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Emmerline Francesca Nelson

United States International University, Kenya, Africa

I studied abroad in the beautiful city of Nairobi, Kenya located in East Africa in the spring of 2013. I have always desired to study abroad but I believed that I lacked funding to do so. However, I put all of my doubts and negative thoughts aside and decided to visit the study abroad fair during the Fall semester of 2012. I learned about KEI (Knowledge Exchange Institute) in partnership with SUNY Albany’s study abroad program offered at the United States International University (USIU) in Nairobi, Kenya. At that moment I promised myself that I would do anything in my power to participate in the program. Although I became excited and eager after being accepted into the program, on the plane I became sad and felt alone. It hit me that I would be living in a foreign country without any family or friends for three months. I was scared. However, upon arrival I realized that I was not alone. The program’s on-site advisor picked me up from the airport and made me feel at home. He assured me that USIU students are like one big happy family and Kenyans are extremely hospitable. There were three other students who were a part of the Knowledge Exchange Institute from different schools in the U.S. as well as other international students from Tanzania, Ethiopia, Egypt, Liberia, Ghana, Somalia, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Cameroon, and parts of Europe and Asia who I developed great bonds with. They have even invited me to each of their home countries. I hope to visit some of them in the near future. We went on various educational, leisure, and cultural trips together which allowed us to truly experience Kenya. We volunteered at orphanages together, went sightseeing together, went on safaris together and visited historical sights together. Our list of excursions included Nairobi National Park, Bomas of Kenya, Masai Mara, National Museum and Snake Park, Mombasa Kenya where we took a tours of Old-town Mombasa, the Fort Jesus Museum and Ngomongo Cultural Villages, and the famous Lake Victoria. I also spent a weekend with a host family in Lake Nakuru where I enjoyed typical Kenyan family living. I had a great time on each trip and I have many pictures that allow me to relive each and every moment.

I met Sarah Obama, the step-grandmother of our current President Barack Obama. She spoke about the high rates of orphans in Kenya due to factors such as deceased parents as a result of the contraction of HIV/AIDS and the incapability of parenting as a result of the high rates of poverty. It is truly sad. I actually experienced firsthand interactions with some of these children through volunteer work. I volunteered with the Bella School/Children’s Home as a Math and English teacher to orphans and street children who were taken in by Bella. I volunteered with the Precious Blood High School educational program for their annual self-belief weekend where I served as a mentor for underprivileged high school students from rural, poverty stricken environments. Although I only worked with these youth for a short period of time, I am happy that I was a part of making a difference in their lives. I also learned a lot from them and gained a new sense of appreciation for all that I am blessed with because they manage to remain content with the little that they have. I mentor underprivileged youth in Albany and in my hometown of Staten Island, New York and upon my return I was able to explain to them and show them how similar the girls abroad are to them. The only difference is that the girls abroad do not have the same educational and social benefits as we do here in America. I have been in contact with Bella since my return to the states. I am working on a project here to raise funds for Bella to help them in their efforts to provide better living and education for the orphans they take in. Taking courses in Kenya was very different because the courses were taught from the views of Kenyans. I enjoyed the different perspective and I believe it taught me how to diversify my thinking. I took five courses abroad, equivalent to the courses I would have been taking here at the University at Albany, which all transferred in credits towards my major. That was a great benefit for me because I was able to study abroad and enjoy a foreign country during the school year while staying on track academically.

My overall experience was more than I could ask for. I learned a lot about East African culture and the beauty of Africa. The trip has encouraged me to travel more because there is so much that the world has to offer and I want to experience them firsthand.

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