For many Kenyan graduates, the post-graduation phase often involves a prolonged job hunt, commonly referred to as the “tarmac” period. It is a time marked by disappointment and numerous job rejections. However, Ruth Sarah Achieng, aged 36, took a different path. She pursued a Certificate in Chinese Language and Culture, and her journey led to immediate employment upon her return to Kenya. Achieng’s experience defies the conventional narrative. “Since I started working, I have never been without a job. The opportunities for those with Chinese proficiency are everywhere you look,” she explained during an interview in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital.
As a senior university administrator, Achieng is among a growing community of Kenyans who have found financial success through their proficiency in the Chinese language, driven by the flourishing relationship between Kenya and China.
The deepening ties have resulted in increased Chinese investments in Kenya, creating a growing demand for translators and interpreters proficient in Chinese.
Achieng enthusiastically shared her journey of immersing herself in the Chinese language and culture. After completing her degree in information science, she encountered an advertisement in a local newspaper calling for students to enroll in a Chinese language certificate program. Driven by her innate interest in art and culture, Achieng applied and was accepted.
“That was in 2007, and after completing the program, I performed well and was sponsored by the Chinese Ministry of Education to continue my studies in China’s Shandong Province,” Achieng recounted. The demand for individuals with Chinese language proficiency in the job market is substantial and continually growing. Achieng mentioned that there is a constant need for Chinese language translators and interpreters from East African countries, including Uganda. She stressed the importance of educating young people about the potential of foreign language proficiency as a viable career option, emphasizing that “knowing a foreign language gives you an advantage, even if you’re pursuing a career as a doctor or lawyer.”
Another success story is Juliet Gachago, a Chinese language translator who received a scholarship from the Confucius Institute to study in China in 2010. Her journey into the Chinese language began at Kenyatta University, where she was pursuing a tourism course. Initially, she had chosen to study German, but her fascination with the Chinese language led her to take classes in her spare time. Her dedication paid off, earning her a scholarship to study in China.
The Chinese language is now one of the optional foreign languages included in Kenya’s new competency-based curriculum, with the country hosting four Confucius Institutes. Gachago emphasized that her career in translation has allowed her to travel extensively within and outside the country, highlighting that the market for Chinese language translators is far from saturated. She encourages continuous learning and the willingness to embrace new challenges as a pathway to success.