Coming Home: Recent Alumni Stay Connected to East Africa

Spending a semester in Kenya has been a transformative experience for many of our 2,000 plus alumni. Returning home after a semester abroad can be challenging and many alumni have maintained their connection to East Africa in meaningful personal and professional ways. Below is a profile of six recent alumni who came back with a desire to connect their KSP experience with their personal and professional goals after graduation. In some way they were determined to stay connected to East Africa and this is how they did it!

Kelly Sampier, KSP Fall ’13, SLU, ‘15
African Studies-Government Combined Major
Post Grad: Intern Brookings Institution (African Security Initiative) and ESL Instructor with the Rwanda National Cycling Team

Kelly Sampier ESL Teacher Rwanda National Cycling Team

Kelly Sampier ESL Teacher Rwanda National Cycling Team

I recently graduated from St. Lawrence in May 2015 with a combined major in Government-Africa Studies. Following graduation, I interned over the summer with the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., conducting research for the recently launched Africa Security Initiative. After my internship, I moved to Rwanda to become an ESL instructor for the Rwandan National Cycling Team.

(Editor’s note)—See Kelly’s co-authored articleThe State of African Security” about African Security” published during her internship

I applied for the Kenya program in the fall of 2013 because I have always had a passion for all things Africa. As a high school student I was captivated by the scope of poverty handicapping many Sub-Saharan African countries, but also by the rich culture and vibrancy of African people. I knew I didn’t want to do a traditional semester abroad in Europe, but rather I wanted to be pushed outside of my comfort zone and to have a once in a lifetime experience that I would not have been able to achieve without the support of the KSP program.

While I experienced culture shock when I first arrived in Kenya, the true culture shock occurred when I returned to the U.S. After having traveled throughout Kenya, lived with the Hadzabe in Tanzania, and interned with an NGO in the slums of Kampala, I found it difficult to easily adjust back to my life in small town Northern New York. My experience during the KSP enabled me to approach situations differently than I normally would have and once back at St. Lawrence I had a broader perspective of the material I was learning in the classroom.

Currently as an ESL instructor, I teach the Rwandan National Cycling Team in the beautiful landscape of Musanze, Rwanda. It is Team Africa Rising’s philosophy that learning English is just as important as training as a cyclist, as the ability to speak English is the only way a Rwandan cyclist can be able to race professionally and on an international level. While on the KSP I learned the value of cultural sensitivity and to have an open and positive mind when entering new situations. This has been invaluable to me during my time in Rwanda because it has allowed me to connect on a deeper level with the cyclists in order to foster a relationship of trust and respect that enables a comfortable and easy learning environment. My experience on the KSP solidified my desire to work and live in East Africa. When I am in Africa I truly feel like I am home.

Sean Kelly (KSP Spring 2014, SLU ’15)
African Studies-Economics Major, Global Studies minor
Post Grad: Internship at The World Bank

Sean Kelly on his summer 2015 internship at the World Bank

My journey to Kenya started long before my time at St. Lawrence.  Growing up with both my parents having graduated from St. Lawrence, I always heard great stories from the four years at school that they both cherished.  The tales that fascinated me the most didn’t exactly happen in Canton, New York but were from my mother’s adventures during the St. Lawrence Kenya Semester Program.

I graduated this past May with a combined Economics and African Studies major, along with a Global Studies minor.  I participated on the Kenya Summer Program for six weeks after my freshman year and had such an amazing time that I decided to go back for the semester during my junior spring.  Not a day goes by without thinking of my experience on the semester program.  To be able to read about current issues in Kenya in the morning, and to hold discussions and conversations with those directly effected in the afternoon provided us with an incredible learning opportunities.  Also, being able to live the Kenyan lifestyle allowed us to blend in to Nairobi as just another Kenyan.  Between the rural homestay without power and electricity, to hunting with the Hadzabe tribe in Tanzania, spending the night in a Maasai mud-hut and having class in Amboseli National Park, we were all a part of some really incredible experiences that I would not have been able to get; not only anywhere else in the world, but on any other St. Lawrence study abroad program.

My biggest takeaway was that I learned to be more confident in myself and my abilities, and that I genuinely enjoyed building relationships with people coming from different experiences and backgrounds.  I used this new confidence and identified passion at St. Lawrence to maximize the time I had left to be a leader inside the classroom and in clubs that I cared about.

