Time Abroad: Fall 2009
Major: Geography and Studio Art
I firmly believe that in order to discover ourselves, we must put ourselves in uncommon and often uneasy situations. It was when I found myself completely out of my element while studying abroad in Kenya that I came to know who Cornelia Carpenter really is. Submerged in an entirely foreign yet fascinating culture, I experienced a variety of socially awkward and uncomfortable positions that I treasure today more than any sight, smell or taste. During my boma (a Maasai homestead which usually consists of a man and his wives and children) homestay, I spent a good part of the day collecting, mixing and applying cow dung to the outside of my mama, Mary's, house. She spoke no English and little Swahili; I spoke no Maasai and little Swahili: a perfect match. We made it through the day together with lots of silence but even more laughs and smiles. The experience drove home the idea that no matter our differences, the human spirit is found no matter where you travel.
I choose to study, explore and live abroad in a country that opened itself to a student in a vastly different way than it does a tourist. As a student, I came to know Kenya as my home away from home and today I have a sense of ownership, love and pride to Kenya as I do the United States; it has come to define a large part of who I am -- something only a very special place can do.
My experience in Kenya has influenced me greatly in my future plans. I hope to return soon and give my time and help to rural schools. I recall a day when I was conducting research in the field with my local translator, Pastor Peter, when a young boy ran up and asked me if he could have my pen for school; the school had no pens or pencils left to give to the students. Although Kenya is well ahead of many Sub-Sahara African countries, I am anxious to give back to the beautiful country that provided me with life's four most savory months. Ultimately, I want to help encourage the growing school systems, provide more supplies and make school more accessible to students around the country and continent.
In addition, I have confidence in the power of creativity. I believe that the encouragement of the creative mind is part of the solution for many developing worlds. Whether children find their imagination in art, music or the language arts, it is a hole in the system that I one day hope to fill. This idea of encouraging the creative mind spurred from a fascination I have with recycled art, which I had many encounters with while in Kenya. While walking through the rural town of Kimana I watched a young girl pull an empty jug by a piece of string with a hole cut out of the top and her handmade doll riding in it as if the fabric toy was Barbie cruising down Sunset Boulevard in her pink convertible. This young girl is only one of many Sub-Sahara African youth and I believe that in capturing this imagination and creativity, we may one day find solutions through building where there is little material.