Rural Homestay Fall 2016

Fall 2016 Terrific Ten: Rural Homestay, Nyeri

After a wonderful first week of lounging around the compound, starting intensive Kiswahili, walking into Karen and getting to know each other along with our home for the next four months, it was time to head up north to Nyeri. This made some of us quite anxious, since we knew that this might be one of the tougher experiences of the semester, although we were also aware it would be among the most rewarding. Being encouraged to leave our ‘devices’ behind with Professor Wairimu, we pulled into the meeting location where our new found families were awaiting our (late) arrival. Most had their entire nuclear and even some extended family members in tow, basically insinuating whomever might fit in the car was there to welcome us. With smiles spreading from ear to ear, they collected us kids, and one by one we left for our adopted homes.

Over the course of the week, we would endure experiences none of us had ever done before in an American context, let alone on another continent. Activities included going to various church services, chores such as washing clothes by hand, various farming activities, mulching, milking, slaughtering, cooking, and most importantly, how to master the bucket shower along with the infamous pit latrine. Although we all had a wide range of experiences during our individual weeks, there were some recurring themes that became apparent when debriefing with one another such as the importance of community, religion, food sustainability and the development of education.

Community & Family:

One element of the Rural Homestay that we all had in common was the sense of community we experienced while in our families. Unlike the individualistic culture we are familiar with in the U.S., we found that the sense of community present in Kenyan, specifically Kikuyu, culture was very strong. Children do not belong only to their parents, but to the greater community too. On several occasions members of the community would stop in and end up staying for a meal, because one can never leave without tea and being fed, before going on their way; a practice which is uncommon in the U.S. Any success a member of the community had was viewed as a success for the entire community as well. Many of us found this emphasis on community and inclusiveness refreshing.

Going to the market in Nyeri Town was an extremely enjoyable experience for those of us who had the opportunity to go! The market brought people from all walks of life and socioeconomic statuses together, whether they were shopping for vegetables from local farmers, visiting merchants, having their hair done at the salon or buying clothing and jewelry. Trips to Nyeri Town were not only about nutritional and material goods, but also an opportunity for social interactions as well. We found that our host parents and siblings have often been loyal customers to certain vendors for several years. Although people found in Nyeri Town come from all over, there is a very clear sense of community among the individuals there as well. Everyone we encountered was very friendly and most were excited to see such new faces in town!

Most of our family units consisted of a mom, dad, at least one sibling our age, as well as additional siblings of varying ages. Most of our younger siblings could speak English and Kiswahili very well, while our parents were more well versed in the traditional Gikuyu language and Kiswahili. We found that we were able to put much of what we learned in our Kiswahili classes on the compound into practice when conversing with our families and people within the community. Our parents had various occupations ranging from farmers and teachers, to small business owners and military personnel; parents often worked very long hours and some were even required to be away from their families for extended periods of time due to work obligations. We also observed traditional gender roles within our families with mothers and sisters doing most of the cooking and cleaning while fathers and brothers worked on the farms and with the animals. In spite of the presence of traditional gender roles in Kikuyu culture, we had the opportunity to experience multiple facets of rural life in Kenya. Female students were able to work on shambas (farms) and handle the animals, while male students were able to help with the cooking and cleaning duties.

Washing laundry by hand

Washing laundry by hand


Religion plays a critical role in the value system of the Kikuyu. While it is not important which church each family chooses to attend, wholehearted commitment to the chosen church is an expectation from all ages and genders in the community. As a result, families attend church services every Sunday, and family members often belong to a sub-group based on age and sex. For example, St. Anthony’s Catholic Church was broken into three committees that met after service on Sunday’s and throughout the week: Youth Group, Women’s Committee, and Men’s Committee. In addition, in each group there was an executive board in place consisting of the President, Vice-President, Treasurer, and Secretary. Other roles existed within the churches as well, such as a large choir, Choir Director and Choir Conductor. As is true with churches in the United States, these positions are granted to elder members of the community who show great commitment and have experience with the dynamics of the church.

When we were told we would probably be attending a church of some kind on Sunday, many of us had expectations of what we might experience due to our familiarity with religious practices. However, to our pleasant surprise, most of the services we attended opened with members of the various youth groups dancing and praising up the aisle to the beautiful voices and music being produced by the choir. While the structure of these services closely resembled experiences had by some in the United States, they were filled with a great deal of upbeat music and a lot more community involvement.


