Recently we conducted a Fellowships Seminar and Esteemed Fellows Dinner at Stanford University, where we had the opportunity to meet Fulbright Scholar Kavena Hambira. He introduced himself as “somewhat of an impostor” during our seminar since he’s not a Stanford student, but he’s far from an impostor. Kavena is a quintessential ProFellow. Originally from Namibia, Kavena is now pursuing a master’s degree in Human Resources Management at Golden Gate University in San Francisco as a recipient of a Namibian Fulbright fellowship. When asked if he’d be willing to share insights on his Fulbright experience, he jumped at the opportunity to describe the incredible opportunities he’s had so far.
1. What inspired you to apply for the Fulbright Fellowship?
With a major in advanced industrial relations, I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Human Resources from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology in Cape Town-South Africa. I returned home during the same year (2007) and immediately started working for Ohlthaver and List, the largest privately owned group of companies in Namibia. Through O&L’s “Talent Attraction Program” my career accelerated fairly quickly as a result of fast-tracking and mentorship. Although I operated within the broader field of human resources, my work primarily focused on conflict resolution in the labor relations department. Vast amounts of company training and exposure in the field introduced me to mediation/arbitration, over time I was directly responsible for representing our steel subsidiary against former employees who filed for unfair dismissal at the office of the labor commissioner. I was also tasked with managing conflict proactively through education and policy analysis, however on many occasions it was handled re-actively through disciplinary hearings. After three (long) years amassing enough work experience and savings I decided to pursue my master’s degree abroad. Through research and advice from alumni I discovered that Fulbright offered fully funded grants and fellowships for both graduate level studies and doctoral research. This inspired me to apply! Although I hoped to receive a grant to pursue my masters in the US, the prestige and competitive application process associated with Fulbright forced me to keep my expectations low and decided to travel abroad before the outcome was announced.
2. What have been some of the most eye-opening moments during your fellowship?
What’s great about Fulbright is that it’s viewed both as an academic and cultural experience; therefore travel and cultural exchange are an integral part of the program. The most eye-opening moment occurred at the Fulbright seminars in Atlanta and Miami, where I met hundreds of future leaders from diverse backgrounds and engaged in networking activities, formal debates, lectures, home-stays and volunteering initiatives in the respective communities. The opportunity to interact and network with hundreds of talented people from around the world in the span of one week was a priceless moment. On an informal level, we were given ample flexibility to socialize and explore these amazing cities in the evenings. Many friendships were forged on the dance floor! Although I’ve traveled to the U.S. prior to my Fulbright, this opportunity afforded me the time to explore my interest in American culture and helped me experience many “firsts” such as: a white Christmas in Walden, New York, Kwanzaa in Brooklyn, an American wedding in Boston, Cinco De Mayo in San Francisco, a visit to
Malcolm X’s Roxbury House in Boston and Martin Luther King Jr.’s birth home in Atlanta, camping at Salmon Lake, climbing in the Sierras Buttes, hiking to Eureka Peak at Tahoe National Park and even meeting Jersey shore cast member Snooki at the Airport. I could list many more, but none compare to the opportunity I’ve had volunteering at a small photography co-op in San Francisco called Inks of Truth. Located on 6th Street (within the SOMA district of the city), this small group of photographers and artist aim to shed light on social challenges plaguing their community (e.g. gentrification), through art and community activism.
3.What do you think made your fellowship application stand out?
The Fulbright application process in Namibia is facilitated by the U.S. embassy, however the final shortlist is made by the Fulbright board in New York and the final decision is made by a presidentially appointed board in Washington D.C. My philosophy was simply to “control the controllables” and not worry about the stuff I had no control over. This meant study hard for the required exams (Fulbright grantees coming to the U.S. are required to take certain entry exams depending on the field of study TOEFL, etc.). I sought out strong references from captains of industry and university professors who I
continue to stay in touch with. What probably was most crucial, and helped me stand out, was my preparation for interviews. This involved reading newspaper and journal articles ranging from my desired field of study to the history of the Fulbright program. Most importantly, I also anticipated specific questions and practiced succinct responses through numerous role-plays. Ironically, I was hiking along the Appalachian Trail in New Jersey when I received the email to attend an interview in Namibia! Thankfully I was able to conduct my panel interview telephonically. Lastly I would advise that you research the Fulbright application and selection process in your specific local, because it differs from country to country.
In 2008, one month after completing his bachelor’s degree in South Africa, Kavena was recruited into the Ohlthaver and List Group-Talent Attraction Program. Through a process of intensive coaching and fast-tracking he became the Acting Head: Human Capital at O&L’s subsidiary Namibia Dairies, until his departure to pursue his masters as a Fulbright Scholar.
Currently in his final semester at Golden Gate University in San Francisco, Kavena is seeking an internship in the United States after he completes his masters in December 2013. He aims to use the opportunity as a launching pad to an international career in Labor Relations/Human Capital. Contact Kavena.
© Victoria Johnson 2013, all rights reserved