she brings her experience, enthusiasm, and commitment to creating an inspiring learning environment for her students. Since her arrival in this new land, Purity has faced numerous challenges and experiences that have allowed her to grow and leverage new knowledge. This article explores her educational journey and the impact she has made on the educational community.

Early Education and Career in Kenya

Purity Nandwa was raised in the heart of Nairobi, Kenya, in a traditionally African family. Her parents placed great value on the education of their children, which instilled in Purity a passion for teaching from her teenage years. During her school years, she decided to pursue a field of study in higher education that would enable her to teach children with disabilities in the future. After graduating from high school, Purity Nandwa acquired her expertise in the field of educating children with autism and emotional disabilities from Moi University in Eldoret, Kenya. She spent over three years working as a teacher at Kaimosi Girls High School in Kenya.

Arrival in the United States

Purity’s motivation to become an international teacher and her familiarity with the J-1 visa program led her to a cultural exchange program through GeoVisions. As she entered into a new and diverse world in America, Purity encountered new opportunities, as well as new challenges. According to Purity, obtaining a visa during the pandemic was a very difficult process. Nonetheless, she managed to succeed in the program. Purity recalls, ‘When I arrived in America in September 2021, it was during the pandemic. It was truly a leap or a sudden change that quickly confronted me with new challenges and opportunities.”

Teaching at Paradise Valley High School

Purity Nandwa currently teaches at Paradise Valley High School in the U.S. state of Arizona. She specializes in educating teenagers with special needs from ninth to twelfth grade where she shares her experience and knowledge with around fifteen American students in each class. Additionally, she benefits from a classroom assistant who helps manage tasks such as grading student work. Purity adds, “I believe that every student can learn and succeed, no matter what challenges they have. As a teacher, it is my duty to help them reach their full potential.”

Purity was immediately surprised by certain aspects of the American education system upon her arrival. One notable difference was the allowance of phones in school—a privilege that was unfamiliar in her home country. In Kenya, students typically do not bring their mobile phones to school, a distinction that Purity found interesting.

Ian Deonise, the principal of Paradise Valley High School (PVHS), boasts over three decades of educational expertise, including a significant tenure at this particular school. He has witnessed the cultural exchange program’s beneficial impact on the international educators at his institution.

“Nearly three years ago, I had the good fortune of hiring Purity. Her interview was conducted via Google Meet while she was in Kenya,” he recounts, highlighting the recruitment process’s international reach.

Reflecting on Ms. Nandwa’s contributions, Deonise extols her virtues as an educator. “At her core, she is a remarkable teacher. Her dedication to her students and her unwavering commitment to their success are palpable,” he remarks, accentuating her devotion and professionalism.

The Impact Purity Has Made on the PVHS Community

Deonise shares an uplifting account of Ms. Nandwa’s involvement in the Unified Physical Education class, which merges special needs students with their peers from general education. “Purity spearheads our Unified PE class. It’s an exemplary model of peer collaboration, and she thrives in leading this class,” he observes, emphasizing her influential role in fostering student inclusivity and participation.

He notes that initiatives like the J-1 visa program ignite a rekindled fervor for education and cultural exchange among international educators. “Purity has demonstrated an infectious zeal for teaching in our country, especially at PVHS,” he asserts, illustrating the profound impact of such programs.

Deonise recognizes the distinctive insights that international educators contribute, nurturing a more diverse and inclusive educational setting. “Purity offers a unique perspective to our faculty. Her experiences are primarily shared within her department,” he concludes, acknowledging the essential role of international educators in creating a dynamic school community.

Embracing Difference

Purity, reflecting on her journey as an international teacher, highlighted the challenges of being away from family and adapting to a new cultural and educational system. However, the opportunities to participate in meaningful cultural exchange, engage students with Kenyan culture, and enhance her professional skills have made this experience quite valuable. For Purity, “Kenyan culture is an important part of my identity, and I am proud to share it with my students in America. It is a great way to promote understanding and acceptance of each other.”