Giraffe Center, Nairobi

Giraffe Center, Nairobi

The St. Lawrence alumni network in Kenya allowed me to explore current and future opportunities in the broad topic of economic development.  For my independent study on the Kenya Semester Program, I spent four weeks with GE Africa at their headquarters in Nairobi and worked on a potential alternative energy project for sub-Saharan Africa.  Post-semester, I was able to contribute to the BOMA Project – founded by a Kathleen Colson, ’79 – as a monitoring and evaluations leader in rural northern Kenya.  Following graduation, I traveled to Washington, D.C. to intern at the World Bank to learn about their role in the development of Kenya’s growing financial system.  These three experiences have given me a great understanding of what there is to offer as a post-graduate within my interest of economic development in East Africa.  I will forever be thankful for my liberal arts background and my time on the Kenya Semester Program.  Just as those have helped me, I look forward to helping other future St. Lawrence and KSP alums on their journey after their four years in Canton, New York.

Lacey Burns, KSP Spring ’14, SLU, ‘15
African Studies and Government, Economics minor
Post Grad: Research Intern at The BOMA Project (Note: Boma’s CEO and founder is fellow KSP and SLU Alumna Kathleen Colson).

KSP 2014 Spring Group

Lacey Burns and the Spring 2014 ground—top left

I have been to Kenya twice with St. Lawrence. The first was during the summer before my sophomore year in 2012. After my first return I found that my interests in my studies had shifted. I wanted to know more about Kenya as a country and Africa as a continent. I wanted to be able to answer the countless questions I had asked myself during my first visit. I took classes concerning Africa and development and fell in love with the complexity and history of such a foreign place. I applied for the Kenya Semester Program in the fall of 2013, because I knew I had to go back. With everything that I had been learning, I wanted to put my knowledge to the test. I wanted to expand my academic goals and I wanted to see, hear, feel, and learn everything I had been learning first hand.

When I returned to SLU from my semester in Kenya, I had changed. My outlooks on life, school, and my future were now all shaped around the passion and drive I had found through living abroad. I was more confident in myself, in what I wanted to accomplish, and in how I wanted to live life. My time in Kenya opened my mind, eyes, and heart to myself. It was as if a switch had been turned on and that I had finally discovered whom I really was. The impact of four months allowed me to grow as an individual academically as well as structurally. Once back at SLU I find myself constantly looking back on my time there and recalling the friendships, the happiness, and the discovery of exploring an unknown place. The SLU community felt more like a haven than I had ever felt in my three years. SLU truly had become my home. It was the place that had influenced my academic path, fostered my insatiable drive to travel and clarified the focus for my career goals.

While in Kenya, I learned a few lessons; stay open-minded, that there is no such thing as being late, and that when it rains on your arrival it’s a blessing. However odd these lessons may sound, they have helped me in pursuing my current career goals. After my internship ends in a few weeks, I will be unemployed and looking for the next opportunity. Usually that would bring me stress because I like organization and planning in my life. However, I’ve found that I’m more open-minded to the idea of being lost in the right direction. I have learned that although I may not have my next path laid out, life is going to be okay. That life will happen but it may take time for things to fall into place. I’ve also become comfortable with letting time pass, without feeling like I constantly need to be busy. Lastly, I’ve realized that like the rain, the storm comes and goes. Our first night in Kenya the skies opened up and the rain came down. Wairimu and Sinnary spoke of rain as a blessing to our arrival and I loved that. I loved the thought of water falling from the sky bringing life to the earth and leaving the air smelling fresh. I loved that the rain signified a new chapter for all of us students, a fresh beginning to what we could discover about the country and ourselves. Rain comes and goes and so do the years of our lives and the choices we decide to make with them. In all, the lessons I gained from KSP remain as a constant reminder that there is always more to learn and plenty of time to do so.

Allison Paludi (KSP Spring ’12, SLU ’14)
Global Studies Major, African Studies Minor
Post SLU: Fulbright Fellow–English Teaching Assistant (Senegal)

Allison Paludi--Teaching in Senegal

Allison Paludi–Teaching in Senegal

During my first semester at SLU, I took Swahili as one of my electives to fulfill the Math/Foreign Language requirement and after that semester, I knew I wanted to travel to Kenya. So, sophomore spring, I made the journey along with 20 other SLU students and 1 non SLU student. Little did I know my experience would eventually bring me back to East Africa and now, West Africa.

I remember returning from my semester abroad thinking: How can I get back to Kenya? Clearly, 5 months plus a Travel Enrichment Grant to extend my stay by 2 weeks was not enough. I began my junior year, trying to find my groove on campus as being in the classroom was not very self-satisfying after spending a semester living and learning through experience and ended up becoming involved in several extra curricular activities…one of which led to the creation of the Global Dialogue Center on campus and the other gave me countless new friendships with students from all over the world, SLU African Student Union. I became much more interested in my outside-of-the-classroom learning experience (similar to my experiential learning in Kenya) than the structured classroom setting. I continued to take African Studies courses and started to weave my experiences into my Global Studies classes especially in terms of power theories and constructing identities. In addition, I was a Peer Advisor with the CIIE Offices where I got paid to talk about KSP and recruit SLU students to study abroad—something I loved doing!

