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Williams International

Madeline King '11 Encounters a New Language in Kenya

Madelin King
Name: Madeline S. King
Majors: Anthropology and Environmental Studies
Class: 2011
Citizenship: USA
Countries Visited Abroad: Kenya and Tanzania

Studying abroad was a way for me to get out of my comfort zone and explore academic areas and social issues that had interested me in previous experiences. Kenya appealed to me not only as a place I might not normally have an opportunity to visit but also because of an Anthropology/Environmental Studies course I had taken where we learned about a feminist environmental movement founded in Kenya by Wangare Mathae, Noble Peace Laureate, called the Green Belt Movement.

I had no expectations as I left the US! I did not know how to prepare for a completely new experience. My lack of expectation was in itself a great way to get into Kenya. I encountered a new language, a different culture, new classmates, and new work at an NGO called Carolina for Kibera. Having never traveled that far from home before, I felt my self-confidence and sense of adventure grow daily. Each day was filled with opportunities to discover myself and learn more about the country, the people, and the field of public/community health that I worked with.

My host mom on the coast of Kenya did not speak any English. One day, after a fun-filled session of learning Swahili, I came back home eager to tell her the things I had learned in Swahili. However, I could not remember the vocabulary to describe my “sister” Alex’s project on maternal health. It was a moonlit evening and we had been eating outside and were now lying on our backs on a straw mat. I ended up gesturing that I had a pregnant belly while laughing hysterically when I ran out of Swahili words. The best part of it was that, my host mom actually got it! We laughed together and I realized how much communication just relies on body language and those pure emotions, like laughter.