Photo by Caroline Conder
Having served multiple roles in the Pepperdine community, Sharon Wakio said supporting international students is one of her biggest passions.
Wakio, the assistant director of Residence Life for International Students, said this passion of hers began when she earned a scholarship as an undergraduate student working at Boise State University’s International Student Services Office.
“It took off from there,” Wakio said. “Everything I’ve done since then in the U.S. has involved international students in one way or another.”
Wakio said she never imagined herself working in higher education when she first arrived in the United States from Kenya in 2006. In fact, Wakio said she considered flying back home to Kenya during her junior year at Boise State.
“As an international student, you know how difficult some seasons can be,” Wakio said. “I was like, ‘I’m done, I’m leaving.’”
During such hardships, Wakio said the international community and her mentors helped her to persevere.
“I had really good, solid friends and support system who reminded me of how far I’ve come,” Wakio said.
Wakio said it was one of her international friends who brought up the idea of Wakio studying at Pepperdine for her master’s degree. Initially, Wakio said she was hesitant to apply to Pepperdine because of its price tag and prestige. Her friends, however, insisted she apply.
“In that process, I was like, ‘Please God wherever you need me to go, I’ll go,’” Wakio said.
She saw her prayers answered; Wakio found herself in Malibu at the Graduate School of Education and Psychology in 2013.
Due to financial circumstances, Wakio said she took a slow and steady approach to her master’s degree in Psychology. To alleviate financial hardships, Wakio took six units at a time while receiving scholarships and working part-time.
Wakio took five years to complete a program the school designed to be completed in two. She said the unhasty approach, however, turned out to be the best choice for her.
“It worked out because if I hadn’t stayed that long, I wouldn’t have met people who are significant in my life here at Pepperdine,” Wakio said.
She first started at Pepperdine working for Athletics, supporting international student-athletes with their transition to the U.S. Currently, Wakio supports all international students by programming events with various departments on campus.
“Some of the bravest and courageous people I know are international students,” Wakio said.
For Wakio, international students are an important part of Pepperdine’s community. Wakio credits international students for bringing diversity into classrooms and increasing the quality of education for all.
“We’re able to come here into a melting pot of such richness in culture, personality and perspective, and I think we sharpen each other in that way,” Wakio said.
Just as she never expected to stay in the U.S. for 15 years, Wakio said she looks forward to seeing where God takes her next.
“Where I get my sense of direction is through my spiritual journey and understanding what God has for me,” Wakio said.
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