Leaning native language create bond of identity Past Review

By (Birmingham-Southern College) - abroad from 05/27/2018 to 07/15/2018 with

SIT Study Abroad: Public Health in the Tropics Internship (Summer)

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
Through the internship program, I have gained hands-on lab techniques for isolating a bacterial strain that causes TB. I have learned to work as a lab team to accomplished projects. From receptions of samples to releasing results, lab personnel checked each other's work to ensure the accuracy of lab results. I have also learned to develop research topics using the scientific approach. In the process, I have learned to collaborate with other researchers in the field who shared the same interest and desire to see TB and HIV eliminated through research-based efforts. With my host family and the community I was interning in, I have learned that when I speak in their native language, I identified with them. I saw their faces lit up and want to share more of their stories. Such an incident has taught me that when we identify with the people by speaking their native language, we break cultural barriers and enter into a new cultural horizon. The horizon of common humanity who respect and value each other deeply.

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 6 months+

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

I am so thankful for the opportunity to study abroad with School for International Training (SIT). I had a wonderful hand on laboratory experiences with Kenya Medical Research Institute and Center for Disease Control (KEMRI/CDC). The internship centre had provided effective facilities to study the prevalence of Tuberculosis and HIV in Western Kenya. If you desire hands-on educational experiences and research projects, SIT Study Abroad is one of the best programs to pursue.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

SIT Kenya program offers diverse internship opportunities for students to choose from. Each of them offers student practical learning experiences. The administration is supportive of the students' desires and ensures that students achieve their internship objectives as planned.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

I am glad I was living with a host family. Such a housing arrangement has given me opportunities to get immerse into understanding how different cultural practices were influencing public health in the tropics. I had a room to myself, and I was secured. My host mum constantly checked on me and ensured that I was safe. She also ensured that all the windows and doors were closed to prevent mosquitoes from entering the rooms. I missed my host mum and host siblings!

* Food:

Living with a host family has given me the best opportunity to eat Kenyan traditional cuisines. My host mum mostly prepared what I wanted to eat. My favourite was mostly Chapati (flat Kenyan tortilla type bread) with beef stew. I also love eating small sardine-like fish (Omena in Luo, Dagga in Kiswahili) with Ugali (traditional corn-like food prepared from maize flour) and sukumawiki (a type of collard greens mostly confused with kale). Host family stay has given me the best taste of Kenyan delicacies.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

Through the SIT home-stay program, I had a wonderful opportunity to interact with the Luo community in Kisumu, Kenya. Since I am an African American, the community thought I was a Luo at first sight. They mostly greeted me in Luo and Kishwahili. I quickly learned to greet in both Luo and Kiswahili. I noticed that learning to speak the native languages was my best tool for cultural integration. I deeply bonded with my host family and the community. Even in my internship place, whenever I spoke in Luo or Kishwahili, everybody around laughed and wanted to engage in more conversation. I have learned that my passion for learning the native language is an active doorway to the heart of the culture.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

SIT study abroad and Birmingham-Southern College had health insurance coverage for me while studying abroad. I am so thankful for the privilege. SIT administration in Kenya adviced the students that there were efficient hospitals in Kisumu that were accessible through our health insurance coverage in case we needed to. Kenya has health insurance coverage for the citizens, but based on my observation in Kisumu town, few were enrolled due to financial situations. My host family told me that most patients have access to Over-the-counter drugs because they were convenient and accessible since most hospitals were overcrowded and lack some of the drugs. Prevalent health issues included malnutrition, malaria, typhoid, Tuberculosis, and HIV. I had vaccinations for typhoid, Hepatitis B, yellow fever; and preventive drugs for malaria. I also got plenty of mosquito repellants.

