Growing up black in Greece? Patricia Kumbakisaka, 31, one of Canada’s most accomplished young black women, has done it as she has lived quite the international life.
As a diplomat’s daughter, she had the opportunity to fully embrace the lifestyle and culture of several European countries including Athens, Greece.
Her parents worked in the diplomatic service, representing the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire). They were posted to Bucharest, Romania in 1984, but later served in Hungary as well as Russia.
Kumbakisaka was actually born in Bucharest, Romania in 1989. Before long, however, her parents were posted to Athens, so at the age of three she moved to Greece; she ended up living there for the next seven years, for the formative years of her life.
Surprisingly, the diplomat’s daughter was not put into a school where English was spoken; her parents wanted her to enter fully into the Greek experience, so she was placed at Greek-language pre-schools and elementary schools in Athens.
Only child of color
“Growing up in the Greek capital in the 1990s was a very interesting experience for me in so many ways,” the now Canadian citizen notes.
In both of her schools, she was the only child of color — “back then, there were very few people of color in the whole of Greek society.”
Kumbakisaka’s experience was unique, however, because her elementary school years in the country were actually some of the best of her life.
She made many friends, acted in school plays, and excelled in her classes. “I am still in contact with the friends I made during my school-years in Greece.”
After traveling the world during her very cosmopolitan life, she can speak English, Greek, French, Romanian, and Swahili fluently.
“Growing up in Greece was so great,” Kumbakisaka says.
No experience of discrimination in Greece
“I have one of the best friends that I am still in touch with today… we FaceTime, talk on Facebook, Whats App, etc. I go see them when I am in Greece and some have even been to Canada as well.
“Yes, I stood out as the only black girl, but I didn’t experience any discrimination,” Kumbakisaka relates.
“My friends were nice to me, my teachers were very good and of course there were days people would ask questions, such as about my hair — how cool it looked. But I was never called names or insults.
“I think it is also because I was used to growing up around people that didn’t have the same skin color as me or (come from) the same country; I had friends from Bulgaria, the US, Cambodia, Romania, Albania, a few countries in Africa, etc.
“Also,” Kumbakisaka adds, “I was raised in a home where we would see everyone the same and (would) not discriminate on (the basis of) color or language. I am glad my parents put me in a Hellenic elementary school and not a French or English one, because that way I got to learn more about the Greek mentality and culture.
“I encourage many diplomats today now that are posted overseas to really try to put their children in a school where they are teaching in the native language, for the child to become adapted – it will pay off in the future,” she says.
From Greece to diplomatic service?
Now residing in the Canadian capital of Ottawa, Kumbakisaka hopes to work in the diplomatic service, even perhaps as an ambassador, representing Canada.
The world traveler studied political science, with a specialization in international relations, at the University of Manitoba and she also undertook extended research at the Department of Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution at the University of Ottawa.
She has also received a certificate from the University of London in Global Diplomacy and has conducted research work with UNITAR on a general introduction to the relationship between human rights, international legal and foreign policy, and the work of the United Nations.
Kumbasaka was Chair of the Human Rights Council for the UN Youth Association of Romania; she also worked with foreign officials on projects related to local laws, as well as cultural, economic and political conditions, in Canada and other nations.
Canada chose her for its youth delegate to the UN, where she had the opportunity to elevate her voice in international dialogues, empowered youth to advocate for future generations, and mobilize youth as agents of impact change.
Kumbasaka continues to advocate for youth, and ensure that their voices are heard loud and clear in the public sphere.
Greece, however, will always be the second home of the diplomat’s daughter. Kumbasaka still speaks and writes the language fluently and she is in touch with her friends there each and every day.
The country of Greece, she says, has — and will have forever — a very special place in her heart.