As the Fall 2019 semester comes to a close, we asked some of our students to reflect on their experience abroad. Here’s what Alli Bassman-Lyons had to say about SFS Kenya:
What’s the first story you’re going to tell your friends and family?
I think I will tell people about my homestay with a nearby Maasai family here in Kenya and what an amazing opportunity this was to experience the culture that we had been learning about in class. I will tell them how welcoming my host family was and all of the activities I got to do with them that allowed me to learn about their daily life in a hands-on way and how important this was since community involvement was such a big part of many of the classes we took here in Kenya.
Expectations vs reality: What were you surprised by?
I was surprised by how much we learned regarding the many issues in conservation and how it has historically disregarded the local community. I knew that I would be taking the course Human Dimensions of Conservation, but I was surprised by what a large role these played in the rest of our courses as well. I was also surprised by how little I knew about this in general even though it is extremely important to be aware of when studying and working in this field.
How has your perspective of the country changed over the course of the semester?
Getting to know people here over such a long period of time has made me feel much more comfortable here. For instance, the first time I went to market day here in Kimana I felt pretty overwhelmed with the busyness, large amount of people, and language barrier but now that I have been to many market days and interacted with a variety of people in town I feel much more comfortable and at home than I initially had. Being here for longer than I would have if I was just here visiting has allowed me to form connections with people that live here and has showed me the many similarities there are to my home that I would most likely otherwise miss.
What unexpected challenge did you face, were you able to overcome it, and what did you learn from that experience?
An unexpected challenge that I faced when I first got here was being much more homesick than I had expected after being away from home for most of the summer and then flying right here to Kenya without a break. I was able to overcome this initial challenge, and I learned the importance of letting others know when something is wrong and accepting help. I also learned throughout the course of the semester that having a supportive community really makes a place feel like home, no matter how far away it may be.
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?
I think that the three main aspects of my identity that have most influenced my experience studying with SFS have been being a woman, an American, and a student. Being a woman has influenced my experience because I am much more aware of it here in my daily life through things like what I am allowed to wear and observing the difference in roles and responsibilities between the men and the women during my homestay. Being an American has influenced my experience studying with SFS because of how it has helped me to bond with other students even though in America we are from completely different places, being in a different country makes it more of a common piece of our identity than it would be otherwise. It has also influenced my interactions with community members who often have questions about what living in America is like, similar to the questions I have about what living here in Kenya is like. This aspect of my identity is less apparent when I am in the U.S. and generally surrounded by other Americans compared to here where being from different countries leads to a lot of sharing of culture between me and the people that I meet. Being a student here in Kenya has also influenced my experience as people have been very welcoming and often have questions about what we are studying. I am much more aware of being a student here when we go out into the field, especially during activities like interviews, and introduce ourselves as students and explain what we are doing here in Kenya/what we are studying compared to in the U.S. when I am surrounded by many other students in a more typical school environment. My experience here with SFS has made me much more aware of my status as a student and what a privilege it is.
What are you most excited about doing when you get back home, and what will you miss about SFS?
I am most excited to see my family and friends and having a month to relax before heading back to school. I am excited to share my experiences with them and hear what they have been up to while I have been away. I will miss all of the staff here at KBC and all of the support we get from them and always feeling taken care of and looked out for.
What piece of advice would you share with a future SFS student coming to your program?
I would advise a future SFS student to be open to new experiences and to take advantage of all of the opportunities that they will have here. Whenever possible, talk to not just other students but all of the staff here. Also, go into Kimana whenever you get the chance and don’t be afraid to talk to and meet new people. Everyone in town has been super welcoming and I’ve always end up meeting people whenever I go.
What three adjectives best describe how you are feeling right now?