Alumnus Thabo Sibiya on doing your Masters in Ireland
What year did you study in Ireland?
What degree did you study for?
Masters in Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development
What university were you at?
University College Dublin
What was it like experiencing the culture of the town and university for the first time?
I’m from a very remote rural area in South Africa. Most people look exactly like me. Being in Dublin I was a minority for the first time. It was quite a shock. But once you start to engage them, you will be amazed at how welcoming they are. The pub culture makes it easy to forget you are not at home. The people also work very hard and Dublin is a more and more international space thanks to the companies that are there – Microsoft, Intel, Google and Linkedin have their European headquarters there.
Describe your experience studying at the University?
My experience was like something I have never seen before. The relationship between lecturers and students are so open. Lecturers want to know about you, your family, your ambition, what you plan to do with the degree and how they can help. They make you feel comfortable working with them. People are on a first name basis, they don’t stand on ceremony.
It’s an international university and the standard is very high. I had to readjust, and though it’s difficult, it is attainable. There are people from all over the world in the same class. You learn so much from these people. I really liked that they didn’t assume I didn’t know anything. They expected me to bring my own knowledge. I miss Ireland almost every day. I miss the people, the culture and the openness of the city. I miss being able to bike everywhere.
What value did doing your Masters in Ireland add?
Doing my Master’s in Ireland opened opportunities for me that I could only dream of. It gave me confidence as an individual and a career boost I would not have had if it was not for this opportunity. Some of the people who got this scholarship now work for the United Nations, the World Food Programme and I now work for enterprise Ireland – a state agency of Ireland.
I help Irish companies that want to do business outside of Ireland. I link them to prospective partners, do market research and keep them updated with market developments. I work with Irish universities, fintech companies, and a whole range of companies far beyond the agriculture sector I was trained in.
My vision is to have my own agricultural consultancy. The agricultural sector has so much space to grow. I want to use my skills and network to improve the situation of rural farmers, especially woman farmers.
I was raised by a single woman who worked on a farm, and these are the kind of women I would like to help by connecting them with government and agencies, with tech support, business development and entrepreneurial development support.
What did the experience do for your personal growth?
It gave me confidence…growing up in the rural areas, you are taught to live life in a certain way. When you go to Ireland, you meet people from other countries who are completely different to you. You learn to become open-minded and curious about other people and their cultures.
What advice would you give to a post-grad thinking of applying to the Kader Asmal Fellowship Programme?
Don’t even think …go for it. It’s an exciting experience. Go there to enjoy the experience: the city and the country, not just the academics. Go to learn from other people. Before you apply, make sure you are willing to work hard. It’s not as difficult as you assume but you need focus, and a good balance of social and academic life. Go and have the best time of your life. Dublin is the friendliest city in the world.