After church on Sunday!

Food Sustainability & Farming:

All of our rural homestays had farms varying in crops and size. During our experiences we quickly realized that the meals we were eating were made of food either grown directly by our family or by their neighbors. Examples of food items included potatoes, yams, arrow roots, maize, avocados, bananas, beans, peas, and cabbage. When one crop was not in season, the families relied more on the other crops to provide them with the nutrients they need. In addition, all scraps and extra crops were fed to the cows, goats, and chickens. There was practically no waste in terms of biodegradable materials used and produced by these families. The cows and goats provide them with milk, and their manure is used to fertilize crops. In addition, the chickens provide them with eggs and on some occasions meat. For instance, one student quotes his homestay father as saying, “I’m proud of the work you and Erick did today, tomorrow we will slaughter a chicken in celebration.” Thus, a cycle exists on every family’s farm, and when gaps exist in this cycle, other members of the community help to fill them.

While debriefing, we discussed how different this culture is from anything we see in contemporary America. Although one might perceive such food sustainability as part of the American dream, most farmers in America grow crops to sell in wholesale to food companies and grocery stores or raise thousands of hormone injected chickens to slaughter. As a result, American farmers still find themselves going to the supermarket to acquire produce. Overall, the level of sustainability Kikuyu families preserves alleviates the pressure to generate high incomes from the work force because they feel a sense of security knowing they will always be able to provide their children with nutritious meals.

Development of Education:

A major issue that we all felt deeply about discussing once the week had finished was that of education. It was clear to us that we all were staying with fortunate members of the Kikuyu community (being able to feed, house, and entertain another human for a week can be demanding afterall!). But that did not prevent us from seeing the effects of impoverished conditions in the community. As mentioned earlier when discussing the importance of community support to the Kikuyus, each and every family looks out for their relatives that undoubtedly live up the street as well as neighbors who are most likely also lifelong friends and colleagues. Therefore, some students expressed having experienced kind of a revolving door at their homes, with family and neighbors constantly coming around to help and ask for help. Because of the large amount of youth in the community, word that a visiting student had brought a soccer ball or any other ‘toy’ spread like wildfire. One student claims to have had a standing playdate with eight to ten neighbor kids to play with her and the soccer ball she had brought her family. But what does this all have to do with education?

“None of those children were in school today… All of the students were asked to bring the school fees of 650 shillings with them to school today and if they didn’t have it with them they would be sent home. Every single one of them was sent home.”

This is a direct quote from the homestay mother of the woman who regularly had afternoon playdates with the neighborhood kids. The mother knows this information because she is a teacher at the local elementary level school that all of the kids would have attended. Six-hundred and fifty shillings is equivalent to six dollars and fifty cents. The mother went on to discuss with this student that these families had decided that they could not spare the 650 because it was to be allocated to other things to keep the household running.

As a group debriefing, we discussed this and how unfortunate it is that families are having to choose between the education of their children and other means. It put into perspective how important education is from such an early age; a small investment in an education at an early age can snowball into much greater returns in the long run. But it is hard to be patient for such a return, and especially when you have to make the investment for anywhere from one to ten children. Being placed in more well off families, all of our homestay siblings are in school ranging from kindergarten, boarding school for forms I-IV and even colleges or university levels. Although we have discussed some of the hardships when it comes to education, the Kikuyu community is distinguished for their high achievement in academics and desire to learn.


Afternoon playdates with neighbors


Kenya Program Alumni Head to Graduate School

Alumni of the Kenya program, often integrate their experiences abroad into their academic and professional lives long after they leave St. Lawrence. Beginning graduate degrees in Public Health and African History this fall, two recent alumni take us through their path from undergrad to graduate school through their experiences on the KSP. Hongera Emily and Katie and good luck this fall.

Emily Adams ‘16 (KSP Spring ’15)
Major: Neuroscience
Minor: African Studies
Currently: Masters of Public Health Student at Emory University

Starting her Masters in Public Health Program

Emily starting her Masters in Public Health Program at Emory University

Hamjambo, Saints! I just graduated from St. Lawrence with a B.S. in Neuroscience and minor in African Studies, and I’m now living in Atlanta, GA attending Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health where I’m beginning my coursework to earn a Master’s degree in Global Public Health. While I’m now fairly confident in my career path, I certainly did not begin my time at SLU that way! Without the KSP, I don’t think that I would be here in Atlanta at this world-class institution.