* Safety:

Kisumu county is a safe and friendly county. I did not experience any safety-related incidents during my internship program. During the day, my friends and I would walk the streets to explore the city and practice our Kiswahili in the market. We mostly felt safe. However, my host family confided in me that sometime political tensions might arise in the city during a presidential election period. My advice for future students is not to walk the streets alone, and never try to navigate the city at night. Also, it is safer not to carry lots of money in your purse whenever you want to go buy things in the markets or eat in the restaurants. Money can draw attention to your self, and you might not want that. It can also be safer to take public transportation in a group to avoid harassment, especially to female students. Tuk-tuk (a mechanized three-wheeled taxi ) was our best option to navigate the city because it can carry about 3-4 passengers. Dressing can say a lot about any visitor, so dress decently to avoid misconceptions.

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? Yes

SIT internship program in Kenya provides head-on research and learning opportunities. While working in the TB and HIV labs, I have learned that SIT Kenya desires students to gain knowledge on how research projects can influence public health policy from grass-root level to national levels. I would love to be part of such interdisciplinary studies. While living with my host family, I was able to identify some of the influence of public health policies in influencing community lifestyles. For example, my host family never shared sharp razors for cutting nails because they were educated that sharing sharp razors is one of the ways in which a person can acquire HIV. I am thankful SIT Kenya has integrative learning opportunities for students.


* Money: How easily were you able to live on a student's budget?

(1 = not very easy/$200+ on food & personal expenses/week, 2.5 = $100/week, 5 = very easily/minimal cost)

Not including program expenses, about how much money did you spend on food and other expenses each week? I love my host mum's food, and at the end of the day, I would hurry home to taste what she had prepared. I possibly used less than $50.00 for soft drinks with my host family, transportation, and sometime go with my friends to the theater to watch movies. I had planned for minimal cost living.
Do you have any general money-saving tips for future study abroad participants? I think it's better to know what you love to spend money on before heading to study abroad. Also, know the exchange rate and prices of basic commodities beforehand. Such knowledge will help you budget effectively.


* Did your program have a foreign language component? Yes
How much did the program encourage you to use the language?

0 = No encouragement, 5 = frequent encouragement to use the language

The Kiswahili teachers encouraged social interactions with the native Kiswahili speakers in the course of their teaching. They encouraged the students to use Kiswahili in the market, with host families, as well as during our internship. I am thankful for the different learning avenues the teachers availed to aid the process of learning Kishwahili.

How would you rate your language skills at the beginning of the program? None
How would you rate your language skills at the end of the program? Intermediate
What was the highest level language course you had completed prior to departure? None
How many hours per day did you use the language?
Do you have any tips/advice on the best ways to practice the language for future study abroad participants? While on the program I spoke lots of unrelated words, and everyone was laughing at me. But eventually, all the fragmented words became better sentences. I would advise students never to be shy when it comes to learning a new language. Laughter and humour create a connection to learn.

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Host Family
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Host Family
* Who did you take classes with?

Select all that apply

  • Americans
About how many local friends did you make that you will likely keep in touch with?

A Look Back

* What did you like most about the program?
  • The hand on lab projects and learning Kiswahili language were great inspiration during the program.
  • The stay with host family has given me an opportunity for cultural immersion
  • I love the visit to the traditional herbalist. It has taught me to integrate how traditional worldview concerning public health can work hand in hand with the modern public health policies
* What could be improved?
  • I would love to see more time devoted to exposures to traditional herbalists to understand how such practice supplement and create challenges in implementing modern public health policies.
  • I also would like the program to be extended to 8 weeks instead of 7. One extra week can help in rounding up internship projects for effective presentation.
  • Students should be availed the different internship opportunities early enough so that they are mentally prepared.
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? I now know that speaking a native language is a key to unlock the door to cultural immersion. I wish I knew this before because it took a while to start understanding the culture after I was able to speak Kiswhahili words. I also wish I knew the different internship opportunities available on site so that I would prepare in advance before arriving on site. On arrival, I learned about different cool internship opportunities and had to make a decision in a hurry. I initially had a general idea about interning with the CDC/KEMRI but had little details about what it entailed.