Final Impressions of SFS Kenya & Tanzania

Posted: December 4, 2013

What did you like most about the SFS experience?
My favorite part of my SFS experience was all of the amazing people I had the opportunity to meet and become friends with. Every experience I have had here, from the amazing sights in Serengeti to the long days of DR field research has been enhanced by the people around me. The family we have made at SFS extends from our group of 28 students to include all of our professors, the staff, our guides, and many of our local friends. I have learned so much from each person I have met.

You’ve been in the country for a full semester-tell us your impressions of it now.
My first 7 weeks in Tanzania were life-changing. Tanzania offered us so many amazing experiences, as we were welcomed into the local community and explored the many beautiful sights it had to offer. Of course the wildlife sightings were amazing, but I’ll never forget the phenomenally content feeling I had as we were driving through the endless plains of Serengeti with nothing in sight. Although time flew by in Tanzania, I also felt like it had become my second home.

When we left Tanzania I was convinced there was no way Kenya could offer as many transformative opportunities as Tanzania had. I was wrong: Kenya has provided just as many. Just as in Tanzania, we were welcomed to Kenya with open arms by both the staff and the local community. Kenya provided another opportunity for amazing wildlife sightings in the national parks, and even, occasionally inside our camp. Everyone here has been so welcoming, and everywhere you look there is another amazing sight that your never want to forget.

What is life at the field station really like? What are the best and the most challenging parts of living at a remote field station?
Living at the field station is like living with all your extended family. Because we all eat, sleep, work, and hang out together we have created a close-knit community. I love that after a long day in the classroom we go outside and play a game of soccer or volleyball with our professors and then eat together in the chumba. This has provided a unique opportunity to build relationships with our professors outside of the classroom. Additionally, living and spending time with the staff has enhanced my experience immensely. Everyone here has come from such different backgrounds and is able to teach each other so much and many of the local staff members have become my rafiki kubwas (good friends).

Although it seems like it would be challenging living in such a remote location with a small group of people, we have been able to create fun new experiences every day. I love waking up to the birds and baboons every morning, walking out of my banda and seeing the amazing view of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

What ended up being your biggest challenge this semester both academically and culturally?
Everyone talks about culture shock when they go abroad but surprisingly I have no memories of experiencing it. My culture shock will definitely be when I return home and am missing everything I have loved about Kenya and Tanzania. My biggest challenge culturally was not being able to communicate with local community and staff members at the beginning of the program. I remember walking into the town during our first week with our list of Kiswahili vocabulary trying to talk to kids and not being able to ask their name. I love getting know new people and did not want the language barrier to impact my ability to learn about the people here and their lifestyles. I realized this after about a week and decided to practice Kiswahili every day with the staff and was able to pick it up rather quickly. Now I am able to walk into town, shop at the market, and spend an entire day with my host family speaking only in Kiswahili.

The best part about this program was we were able to experience firsthand what we were learning. The most challenging part academically was sitting in the classroom when I knew there was so much I could learn form being outside. Luckily, the majority of our learning occurred outside the classroom during field lecture and exercises, and experiences in the local communities. Even though the program was academically rigorous, much of our work did not feel like work because it was so interesting, and we were being examined on experiences we’d had or observations we had made, rather than textbook readings and PowerPoint presentations. Because we were presented with issues that often did not have solutions such as the issue of human-wildlife conflict, we were empowered to think about the solutions ourselves and I know I will still be thinking about them when I return home.

What is the best memory you have from the semester? Give some highlights.
My favorite memories from Tanzania are from our soccer games. Walking to the school at 5:30 every evening with the staff and professors, and meeting our local soccer friends was always the highlight of my day. We would chat, laugh, practice Kiswahili, and play soccer. Obviously the staff was much better than the wanafunzi (students) but by the end we were able to hold our own in the final soccer game, staff vs. wanafunzi, and the score was very close. The game provided a great opportunity to become friends with the staff and the field had amazing view of the sunset behind the mountains every night.

My favorite memory in Kenya has been Directed Research data collection. Although the days were long and seemingly endless out in the hot sun, we were able to learn and see so much out in the field. The highlights of data collection included seeing hippos, elephants, giraffe, zebra, and warthogs as we walked along the river, finding our way out of a field of sodom’s apple, interviewing local community members, and spending time with our local guides. On one day during household interviews we visited my host family and one of the kids ran up to give me a warm welcome and joined us for the rest of our interviews. Directed Research made me realize how much I love learning and researching in the field, as well as being outside all day.

Give three adjectives that best describe how you are feeling right now?
Fulfilled, Furaha Sana (very happy), Enlightened