My freshman year began with a bit of luck. I had always been interested in the African continent, kind of annoyed that the topic was glossed over in high school, and I was delighted to be placed into an African Studies FYP taught by Dr. Matt Carotenuto. Having spent my junior year of high school living in France as an exchange student, I knew that study abroad was important—and, because I’d already done Europe, I was planning on choosing a different continent. I was interested in the KSP right away, but Matt’s guidance as my advisor plus my interest in his class solidified my decision to go to Kenya.

I should note that, through my sophomore year, I was planning on following the pre-med track. Especially as an incoming college student interested in health sciences, I didn’t know that there were other options—it of seemed to me that, because I liked neuroscience, I had to be a doctor. The combo of organic chemistry and physics was very stressful for me, though, and by the end of the year I decided that I did not want to spend four-plus years at medical school hating my life. So, I stopped focusing on what I felt like I had to do and instead just did anything I found to be interesting.

I ended up on the KSP during the spring of my junior year, which was really the beginning of finding my passion. My semester in Kenya was a wonderful experience—the level of cultural understanding my peers and I gained was wildly beyond anything we could have learned as tourists, which is what I was looking for in a study abroad program. Living with Kenyan families and speaking with Kenyans (and Tanzanians!) from all different backgrounds is something that is not really possible for most people later on in life—truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Even better for me was the independent study. The IDS portion of the program allows students to have a month-long educational experience at the organization of their choosing, almost anywhere in East Africa, and is the opportunity to depart from the program curriculum in favor of a focus on individual students’ specific academic interests. Still interested in health, I did my IDS at Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital (MTRH). MTRH, in the city of Eldoret, is Kenya’s second-largest public hospital. MTRH also happens to be the home of Indiana University’s AMPATH program, which focuses on the holistic treatment of HIV/AIDS in an area of the country with relatively high rates of infection.

While at AMPATH, I was able to do a myriad of things that solidified my interest in public health. The most influential activity was shadowing an epidemiologist as she visited/surveyed Eldoret’s large population of street children in an attempt to better understand their health in general, but specifically rates of HIV infection in what is a horribly marginalized population. I also had the opportunity to accompany community outreach workers, pulled from the local population, as they visited AMPATH’s HIV-positive patients in their homes in order to ensure compliance with medicine regimens and offer support outside the hospital. It was during these activities that I realized that my true passion was community-based health work. I enjoyed forging relationships with patients in their homes and learning about their lives and perspectives.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it—my month at AMPATH was intense, incredibly emotionally draining, and I was frankly relieved when it was over. I saw some difficult things and learned some hard truths that are easy to ignore while halfway across the world in America. At the same time, my experiences in Eldoret awoke something within me that I knew I needed to pursue.

I returned to SLU that summer where I was granted a SLU Fellowship to study the historical roots of STD stigma in Kenya, which I argued was inherited from their British colonizers. The research, done under Dr. Carotenuto, turned into my senior African Studies thesis, which I then completed and presented at a conference in Ottawa later that fall.

When I started applying to grad schools, I had personal experiences that both showcased my experience and passion in the field of public health, and I was accepted to Emory—arguably the best global health program in the country. Emory is home to some of the world’s leading academics on HIV/AIDS, which I had identified as my main area of interest. The school of public health also happens to be located across the street from the Centers for Disease Control, offering opportunities for internships, work study, and amazing guest lectures. Just today my class heard from Sandra Thurman, who was appointed personally by President Clinton as the leader of the Office of National AIDS Policy during the 1990s. We were all hyperventilating in our seats as she flipped through photos of her with President Clinton, Madeleine Albright, and Nelson Mandela, reveling in hearing from such an HIV/AIDS superstar—who also happens to be a member of the Emory faculty!

Basically, I am studying my passion at a place filled with THE experts of the field. Would I be here studying global health without the KSP? I hope so. But, honestly, I really doubt it. The best thing about the KSP is that anyone—even a neuroscience major—can find a way to tailor it to individual interests and to turn it into something that will be beneficial throughout a lifetime. I am certainly proud to be a SLU graduate, and even more proud to be a KSP alum!

