By Ellie Lawrence, Staff Writer
In my experience, the hardest part about returning from studying abroad is answering the question, “How was it?” You have to somehow encapsulate everything you’ve just experienced into a sentence. You could just say “great,” but usually, the person asking is looking for something a little more than that, but not enough to bore them. They don’t want a day-by-day account of your every move and emotion, but rather just something they can smile at and walk away with. So when people ask me how my study abroad experience in Kenya was, I just say, “Great! Exactly like ëThe Lion King!’ Go figure!”
Over spring break, 12 students and six community members traveled to Kenya with the Wooster in Kenya program, led by Professor of Sociology and Anthropology David McConnell and attorney Doug Drushal.
Though we only spent 10 days in Kenya, we could all vouch for the fact that it fully counts as a “study abroad” experience, as all the developing “Wooster inÖ” programs are. We traveled all over the country and experienced enough to span six weeks. Several of us had traveled and studied abroad before, and a few had participated in other “Wooster inÖ” programs. Several people had not traveled before but we were all well-prepared for the trip. We had been meeting in a class all semester called “Peoples and Cultures of Kenya” and together with the trip, the whole experience fulfills a full credit.
In the class, we learned about the history, culture, language, gender roles, education, politics and people of Kenya. We learned about the things we could expect to experience, the people we would meet, the non-profit program we would be working with, our homestay families, what to pack, what shots to get and which malaria pills to take. We were also told we would be expected to bring gifts to our Kenyan families in the village and would in turn be rewarded with immense hospitality. It was well-organized, to say the least.
Now that we are back on campus, we are all working on presentations we will give on the specific topics each of us researched while in the country. These topics range from education to dance to economic profit, and we were able to see it all.
We arrived and spent the first few days in the capital of Nairobi, where we toured the Kibera Slum, and later that afternoon were invited to dine at and tour a tea plantation owned by a woman who was a second generation British colonialist. Talk about contrast. The whole trip was organized around ideas of contrast, which I think was to help make us more aware of it and to ease us into seeing poverty.
We spent time in a city called Kisumu and toured Lake Victoria, the world’s second largest freshwater lake, which is shared by Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. We also visited a youth AIDS clinic funded by U.S. agencies. We then traveled south and toured the Kakamega Forest, a national rainforest, and spent four days in a rural village in†††††††††††††††††† Maragoli.
We spent two nights with homestay families, which everyone agreed was the highlight of the trip. This is where we worked with the Maragoli Community Development Foundation (MACODEF), which is an organization committed to supporting community-based poverty reduction and sustainable development projects in the Maragoli region of the Western Province of Kenya.
The community showed us a large range of what MACODEF does and we got hands-on experience using solar cookers, setting up a rainwater harvest system, laying foundation for a building, planting trees and making bricks. We toured the village’s two primary schools and secondary school and learned a lot about the country’s belief in the importance of education.
In the village, we all learned about McConnell and gained immense respect for the leader of the trip. He is one of the founders of MACODEF and has been visiting the Maragoli community in Kenya since 1980, where he studied abroad as an undergrad.
As our last point of contrast, for the final two days of the trip we stayed in a five star Safari Resort in the Serengeti plains and saw every animal featured in “The Lion King.” So in some ways, Kenya really was a lot like “The Lion King.”