Sunday, our final non-program day, I watched the sunrise light up the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro with my fellow students, our Student Affairs Manager Mike, and a group of Maasai warriors. With only one day left at the Kilimanjaro Bush Camp (KBC) in Kenya, this whole experience still feels like a dream. Despite my concerns after hearing news reports about unrest in Kenya, I am overjoyed that I choose to study abroad here through SFS. Before coming to East Africa, I had never been outside of the continental United States.
Needless to say, I was terrified of what and who I could encounter on my first journey abroad. What if I contracted malaria? What if I was attacked by a wild animal? What if I didn’t get along with my fellow students? What if I insulted the community due to my ignorance of their culture? What if? What if? What if? Now I have realized how wrong I was to waste my time with these worries. The community was friendly and welcoming, the staff at KBC kept us safe, healthy, and laughing, and my fellow students are some of the most wonderful people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing.
Every aspect of the program we encountered was an enriching and exciting experience. We did not simply learn about Maasai culture, but experienced it first-hand by visiting a homestead called a boma, having a goat roast accompanied by a beautiful performance from a group of warriors, and making beadwork with Maasai mamas. We did not just hear lectures about public health issues in the region, we saw them taking place with our own eyes by visiting the closed Imbirikani clinic and the operational Kimana Health Center; volunteering at mobile clinic; and surveying the public through our questionnaire.
We did not only conduct research in the field on these issues, but we were given the amazing opportunity to present our findings to regional leaders and stakeholders so they can effect real change in their community. Though at times it was overwhelming, packing an entire research project into one month while also enjoying a once in a lifetime adventure, I am very proud of the hard work of my fellow students and researchers. The passion of every individual here made this program a success in the classroom, out in the field and on the soccer pitch during our daily 5pm games.
Studying abroad has been the best decision I have ever made. Yes, there were moments where I was afraid, uncomfortable, or frustrated, but it was these moments that pushed me outside of my American-made box and taught me what it means to be a culturally conscious global citizen. To other students considering study abroad through The School for Field Studies or another program I have one piece of advice: GO!
No matter what it takes, just get out there—whether it is Europe or Asia, South America or Africa. If you have to go for an extra semester at your home institute, take the risk. If costs are your concern, there are many scholarships available to students with a strong desire to go abroad; apply for all of them, even if you think you don’t qualify. You will never regret your choice and you will come home with so much more than stories, pictures, and sovereigns. You will have a new view of your home, your culture, and the world in which you live. Though we say goodbye to Kenya today, we will return home better citizens of the Earth thanks to our time in this beautiful country. Asante sana, SFS and kwaheri, Kenya!