Another cultural difference that caught Purity off guard was the use of laptops provided to students in most American schools. The prevalence of technology in the classroom was in stark contrast to Kenya, where access to laptops, especially in public schools, is not as widespread.

Purity’s experience with cultural exchange became vivid when she introduced her students to Kenyan cuisine and the symbolism of the Kenyan flag’s colors. The conversation deepened as the students displayed a genuine interest in Kenyan culture. They were especially intrigued by the introduction to Kenya’s 44 tribes, the variety of languages spoken, the national flag, and the nuances between British and American English pronunciation.

Purity cherishes these interactions, where students actively engage with her heritage and show curiosity about her country. She notes that, at times, the cultural and linguistic differences present challenges, as the students’ eagerness leads to numerous questions that, as an international teacher, she is tasked with answering. She shares, “One day, when discussing the climate, I explained that Kenya, situated on the equator, doesn’t have a winter season but instead experiences extended periods of rain. This revelation left the students in awe.”

Fostering Cultural Connections

Purity’s teaching philosophy is centered on creating a safe and inclusive learning environment, especially for students with special needs. She supports the integration of these students into traditional classes, contributing to the strengthening of the community. Purity implements an inclusive approach in her Physical Education class, where general education students join those with special needs, enhancing cooperation and understanding. “I have always been in search of ways to improve my teaching and have never stopped learning”.

Madielyn Batallones, a math teacher at Paradise Valley High School, also entered the United States from the Philippines in July 2019 through the J-1 culture exchange program. As a colleague of Purity at their school, she speaks about Purity’s flexibility over the three years of working with her, stating that Purity’s teaching philosophy is focused on fostering comprehensive growth and understanding among her students. She believes in using cultural exchange to enrich the educational experience, both for herself and her students. As Madielyn recalls, “We were introduced through the principal because we knew we both had a common background as J-1 teachers. As the only two international teachers in a large school with over 1800 students and a hundred staff members, we naturally connected.”

Since Madielyn and Purity work in a special education section, they often discuss their experiences and share insights. Madielyn adds, “I came to America before Purity, so I was able to guide her through some aspects of the American educational system and culture.”

According to Madielyn, she and Purity also engage in activities outside of school to share their respective cultures. Sometimes, they participate in celebrations or family gatherings together. “I once invited Purity to my daughter’s birthday party, where I served Filipino dishes. It seemed like she enjoyed the food.”

Madielyn mentions that she and Purity organize sessions to showcase Filipino and Kenyan cultures, which include displaying Filipino foods and other cultural aspects to their students and colleagues. These activities have sparked interest and curiosity among the students, arousing their curiosity about other cultures.

As Madielyn sees it, Purity’s engagement has been a boon to their school’s atmosphere as she has played a pivotal role in the students’ achievements. Her unwavering dedication and industrious nature shine through as she consistently seeks opportunities to support and expand her knowledge. Even when faced with obstacles, she places her classes at the forefront, showcasing her dedication to the students’ learning journey. Collaborating on significant cultural events has been both delightful and instructive for everyone involved. Such initiatives foster cultural exchanges among students, broaden their cultural horizons, and reinforce their global consciousness.

Madielyn emphasizes Purity’s active contribution to the school, stating, “She is a strong advocate for the students’ success, always seeking guidance when needed and actively participating in the school community. Her warm and diligent nature is evident in her commitment to attending classes even during difficult times.”

Purity’s journey is a perfect example of how a focus on the importance of education and a commitment to students with special needs can make a difference in an entire community. Purity has shone not only as a teacher but also as an international cultural educator. By sharing her rich Kenyan culture, she has promoted understanding and mutual respect among her students, helping them become aware of the global diversity around them. Purity, with an emphasis on integration and inclusivity, has created a safe and welcoming learning environment for all students, showing that education can transcend borders and bring communities closer together.