Written by Interdisciplinary Studies/International Affairs student, Alexa Baker
From June through August, about ten students from Howard University pursued a study abroad program in Kenya. They were part of a diverse group of almost thirty students from various academic disciplines and life experiences across the US. The program encompassed two groups of students, one through the Howard University Swahili Study Abroad (HUSSA) and the other through the Fulbright-Hays Swahili Group Project Abroad. HUSSA students studied for 6 weeks and Fulbright-Hays students studied for 8 weeks. Both HUSSA and Fulbright-Hays study abroad opportunities are intensive community-based Swahili language and culture programs designed to enhance participants’ language proficiency and promote knowledge and understanding of East Africa in a global context through Swahili language immersion.
Through my experience as a student in the Fulbright-Hays program, I learned more than I could have ever imagined. The language acquisition, networking opportunities, and personal friendships I formed were life-changing and after listening to the testimonies of my colleagues in both programs, I know I am not the only one who grew academically, professionally, and personally.
The program was split into two sections: three weeks in Nairobi and the remaining time in Kilifi. During our time in Nairobi, we stayed in Athi River, about an hour or two outside of downtown Nairobi. We studied at Daystar University, situated on the foothills of the Lukenya Mountains. Certainly the opposite environment to the concrete jungle of Howard University. Our daily schedule consisted of class beginning at 9am, break for tea, finishing classes for the day and going to lunch in the early afternoon. The rest of the day consisted of Kiswahili conversations and cultural immersion activities with our Daystar University counterparts as well as research for Fulbright students who were all to present a research project upon completion of the program. For example, my research project was on language policy in Kenya and its political, social, and cultural implications geographically and generationally.
During the first week of July, everyone packed their bags and traveled to the major port city of Mombasa via a Chinese-built high speed train. Although the contemporary international relations concepts we were exposed to in real time were innumerable, China-Africa relations was indeed major across the entire country. En route to the picturesque, seaside town of Kilifi, I remember seeing camels, ostriches, elephants, and zebras as we passed through a national park. It was difficult leaving Athi because of the university’s culture engulfed in hospitality, friendliness and generosity. As my first international experience, it was bittersweet to leave quickly after establishing a routine in the area and meaningful relationships with Daystar students. However, everyone was excited for a change of scenery and opportunity to explore the new university and its surroundings, the likes of which were just a half-hour walk to the turquoise-water, white-sand beaches of the Indian Ocean.
For more information about Daystar https://www.daystar.ac.ke/index.html or Pwani University https://www.pu.ac.ke/, please visit their websites or reach out to me at email@example.com and I would be more than happy to answer questions and/or redirect any questions to the Daystar and Pwani University students. I would specifically encourage undergraduate students to check out either institution’s master programmes as well as other universities in Kenya such as the University of Nairobi.
“As a comparative literature major PhD student, my experience in Kenya brought my Afro-Asian comparative reading alive. I am grateful for this trip and all the wonderful people I met.”
~Qiyu Chen, Penn State University
“It was, to me and many others, sui generis to find Americans looking at our literature styles and linguistics with emphasis on cultural significance.”
~Maxwell Ndege, Undergraduate Law student and Governor of Daystar University Student Association at Athi River Main Campus
“I was really happy spending time with them as they learned Swahili and also exploring the Kilifi environment together. I cannot forget exchanging numbers with my American language partner and it was our first time putting international contacts in our phones!”
~Brian Orondo, Undergraduate Education and Swahili student, basketball player at Pwani University
“We enjoyed having you all here and especially sharing stories at mealtimes and after classes. It helped us all in relieving the monotony of a university semester.”
~Erick Miheso, Undergraduate Information and Technology student, rugby player at Daystar University
“Ubuntu. You are a person because of who you come from and you are a person through your colleagues here in Kenya.”
~Willam Deng Mayen, Undergraduate International Relations student at Daystar University
“It was a life changing experience and I am so grateful to have been awarded the opportunity to study Swahili on a daily basis in a variety of environments inside and outside of the classroom.”
~Aaron Schall, Undergraduate African Studies student at Indiana University Bloomington
“Tulikuwa na nyakati njema na wanafunzi wa Marekani. Elimu bahari haina kuta wala dari. Tulifurahia kwa maana wanafunzi waliweza kukisoma, kukielewa, na kukizungumza Kiswahili. Yale waliyoyasoma yatakuwa ya manufaa kwao na watazidi kufijunza kila siku.”
~Joy Tele, Undergraduate Development Studies and Psychology student at Daystar University
”I didn't know what I had was that special until you guys came along so asanteni sana. Also I got to hear Americans talking about real issues they have in their country. This built perspective for me as an International Relations major.”
~Giddeon Kweri, Undergraduate International Relations student at Daystar University
“It was inspiring to see students from a different part of the world, learning and appreciating Swahili and the infinite cultures of its speakers. Their commitment to simply sit and visit with the speakers of this language was commendable. I treasure the moments that I got to spend with some of them in my country. As a PhD student at Howard in Communication, Culture, and Media studies, I have also transported my teaching abilities across continents from Daystar to Howard University. I continue to share the Swahili language and culture with the students I met in Kenya and I am excited to make new connections here.”
~Mwalimu Eric Kadenge
“My experience in Kenya was great to enrich my Swahili language skills, and advance my proficiency from advance to almost fluency. It was also a great time for introspection and thinking about the next steps I would like to take along my journey.”
~Ornella Baganizi, Graduate Oral History student at Columbia University