The summer after junior year, I received a grant through the Global Studies Department to return to Uganda, where my IDS placement was, and conduct observational research with an NGO located near the Nile River, also a hotspot for tourists, which would benefit my Senior Year Experience research paper.

Then, after seeking guidance from the African Studies department, I applied for a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship for Kenya. I remember spending countless hours on personal statements and statements of grant purposes, trying to create something worth reading. After weeks of writing, I submitted my application and began to wait. And wait. And wait.

During the spring semester senior year, as I was still waiting to hear from Fulbright, I reached out to the NGO where I did my IDS to see if any job openings would be available, as I would be graduating the following May and all I wanted to do was get back to East Africa. That same week, the CEO called me and said they needed someone ASAP to fulfill their Project Manager position. Amidst all of this, I was working on my Global Studies Honors Thesis where I critiqued these NGOs and the power and influence they have on particular communities. Needless to say, I knew if I committed, I might be living my SYE. I said yes and a few days later, I found out I was accepted to become a Fulbright ETA during the 2014-2015 school year. It all felt like a dream.

I departed for Uganda a week after graduation and at the end of May, received an email saying my Fulbright placement was not possible because of security threats in Kenya. My heart sank. In my mind, I planned on spending the next 18+ months in East Africa. After so many hours of preparing and the feeling of finally being accepted, I felt like it was all for nothing. A few weeks went by when I received a follow up email. This time, a new offer: An opening in Dakar, Senegal.

My initial thoughts: Senegal is not Kenya. My French is not up to par. I know nothing about West Africa. All the more reason to accept. In January 2015, I left my Ugandan home and made my way over to Dakar. After almost 7 months in this city, I can say I have discovered a new home, learned a new language (Wolof), improved my French, and experienced more than I can put into writing.

Each one of us KSPers has our own unique experience that shapes our mindset and maybe even our career path. I never thought I would be able to experience all that I have—in East and West Africa—and thanks to the Kenya Program as well as my time at SLU (especially through Global Studies and African Studies) I have been able to dabble in a little bit of everything. Now, as my grant comes to a close, I have a clearer idea of what’s next: grad school and more time spent on this continent. Kenya may have been where my experience started, but it has taken me quite far from our home in Karen.

Scott Robinson (KSP Spring ’11, SLU ’12)
Global Studies Major, African Studies Minor
Post Grad: AmeriCorps, Peace Corps Volunteer (Togo and Rwanda 2013-present)

Scott Robinson

Director of NGO Education in Togo and Scott Robinson during a workshop to promote gender equitable practices.

My name is Scott Robinson and I graduated from St. Lawrence University in 2012 with a major in Global Studies and a minor in African Studies. After graduation, I worked in St. Petersburg, Florida as an AmeriCorps teacher at Academy Prep Center for Education. Directly following, I joined the Peace Corps in Togo, West Africa as an English and Gender Education volunteer where I served for 27 months. On  August 7th I closed my service in Togo and accepted a short term assignment with Peace Corps Response in Rwanda teaching English at a rural secondary school. I will be closing my service in Rwanda in November of 2015. It cannot be stressed enough that my experiences in the Kenya Semester Program have guided my life aspirations along with my desire to work on the African continent.

Before beginning my academic career at St. Lawrence I applied to a summer study abroad program in Uganda and Kenya. This was my first time leaving North America and I had no idea what to expect. I first imagined landing into Nairobi, Kenya in a 5 passenger airplane, possibly hitting a giraffe or zebra on a compacted dirt runway. I was very ignorant. Nairobi is a metropolis. Everything that I saw on that first adventure sparked an interest in me that to this day has not gone away. When I began studying at St. Lawrence I enrolled in classes that were relevant to my first trip to Uganda and Kenya. Classes during my first year continued to push my interest in returning to East Africa. By the end of my first semester I knew that I was going to apply to the Kenya Semester Program.

John Curle, SLU '12 and Scott Robinson during a homestay in Kenya

John Curle, SLU ’12 and Scott Robinson during a homestay in Kenya

During the abroad program I became immersed into Kenyan culture through various rural and urban home-stays, Swahili language classes, and university courses taught by scholars from the University of Nairobi. I was given the opportunity to explore new cultures and learn more about the United States than I ever thought possible. Looking back on the KSP I realize how much the experience has influenced the decisions I have made since the program. In the spring of 2011 I completed the Kenya Semester, but I did not want to immediately return home to Upstate New York. I canceled my plane ticket and began backpacking across eastern and southern Africa until classes resumed in the fall. During this adventure I saw many beautiful sites and caught small glimpses of many countries, but at the end of this journey I still wanted something more. Luckily, when I returned to St. Lawrence for my senior year I was able to begin processing what had happened during the last several months. I used my KSP experience to write my senior year thesis on Education Policy in East Africa. I felt connected to what I was writing about because of my experiences abroad. It was at this time I began applying for the Peace Corps in order to continue learning on the African continent.

