2010 Boren Scholarships
Ohio State University
When I traveled to Nairobi in 2009, I experienced a stimulating yet jarring culture through the juxtaposition of extreme poverty and great wealth present in and around the city. However, I felt my time spent in Kenya was not long enough for me to truly understand the people, their culture, politics or language. Eventually, I became so intrigued with East Africa and U.S.-Kenya relations that I changed my academic focus from Slavic to African Studies, and applied for a Boren Scholarship.
In my program I took intensive Swahili courses, analyzed Kenya on a social and historical level, and conducted my own research under the guidance of native professors. My language courses consisted of approximately 20 hours per week of in-class instruction, in addition to assignments and outside reading. I also took a supplemental course that helped me reflect on my crosscultural experience, as well as how to process and apply my experience abroad to my future career goals of working in international development.
I also worked as an intern for a community-based education and development organization in Malindi. My internship helped me to see development occur from the grassroots level. This important experience has impacted how I view development issues and has taught me to be more sensitive to how my work affects those in community-based organizations.
Living with a host family is definitely the best part of studying abroad. It helped me learn both the language and the culture simultaneously. I further interacted with the community by participating in road races, such as the Nairobi Marathon. Participation in races provided more incredible opportunities for me to meet locals and to really discover Kenya. I was continuously amazed at how events as simple as races can create such wonderful cultural experiences. I learned so much by both working and playing as the locals do, though I’m sure some would not consider running 42 kilometers “playing!”
In the future, I hope to use my talents and experience to improve economic recovery and humanitarian coordination in East Africa. I am particularly interested in serving as a member of USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance.
Studying in Kenya was my first experience with individual, original research, and it inspired me to pursue more research opportunities, whether in graduate school or through an internship. Living and learning in Kenya opened my eyes to more than just the issues that I want to study, but also the opportunities I have for gaining experience related to those issues.
Written: January 2014