At the end of each semester, we ask a few students to reflect back on their SFS experience. Here’s what Cameron Bonnell had to say about SFS Kenya:
What’s the first story you’re going to tell your friends and family?
While on expedition in Amboseli National Park my fellow students and I were fortunate enough to take part in a comprehensive game count of the park’s mammals. Our morning and afternoon was spent driving off-road through the park, counting all visible mammals as we went. Through our game count we were permitted to drive off-road in order to improve our accuracy, allowing us to experience the park in a very different way than the average tourist or student. By days end we had counted over 3000 zebras, 2000 wildebeest, 400 elephants and many other species of mammals.
Expectations vs reality: What were you surprised by?
Coming into this experience I had tried my very best to limit any expectations of this place or its people. I admit that I hadn’t really done a heavy amount of research into the country of Kenya, and as such I had little perspective on it besides what I had seen in nature documentaries. One thing that will stay with me for the rest of my life is the sheer kindness of the community members here, an aspect of this entirely excluded from the nature documentaries that had previously informed my perspective. Studying the culture of the Maasai people and seeing how close they are to the wildlife here has been something that I had never expected. Never before would I have thought that people in these communities would struggle with wildlife destroying their crops or killing their livestock on a daily basis.
How has your perspective of the country changed over the course of the semester?
I believe that coming into this experience with a minimal understanding Kenya and its people was beneficial to me in limiting my personal biases. The people of this country are extremely charismatic, hardworking and welcoming, a reality which is not well represented to potential visitors back in the United States. Far too often is seems that the country of Kenya is represented to the outside world simply by the rich megafauna which inhabit its National Parks. However, I have found the people of Kenya to be equally as magnificent as the lions and elephants which roam these lands. Kenya is a place of spectacular wilderness, unparalleled wildlife, and above all unforgettable people.
What unexpected challenge did you face, were you able to overcome it, and what did you learn from that experience?
An unexpected challenge for me were the difficulties associated with limited internet and cellular access. As difficult as it was at first to accept a limited access to communication and social media, I found that my preferred method of dealing with it was to accept and embrace its reality. I used this period as a time to separate from the clutter that is so commonly associated with modern reliance upon social media, offering me an opportunity to clear my mind and focus on my personal growth. I learned more about myself during this period than I have ever before, I attribute much of that to the lack of access to these things.
How have aspects of your identity influenced your experience studying with SFS? Did any of those surprise you? Has your experience with SFS influenced your identity?
My identity as a white person influenced some of the attention that I received within the local community. Additionally, my identity as an American influenced the way that many people interacted with me, oftentimes leading into questioning about my heritage and talks about how much Kenyans love America. I was surprised to hear how supportive people were of America and how interested they were in our cultural heritage there. SFS has helped to broaden my perception of the world in how value other cultures like that of the Maasai alongside my own. I believe that my experience with SFS has helped me to become a more curious and thoughtful traveler, skills that will lead to more informing experiences in my future travels.
What are you most excited about doing when you get back home, and what will you miss about SFS?
In going home I am extremely excited to see my friends and family and to share all of the amazing experiences that I have had here in Kenya. Coming home to the overwhelming machine that is American pop culture is going to be intimidating at first, nonetheless I am ready to become reacclimated to the fast pace of life back home. I will deeply miss the ‘pole pole’ lifestyle that is embraced at SFS, as well as all the people who have made this experience so special. The staff and students here have become extremely close, and I know that we are all going to miss one another’s company dearly.
What piece of advice would you share with a future SFS student coming to your program?
Make an active effort to avoid your personal biases, don’t be intimidated by anything while you’re here, embrace this opportunity to develop your story.
What three adjectives best describe how you are feeling right now?
Thoughtful, Rejuvenated, Motivated