My KSP experience has greatly impacted my Peace Corps service in Togo and now in Rwanda because it has made me critically think about my role in the world. I strongly believe that the Kenya Semester Program has equipped me with the knowledge and skills to live and work anywhere. Even though my journey in Rwanda will be finishing in a few short months I know that I will continue working on Education Initiatives on the African continent for the rest of my life.

Mark Marchant (KSP Fall ‘08, Vassar College, ‘11)
Political Science Major (Vassar)
Post KSP: Research Officer at the Institute of Economic Affairs (Nairobi, Kenya)

Mark in Nairobi enaging in public policy work

I did SLU KSP Fall ’08. I graduated from Vassar College in 2011 with a B.S. in political science and wrote my senior thesis on the politics of humanitarianism.My initial interest in Kenya was through reading Heart of Darkness and Things Fall Apart in a high school literature class. The different depictions in those novels made me realize I had a lot more to learn, and needed to problematize more of my thoughts and assumptions about places, and East Africa was a reasonable place to do that. My African politics professor, who was later my thesis advisor, recommended SLU KSP because previous students had a far better experience than other programs in the region.

I returned from Kenya with a much better global perspective. I remember being back at Vassar taking classes with African Studies majors who had never been to the continent, and I certainly had a more nuanced and informed perspective to learn new material when I was back on campus. I was also a more effective teaching assistant for a course on foreign policy that focused on America’s role in development in the Global South.

How have you used the lessons learned on the KSP after graduation and in pursuing your current career goals and/or in your current position. Simple: I work at the public policy think tank where I did my independent study with KSP and I have lived with my host family from the urban home stay. The Kenya Semester Program is not an isolated experience in my life: it is the foundation for my continuing professional and academic endeavors. Even as a non-SLU student, I feel embraced by the network of professional and academics with connections to SLU and the program in Nairobi, and it has certainly opened many very important doors in my life.

I work as a Research Officer at the Institute of Economic Affairs, a public policy think tank in Nairobi. I have done work on issues including gender inclusivity in national government, alcohol regulation toward improving public health outcomes, income distribution and the size and characteristics of Kenya’s supposedly burgeoning middle class, fuel prices, data journalism, and gender and attrition rates in Kenya’s education system. I’m taking a bit of a sabbatical this year to study Kiswahili at the State University of Zanzibar on a Cornelison Fellowship from Vassar College.

Meg North  (KSP Fall ‘08, SLU ’10)
Major: Environmental Studies/African Studies
Current Position East African Program Officer (Kigali, Rwanda)
The Women’s Bakery

Meg North at Work in Rwanda

Meg North at Work in Rwanda

One of the reasons that I choose St. Lawrence was because of the Kenya Semester Program! With a strong African Studies department and one of the oldest and most well-established study abroad programs in Africa, St. Lawrence was an easy choice. Motivated by a desire to learn about a new culture, new language, and a different perspective on environmental issues, I was thrilled to be accepted into the program and to study abroad during the fall semester of my junior year.

The semester after I returned to St. Lawrence I focused my course in African studies, anthropological and health. One of my most favorite memories from the end of my college experience was taking my senior year experience with Professor Matt Carotenuto, an influential mentor. His support has been instrumental in encouraging me to pursue my Masters in Public Health at Boston University and to continue my work in East Africa.

SLU reunion in Kigali, Rwanda (Meg North '10, Adam Kyamatare '09, Emmanuel Kipronoh '15, and Kelly Sampier '15)

SLU reunion in Kigali, Rwanda (Meg North ’10, Adam Kyamatare ’09, Emmanuel Kipronoh ’15, and Kelly Sampier ’15)

The Kenya Semester Program illuminated my passion for public health through an internship with a satellite of the International Planned Parenthood Federation in Nakuru, Kenya. In addition, the Kenya Semester Program helped me to acknowledge the reality and complexity of public health concerns worldwide and helped to me to start critically thinking about sustainable interventions for change. Today, I work with a business called The Women’s Bakery based in Kigali Rwanda. Our team hopes to bring business education and bakery infrastructure to women in East Africa. By providing highly nutritious bread recipes, we are also able to incorporate nutrition and health education into our curriculum and products. Without the lessons I learned from the Kenya Semester Program, I would not have developed the critical thinking skills to allow me to cultivate creative solutions to global challenges.

 

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