Posted: September 26, 2011

Name: Kate Thompson
School: Penn State, Schreyer Honors College
Major: Anthropology

Why did you choose to study abroad with SFS?
I have been blessed with a great education, both in high school and so far in college. But, as much as I learned, I’ve felt frustrated- as if my knowledge wasn’t worth anything because I had no application for it. I felt like I could not contribute, no opportunities to extend my knowledge beyond the four walls of the classroom. I started thinking about study abroad the beginning of my freshman year at Penn State because I wanted a change. A semester abroad felt like a good choice as a Anthropology and Community and Environmental Development double major. I chose Africa because I have always been fascinated by its cultures, captivated by its wildlife, and drawn to empathy by the many environmental and socioeconomic challenges Africa faces. I read the SFS curriculum available online and feel in love with its blend of rigorous, hands on curriculum and the challenge to apply what you learn in an ongoing case study. Finally, an education that not only challenges you to think beyond the classroom walls, but to leave them in the dust.
What were your first impressions of Kenya?
I feel like the sense of time is very different here. Americans are always on the go, rushing and multitasking. Everything here– from travel to cooking to connecting to the Internet — involves a lot of waiting. We visited the small town of Kimana today, and the locals gave funny looks to the students who walked and ate at the same time. They do not rush as much as we do. Freshman year for me was filled with anxiety and stress. Even when I had nothing to worry about I invented something. Here, all around us, from the red dust fields to the open wide sky everything cries “slow down.” After all, Africa has been a patient witness to all of human history.

What were your first impressions of The SFS Center for Wildlife Management Studies’ Kenya field station?
All the staff and faculty are so welcoming. As we hopped out of the SFS vans and onto the red camp soil for the first time, we were greeted by all of Kilimanjaro Bush Camp (KBC) at once. I shook hands and met each of the people I would be living with and learning from as we walked up to the chumba, or main room. The welcome made me feel as if the staff was as excited to meet us as I was to meet them. I felt at home right away.

What do you think the biggest challenge will be for you this semester both academically and culturally?
I think being patient will be a challenge for me, both culturally and academically. Culturally, I know it will take a while to gain the trust of local people. To speak Swahili well enough to accurately ask and understand their perspectives on the issues we research here. The research itself, and all the lectures and class time that will equip us for it, will demand a lot of focus and attentiveness. Everything comes with patient work. I think this mentality of a marathon- not a sprint- will take some time to get used to. There is so much to be excited for in SFS Kenya, and also things that make me nervous. I want to savor each moment here, and not be shadowed by worries about the work load, readings and exams. I remind myself that one patient step at a time, and we’ll get there.

What are you looking forward to the most this semester?
Speaking Kiswahili fluently. Okay, maybe not with the finesse of one born here, but to at least see significant improvement. I have tried to teach myself languages before- Arabic, ASL, traditional Leni-Lenape – but I invariably fail. The motivation evaporates. Here I submerged in the Swahili culture, and with some much I want to learn and understand about these people, the language barrier is a constant frustration. I am so eager to know this land through its peoples’ eyes- that is the greatest motivation of all. I pocket each word I learn like a small trinket, and each semblance of a conversation is a small triumph.I know it will come slowly, but the time when I speak Kiswahili proficiently may be the highlight of this program for me. And I would also like to see a lion.

Give three words that best describe how you feel right now.
Days. Well. Lived.