The Intercollegiate Student Magazine

The Case for Studying Abroad

Study Abroad: something students across America look forward to in their college experience. It’s an experience that allows students to grow, become more independent, and to explore new places while learning about the world around them and subjects they are interested in. Many students choose the traditional locations, such as Western Europe and developed countries, while few choose to travel to developing countries, such as Kenya. 

Semester and year-long programs in Europe allow students to ‘become a tourist’. Other than an American accent, these students can blend in with their new home. They can travel to many countries around the continent and be a new person in each place. Although Americans are judged in European countries, Studying abroad in Kenya is completely different. As a white person, you are always the odd one out, being called ‘mzungu’ (Swahili word for white person) everywhere you go. Everyone stares at you like you’re a celebrity. When I traveled to Europe, this was never the case. Talking with my friends studying abroad in European countries, people won’t stare at you if you are white, but they will stare at you if you don’t know the language. There is a stereotype for Americans in Europe that is hard to get around. Here in Kenya, the biggest stereotype I have found is being asked if I can sponsor someone or give them money. Here, many rural Kenyans believe that all white people have money, and that they just give it away. I have learned to explain this to the Kenyans I have met and have them understand that there are people in America like them. Breaking these stereotypes here in Kenya allows Kenyans to learn more about America, more than they see in the media. 

People around the world speak English, but studying abroad in a Western country usually means English is the second language. Many college students have taken Spanish, French, or other romantic language classes. They can practice their language and maybe have a brief understanding of the culture if they are in a country where a common romantic language is spoken. Studying abroad in Kenya looks a little different. People do speak English, but in the rural areas, it’s harder to understand. The culture is very different in Kenya as well. They have different customs, different ways of living, and lives are very different here. Studying abroad in Kenya allows students to immerse themselves completely into a new culture, different than many of them have experienced before. It is hard to understand a culture that’s so different from your own without immersing yourself in it.

Although there are positive aspects to studying abroad in Sub-Saharan Africa, there are definitely some parts that are difficult. Fear is a big drawback for students, as there is a lot of political instability and concern from parents. The political landscape varies among countries in Africa, and there is instability all over the continent. Pirates are common off the coast of East Africa, and safety here can be a concern. There are safety concerns anywhere people travel, even across the Western World. Instability shouldn’t hold students back from traveling to amazing countries and regions, it should just make them more aware. 

As an International Relations student focused on Sub-Saharan Africa, going to a Western country was something I was never interested in. I always wanted to study abroad in East Africa. By spending a semester here in Kenya, I am able to understand the culture, language, and socioeconomic and political landscape here in Kenya. I can take what I have learned back into the classroom. 

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