Kenyan student overcomes obstacles to study at Missouri State


Marrie Ochieng“The emperor’s new clothes” has become an idiom for the perils of groupthink, in which a crowd supports a bad idea because each person within the group is afraid of looking like the only one who doesn’t understand.

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But Missouri State University Master of Arts in Teaching student Marrie Ochieng knows groupthink works the other way as well. Sometimes the crowd deeply undervalues a resource, and one clear-eyed person can see worth where others have dismissed it.

“I wasn’t supposed to go to college,” Ochieng said. In her home country, Kenya, she was labeled “dumb,” and “there, if you are dumb, they really encourage you to be dumb.”

Everyone around her thought that as a girl with limited options, Ochieng would travel one of two paths: She could either get married or seek work as a housemaid. But she had a hidden advantage, an uncle who was educated at Missouri State and his American wife, who sensed potential in Ochieng. Together they raised enough money to cover the cost of her journey to the U.S. and her first semester at Metropolitan Community College in Kansas City.

From there, Ochieng made her way to Missouri State, where she earned a scholarship because — contrary to the label she’d grown up with — “for some reason, I was a genius.”

“When I first came to Missouri State, I couldn’t figure out how to turn on a computer,” she said, “and English was a problem… I couldn’t understand a thing.”

Despite these challenges, she persisted, sustained by “professors who just kept helping me and helping. It was really weird because in my country, teachers do not help you like that. But these guys, they kept pushing me and asking me questions.”

Along the way, she discovered a passion for art and design as an outlet to express her thoughts and feelings. Her experience also affirmed the power of education.

In Kenya, Ochieng noted that “a woman who has a voice is hated even by her own women.” She sees education as the key to changing attitudes, which is why she plans to establish a Kenyan school that focuses on educating young women.

“Boys have the advantage of being taken to school regardless. Girls are there to be seen and not heard… and I do not agree with that,” she said. “You educate a girl, you educate a whole community.”

By Lucie Amberg, Missouri State’s office of web and new media

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