Drive. Determination. Sacrifice. These are three words that Jean-Pierre Murray knows very well. At the age of 23 he currently holds a Master of Sciences degree in Politics and International Cooperation from the University of the West Indies (Mona). He hopes to put his degree to good use by one day living his primary dream of working for an international organization, such as the United Nations, to bring about positive change in the lives of many individuals. He also hopes to make an impact in education and also in the land of his birth, Jamaica. This is just the surface of the story that has made Jean-Pierre the man he is today and I caught up with him recently to find out more about his journey to this point.
What was your childhood like?
I am from Mayfield, a small farming community in North-West Manchester. For most of my childhood we didn’t have a regular supply of electricity because we lived in a section of the community that hadn’t yet received electricity, and so we had to use a generator. In my formative years, my mother was the sole breadwinner for a long time, and even later when my brother started working and when my mother got married, it wasn’t always easy to provide for the family especially since there were other dependent family members. Cable, landline and internet were therefore only luxuries that I didn’t even bother to dream of. To get to school, my friends and I walked several miles to Nazareth All Age in the neighboring community of Maidstone. However, I never allowed my circumstances to define me and I never had a sense of being poor because this was our reality. Walking to school was normal – fun even. The lack of internet access and so on was never perceived as a handicap because I always had books to read, friends to play with, church and other activities to keep me occupied. I was surrounded by people who encouraged and inspired me to dream beyond the immediate circumstances.
Your undergraduate and masters programs were unique because they were “Study Abroad” programs. How were you introduced to these programs and what was the structure of these programs?
While in upper sixth form, one of my French teachers told me about this exciting new programme at the University of the West Indies (UWI) where students doing IR and French could be afforded the opportunity to study in France. As soon as I got to UWI, I went to the relevant offices, got the information about applying and the minimum qualifications, and I have not looked back since. This program allowed me to move directly from my undergraduate degree to my masters degree and was divided into several phases. My first year was at the Mona campus of UWI which is located in Kingston, Jamaica. My second year was at Institut d’Etudes Politiques in Bordeaux, France. My third year was at Université des Antilles et de la Guyane in Martinique. After my third year, I began my masters at Institut d’Etudes Politiques in Bordeaux, France and completed the final year of the masters program at the UWI (Mona).
Were you ever afraid of stepping into new cultural experiences?
I didn’t really think about the new cultural experiences before leaving because I think I wanted to do this programme so badly that I didn’t have time to think about the challenges. I kept focused on the positives. It was only when I went to pick up my visa, one week before leaving for France, that it dawned on me that I would have ALL my classes in French and that I would have to speak French EVERYDAY. Nevertheless, I love travelling and enjoyed the melting pot of cultures at all three universities I’ve attended.
What was your most unusual experience while on the program?
In 2010, a whole group of exchange students took fishing boats from Martinique to St. Lucia for a weekend to attend their Creole Festival. We were soaking wet minutes after leaving out, and the sea was extremely rough for the entire trip. The waves towered over the boats really. This was by far my most terrifying experience. We spent the night at our host’s house – an unfinished house/shop where we slept on makeshift bunks and hammocks. By the next morning, St. Lucia was facing the full force of hurricane Tomas – the most devastating hurricane in the country’s history. It still makes me shiver to think we were at sea while there was a hurricane out. A couple days later we went back to Martinique at dusk on a public holiday with no buses and no taxis in service and ended up hitch-hiking to get back on campus.
It seems like you have been on an exciting adventure. Would you say that you benefitted from the program?
Yes! In terms of qualifications, I have left the programme with multiple degrees from internationally acclaimed institutions. I am also now fluent in French and I have been able to broaden my academic scope. The cultural experiences, the opportunities for networking, the exchanges, and the benefits of travelling have really helped to mold me and to shape my vision of the world. Furthermore, I think this programme has helped me to mature on so many levels. It took a certain resolve and strength of character to adjust to the culture shock, the challenges of school and all the other hurdles I came across over this 5 year period.
What advice would you give to persons reading this blog to help them to follow their dreams?
Dare to dream. Do not be confined to or defined by your circumstances. Never lose sight of your dream even when it gets foggy or cloudy, keep moving towards the horizon. Surround yourself with positive people and positive energy. Never burn bridges. Always remember that God has plans to prosper and not to harm you, to give you hope and a future.
What advice would you give to people reading this blog about relationships?
Think of relationships as a garden. They need constant attention if you want them to be at their best – you must water, prune, weed, fertilize and nurture. You have to be willing to put in the work if you want the garden to flourish.