Negotiating new roles

I haven’t posted anything for a while – haven’t written anything for even longer. But tonight I had a feeling in my stomach that I just had to capture, so I would never forget it. It was a wonderful feeling, and I am overwhelmed by gratitude for the bubbly experience of joy.

Seven months ago, I started a job, in a new field, a new industry and a new country. I could not have ventured further outside my comfort zone if I had tried. After years of building a career in Kenya and then East Africa with an enviable network of professional contacts and colleagues, I had chosen to start all over again. It is a gift given to few and I am eternally grateful for the opportunity.

While that journey started around two years ago – and in my head probably many years before that –  the most recent chapter started in May with my new position. I became a recruitment coordinator at an international university.

In October, on my second recruitment trip representing my  institution, I was sitting at my booth in the third city for that specific country’s fair circuit. My translator was next to me, my material was neatly laid out on the table, and our promotional video was running on a loop on the laptop. I had my game face on.

The first people to arrive at my table were a mother and her 16 year old daughter. The mother looked young enough to be the older sister, while the daughter was confident and self assured enough to lead her mother around the room. From the get go, it was an honest conversation. Not a marketing pitch. Nothing car salesman-y. Neither slimy nor slippery. And no extravagant, difficult to keep promises.

Something clicked for me. And it had to do with the young girl sitting in front of me. There was something in her eyes, or the look on her face.

I knew her.

We talked intently for around 45 minutes – which considering how many other students and parents were milling around, listening over shoulders, leaning in for a copy of promotional material – was surprising. By the end of it, two pieces of the jigsaw had fit together.

I stood up, and completely out of character, I asked the girl if I could hug her. I told her that I had a feeling about our meeting. And as mother and daughter walked away, I did not have a single moment of doubt that I would hear from them again or that this – our first conversation – was the start of an incredible path.

By the end of that day, I had received a text message from them. We exchanged whatsapp messages the day after and on my last day in H***, I met the girl and both parents for ice cream at a local Baskin Robbins outlet. The mother hugged me – and surprisingly smacked my bottom! I took it as a sign of affection … 🙂 The parents had few questions for me; instead for the next hour, they sat and watched me talk to their daughter.

A week later, they had chosen one of the local agents I recommended and applied to my institution. She was my first applicant. Another week later, her application was approved. And a month later, her mother sent me a whatsapp message with the news that her daughter’s visa had been approved!

It was almost as if I had received the news from a close friend or family member. Instant joy. Gratitude. And a feeling deep down that this was right.

With that joy, came a silent twinge. A concern that perhaps my interaction with this family and the relationship I had developed with them required more professional distance.

As someone who has always kept people at arm’s length, it was a discomfiting thought. The idea that there are ethics that govern the professional relationship between a recruiter and a student’s family. I suppose I am concerned about whether I have given too much of myself. But this has always been a characteristic of mine. Being honest, genuine, upfront. No games, no pretences, no agendas.

On Monday, I may talk to my manager about whether I have overstepped and need to introduce some distance. But today, I am just grateful.

Genuinely happy to see a young student start a lifelong journey that will end in happiness, and grateful that I was allowed to play a tiny part in that.