Saturday, February 13, 2010

Why Kenya?

Many who know me are not surprised by my decision. At the same time, there are a small amount of people who are absolutely shocked. You see, my academic plan did not include Kenya. My area of focus is Latin America and I had taken other classes about the Middle East and Europe. While I do intend to spend this coming summer in Mexico, most of my friends thought I'd spend a semester in Italy or Chile or something like that. To most people, Africa was not even on my radar. Or was it?

In truth, I've had a long fascination with Africa and, in particular, the country of Kenya. When I was in kindergarten, my teacher taught us a few words in Spanish, Swahili, and Japanese and told us a bit about the corresponding countries. I remember telling my mother that, when I grew up, I'd move to Kenya and Mexico because, "It was hot there!" Later on, in my middle and high school social studies classes, I'd always flip to the chapters on Africa, where I learned that many countries were originally European colonies (Kenya was originally British). I also read a few fiction books about teenagers in Africa (such as "A Girl Named Disaster") and watched movies like Hotel Rwanda. When it came time for me to go to college, I wanted to become a doctor and I had plans to work all over the world, including Africa.

I came to my particular college as a slightly naive, hopeful, innocent teenager who wanted more than anything to escape her small town. During my first week there, I met a multitude of people who would change my life forever. Two of them in particular deserve a ton of gratitude. These two, to be known as M and A on this blog, are people I'm honored to know as dear friends. I met them both at a campus function at the beginning of school. They were both seniors, having returned from their own study abroad trips. M had just returned from Kenya, A from Italy. As soon as I found this out, I blurted, "I want to do that!" "You can do that, too!" A had reassured me. Her words have never left me.

A year went by. I switched my major from Spanish with a minor in biochemistry to International Studies with a minor in Economics. I decided to focus on Latin America (due to years of Spanish and my own fascination) and International Development (since I am primarily interested in poverty reduction). I decided to study for a summer in Mexico. My original plan was to try to graduate early and then travel. Yet a nagging feeling made me rethink this.

Last year, one night in early summer, I remembered what I announced when I was five years old. I wanted to go to Kenya and Mexico. I was planning on a trip to Mexico already. Why wasn't I planning on Kenya? I started researching the program and realized that I could make it a possibility, especially because it fit more with my major than I previously thought. I ended up chatting with a friend of my parents and she said to me, "Katie, don't say no just yet. Work towards it like it's going to happen." I saved her words, but I didn't start working towards it. It was a lot of money and I just wanted to be done with school.

That all changed two weeks ago.

I'm currently taking a class on environmental politics (a class I need for my major). One of our assignments is a group project, where we have to do a case study on environmental politics in a particular country. We had our choice of China, India, Brazil, Estonia, Sweden, and Kenya. Something told me to pick Kenya. As we started compiling research, I realized how much passion I had, for both Kenya and the environment. I mentioned my own desire to go there. One of my classmates said to me, "I'm applying this fall! Come with me!" That was the confirmation I needed.

I talked with two advisers, my academic adviser and the adviser for the program. They both cleared me to apply. I also talked with my parents, who both encouraged me to go after it. So, to make a long story short, I am filling out a ton of forms, writing essays about development and leadership, and looking at ways to cut down costs (as I do want to make this my own, not make my family feel they have to feed my expensive travel addiction). My adviser told me this is a shoe in, everyone who applies gets in. So it's just one more baby step.


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