Katie Greene ’14 (KSP Spring 2013)
Major: African Studies and History Combined
Currently: Graduate Student in the MA/Ph.D. Program in African History at Michigan State University 

Katie with Friends in Nairobi

Katie with Friends in Nairobi

While studying at Saint Lawrence, I first took Introduction to African history. Pre-existing notions about African culture were altered, and I became intrigued with African history. That paired with the incredible support of professors like Dr. Carotenuto and Dr. Schrems encouraged me to pursue history as a major, and my interest in encouraged me to apply to the Kenya program.

Thinking about how to connect this experience to my major, Dr. Carotenuto helped me develop an outline for a summer fellowship researching youth and generational politics in Kenya that would focus on processing my study abroad. While in Kenya, this research interest drove me to do my independent study with Student Campaign Against Drugs – an NGO run largely by young Kenyans and university students. This helped develop my interest in youth and generational relationships and led to a senior thesis regarding the role of youth in Kenya’s socio-political sphere and generational conflict rooted in colonialism.

During the summer before my senior year, I conducted preliminary research for my senior thesis, travelling to Syracuse University to utilize the Kenya National Archives microfilm collection. During my senior year, I was fortunate enough to receive funding from the History department’s Vilas research fund university to travel to the National Archives in London to engage in archival research of colonial documents.

These experiences stayed with me after graduation and drove me to apply for Ph.D. programs in African history. Fortunately I was accepted to one of the nation’s best programs at Michigan State University and have spent the summer of 2016 back in East Africa through Yale University’s Swahili program in Tanzania. Serving as a research assistant and through scholarship support from a Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship at MSU, I plan to spend the next several years furthering my interest in Kenyan history and working towards my Ph.D.

While in graduate school, I plan to study Kiswahili and another relevant language so as to best conduct ethnographic field research and to analyze primary source materials. I hope to further my St. Lawrence work on contemporary Kenyan history and add to the historiography of generational conflict and the role of youth in East African societies.








Coming Home: On Campus Research and Internships

Coming home, many alumni of the KSP wonder how they can integrate this life changing experience into their academic and even professional lives. Often the best way to process your semester abroad, can be through a directed internship or independent research projects where you can put your experience to work. Take a look at the two students below and see how they turned their semester in Kenya into a prestigious summer internships and research fellowship. Hongera (Congratulations) Annie and Megan, as we hope more students follow your example—-Matt Carotenuto (Associate Professor of History and Coordinator of African Studies St. Lawrence.

Annie Wilcox ’17 (KSP Spring 2016)
Government Major, French and African Studies Minor
Summer Intern: Brookings Institution’s African Security Initiative 

Annie Wilcox '17 (KSP Spring 2016)--Summer internship at Brookings

Annie Wilcox ’17 (KSP Spring 2016)–Summer internship at Brookings

Having just returned from a networking trip to DC, I arrived in Nairobi with internships on my mind. I was looking for summer internships in Washington, DC when Dr. Carotenuto mentioned the Africa Security Initiative internship at the Brookings Institution which was co-sponsored by St. Lawrence. It was an ideal opportunity.

I had never taken in-depth courses on terrorism or security issues facing sub-Saharan Africa while at St. Lawrence, but my liberal arts education gave me important tools to tackle these complex issues while at Brookings. The Kenya Semester Program specifically exposed me to a number of security issues that I researched at Brookings, including corruption, gang violence and the security problems that arise out of poor infrastructure, among others. I was better able to understand how the issues translated into the countries I was researching at Brookings.

The Africa Security Initiative is a two-year old project organized by the Foreign Policy Program at Brookings. While at Brookings, I worked with Senior Fellow Mike O’Hanlon on both research and events for the Initiative. Throughout the summer, I worked on a project that examines innovative security practices in cities around sub-Saharan Africa. I looked at various community policing models most notably in Rwanda. I helped plan a panel on President Obama’s role in African Security and Development. Dr. Carotenuto spoke about his research on Obama’s Luo identity. Sarah Minogue, Washington Director of Human Rights Watch, spoke and Brooking’s Senior Fellow Mike O’Hanlon moderated. The panel expressed concern that Kenya may be slipping back into authoritarianism. Finally, I was able to contribute to a blog post on Brooking’s blog Order from Chaos.

