Meet Patricia Kumbakisaka: Rising International Relations Leader

Patricia Kumbakisaka speaks five languages — French, English, Greek, Swahili and Romanian — a result of her parents, originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, working in the diplomatic field. Born in Romania, her family moved to Athens, Greece when she was three, and Winnipeg, Canada when she was 10 years old. She’s since followed her own passion for diplomacy, representing Canada at the UN Youth Assembly and UN Youth Romania. Named one of Canada’s most Accomplished Black Women in 2020, she’ll soon be continuing her work (remotely) at the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy in Berlin, Germany, where she will be focused on International Relations and Cultural diplomacy issues.

My first job ever was… in an International call center where I was a translator and also took phone orders for people ordering from the Sears catalogue. Aside from that, I worked at an immigration center in Winnipeg where I was a junior data entry clerk.  

My proudest accomplishments are… when I represented Canada as a delegate at the UN Youth Assembly in 2018, and at the UN Youth Romania as the Human Rights Council Chair, and being named one of Canada’s most Accomplished Black Women in 2020. 

What I’ve enjoyed most about working on Canada’s Diversity Advantage project is… how I got a chance to promote the importance of the diversity that we have in our country and the talent and skills that newcomers bring to our country. The project was also to educate people on the fact that learning about other cultures helps us understand different perspectives within the world we live in. It helps dispel negative stereotypes and personal biases about different groups. Canada’s Diversity Advantage project’s message was to help us recognize and respect “ways of being” that are not necessarily our own.

My boldest move to date was… moving from Winnipeg to Ottawa by myself two years ago to pursue my career further. I must say I loved living in the nation’s capital where I have made many friends and a community! Of course, Winnipeg will still be home and I do go back often to visit my parents and siblings, especially during holidays. 

I surprise people when I tell them… that I speak Modern Greek and Romanian fluently. Everyone’s face is always shocked, especially Greeks and Romanians, as soon as I open my mouth and speak their language. 

My advice for someone interested in pursuing a career in international relations is… do not give up. It is not easy to find a job right away, it’s not an easy field. Try volunteering through organizations working in the field since it can open up many opportunities. Also try internships, network and continue to keep in contact with those networks and your past professors and advisors from University. 

My best advice from a mentor was… always have confidence in yourself; things may not go as you plan at first, but they will come together if you continue to work hard, not give up and have confidence. 

My biggest setback was… taking my very first unpaid internship which had nothing to do with my field, I was honestly very bored in the beginning and felt like this was so useless and was wondering how this was going to bring me forward. Surprisingly, that opened up doors and helped me get to where I am right now. After my internship ended, I kept in touch with people from there and of course they passed on my CV and it led to more opportunities tied up to my field.

I overcame it by… learning that there is an opportunity in everything, and that even the most boring opportunities were not a waste of time at all and were a part of my journey. 

My passion for foreign policy and international politics began… in childhood. I have known that I want a career in international politics since middle school. I have always been a leader in school and in my community. In University, I was involved with the Student Union and was a head organizer of the Canadian Political Science Student Association conference. 

If I had an extra hour in the day… I would go out with my friends and family; but that is not possible due to the pandemic, so more sleep it is!

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that my least favorite fruit is watermelon, that I took ballet lessons in Greece, and that when I was young, I played the piano and clarinet by ear. 

I stay inspired by… past and present world leaders, as well as my parents, who despite their own accomplishments, continue to remain humble. 

My next step is… to continue to be a leader. I am a very proud Canadian and continue to mentor and help others to improve our country nationally and internationally.