On to Kenya
This spring, 16 undergraduate and graduate students representing nine different disciplines were led by three Winston-Salem State University (WSSU) faculty members on a trip to Kenya as part of an interdisciplinary program designed to promote knowledge and understanding of East Africa in a global context.
The WSSU Spring Break in Kenya exposed students to the cultural, political, economic, and linguistic diversity in East Africa and allowed them to also experience the richness and diversity of Kiswahili language and culture.
After a five-week orientation to prepare for the trip, students found themselves on the campus of Kenyatta University in Kenya. For the next 11 days, they were exposed to lectures on history, politics, culture, economy, and society in Kenya. They had access to local scholars, civil servants, professionals, and artists. They visited a number of sites of historical and cultural interest and interacted with local students and the community at the university, in the local schools, health clinics, art and craft centers, businesses, community centers, villages, and markets. They also took a trip to Maasai Mara Park to learn about issues of cultural preservation and tourism in modern Kenya.
Graduate nursing student Nicole Calhoun, of Gastonia, N.C., said making the trip was important to her as a future health care provider.
“I was interested in learning about a different culture in its natural environment,” said Calhoun, who plans to pursue a doctorate in nursing research and develop cultural sensitivity research that addresses health disparities and health inequalities. “This trip impacted me personally and professional. Personally, I returned home with a sense of gratitude for the comfortable life I have and the opportunities I have been afforded. Professionally, the experience ignited a fire in me to address health disparities not only locally but internationally as well.”
For Birmingham, Ala., sophomore Ashely George, the excursion was a study in the social fabric of a country different from her own.
“I wanted to be able to study the politics of colorism within the diaspora of Kenya and to base my research on pure observation,” said George, a social work major. “I was tired of reading about social issues and stereotypes about a country that was prejudged through another individual’s perception. I wanted to formulate my own perception of the Motherland.”
George said her Kenyan experience changed her in ways that others saw but she didn't recognize at first. She said her values and perceptions were different upon her return.
“Grateful is the word that comes to mind,” she said. “ Grateful for not only the ‘things’ I possess but also for my family.” George remembers wanting to give away all the things she packed in her bag for the trip to the Kenyan children she met during her trip.
“My take away from this experience is that, as Americans, we take a lot for granted and that everything we do should have meaning and purpose.”
When she graduates, George plans to join the Peace Corps and open small clinics in Africa, offering counseling, health and tutorial services.
“Just to see the poverty level in the slums and poor health care system made me become more grateful than ever,” said Tiara Williams, a sophomore healthcare management major from Raeford, N.C. “The trip to Kenya motivated me even more to become successful so that I can help make a difference in the world.”
She said the trip taught her that it was the small things in life that matter and that you don’t have to have a high income to enjoy life. “The Maasai tribe taught me the true meaning of survival,” she said.
Seeing the world has always been a goal for Zieaira Baxter, a rising senior business administration major from Thomasville, N.C. She began working on that goal as a freshman during a six-week study abroad program in Shanghai, China.
“My mother always stressed the importance of taking advantage of my opportunities while in college, and studying abroad is one of those,” said Baxter. “Kenya was definitely one those places on my travel bucket list.”
She said the trip to Kenya humbled her and changed her perception of African countries. She said she really enjoyed her conversations with students from other African countries, which she credits with changing her life. Her visit to the Kibera slum, one of the poorest slums in Kenya, made her really appreciate what she has in America.
“Often times we find ourselves complaining over the small things [like] having hot or cold enough water, air conditioning in the summer, heat in the winter just to name a few. Yet, we fail to realize that some people don't have that at all,” said Baxter.
No sooner than Baxter returned from her trip to Kenya, she caught another flight bound for Brazil.
Though she is unsure about her future plans, she said, “My dream is to land a job with a Fortune 500 company. I am hoping that my international experience will reel me into a job or position that would include traveling!”