The benefit of working at an institution like Brookings is the constant access to information. Brookings has five research programs that host events on a range of topics: Foreign Policy, Metropolitan Policy, Governance Studies, Economic Studies and Global Economy and Development. Throughout the summer, I went to a number of events hosted both by my program and the other four. Some particularly notable events that I attended were the IMF Regional Outlook on sub-Saharan Africa, Inclusive Growth in Cities with OECD Secretary Ángel Gurría, and The Battle over the Border: Public Opinion on Cultural Change at the forefront of the Election. The Ambassadors from Uganda and Rwanda led a discussion on advancing financial and digital inclusion in their countries. Kenya was ranked first among the twenty-six countries the Financial and Digital Inclusion Project studied because of country-wide availability and access. My experience at Brookings reinforced so much of what I witnessed in Kenya, which was a really positive way for me to reintegrate myself after my semester abroad.

My summer at Brookings helped me understand the interplay between security and development work. The Kenya Semester Program and my internship at Brookings reinforced each other well. I carried out research on issues that I saw in play in Nairobi which added depth to my experiences abroad. One of the most prominent issues was corruption in the police force and how it affects all other aspects of security for citizens because of a lack of accountability for crime.

With senior year only two weeks away, I feel that my back-to-back experiences in Kenya and at Brookings have given me a better vision of where I would like to go after graduation. I am hoping the knowledge I gained and the people I met at Brookings and in Kenya will lead me back to working in Nairobi. I look forward to seeing where the experiences take me.

Megan Kloeckner ’17 (KSP Spring 2015)
Anthro/African Studies Combined Major

Megan on her rural homestay in Nyeri

Megan on her rural homestay in Nyeri

After I completed my semester in Kenya on St. Lawrence’s Kenya Semester Program (KSP), I found I still had so many questions, and was still very intrigued both by the country and its people. Though I know that traveling to Kenya was the ultimate learning experience, and that I have access to many engaging courses on SLU’s campus, I wanted to supplement my study abroad experience with a more personal study that focused on the issues I found interesting. St. Lawrence is wonderful in that it offers a few ways to go about independent research: students can complete a semester or yearlong independent project under the guidance of a professor, or there are a few research-focused fellowships for which students can apply.

The shores of Lake Victoria in Kisumu

The shores of Lake Victoria in Kisumu

I chose to apply to the St. Lawrence University Fellowship for the summer of 2016, and fortunately my project, Human Security in Luoland: Political Bias and Development Progress in Kisumu, Kenya, was selected. Under the guidance of Professor Matt Carotenuto, I spent nine weeks on campus conducting my research. This involved traveling to Syracuse University to collect primary data from their collection of Kenya National Archive documents, reading countless academic articles and other scholarly sources, assembling all the data and trying to formulate an argument out of it, and finally collecting my thoughts and composing a final research paper. The Fellowship also requires that each recipient construct a poster presentation that will be given to visitors on SLU’s Family Weekend each fall. While this is a great way to share one’s findings, Professor Carotenuto encouraged me to apply to Carleton University’s Institute of African Studies Undergraduate Research Conference as a way to further develop highlight my work, and also so that I may experience what it is like to attend and present at an academic conference.

The Fellowship project was the largest research project I’ve ever done, and while at times it was a bit overwhelming, I thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated my experience. I would definitely recommend completing an independent research project or University Fellowship to build upon one’s KSP experience, as it enabled me to delve further into an issue that had intrigued me when I was in Kenya. In addition to the Fellowship, I plan on using some of the information I gathered during my summer fellowship to inform my Anthropology and African Studies SYE project this year. So not only was I able to grow as a student from my KSP experience, but I have also been able to apply my experience to other academic pursuits as well, ones that will enable me to (hopefully!) have two polished academic research papers by the time I graduate. Looking more into the future, I plan to include my research in my Grad School application, as having research experience under one’s belt typically helps in application acceptance. Of course I will always appreciate my Kenyan experience through photographs and memories, but now I’ll also be able to see it as a stepping stone in my academic—and hopefully professional—career.