I did a summer internship abroad in Kisumu, Kenya, through the School of International Training (SIT) Public Health in the Tropics program. Even though the program left much to be desired regarding the internship experience, I had a fantastic time. The experience was unlike how I expected it to be. I faced many emotional, social, and professional challenges while there, but it taught me a lot about working in an international setting and about myself as an individual.
My expectations of going abroad were that I would have to go outside of my comfort zone a lot, and that expectation did not change while I was abroad. I was put into many situations I had never encountered before when I was in Kisumu. I got to ride in a tuk-tuk, barter at a market and in cabs, and go to a soccer game. All things I had never done before, and they challenged my social skills and got me outside of my comfort zone.
While in Kisumu, I learned that you have to learn everyone's stories. I met so many people in Kisumu with different upbringings and ideas. I remember having a three-hour conversation with the owner of a nail salon and learning all about how she was raised, the countries she visited, and how women's rights in Kenya are changing. I learned a lot from the people I talked to, whether it was a casual conversation like the one I had in the nail salon or a business conversation with public health leaders.
I learned a lot about myself while I was abroad. I realized that I could do things that make me uncomfortable, like barter in markets. I realized that I could travel alone and handle awkward social situations, of which there were many.
"Most people are friendlier and more welcoming than they seem, and I learned that in Kenya I should never be afraid to get to know new people and ask people questions."
An unexpected challenge I faced, outside of the program not meeting expectations, was the unwanted attention from men. The program had warned all the female-identifying students to be careful of what they wear and not to travel alone. I followed the program's guidelines on what to wear and would still receive unwanted attention. It would not matter if I were at a soccer game, restaurant, or walking to Swahili class; the attention would find me. I would always try to walk with a group of students or at least one male student when traveling around. While the attention was uncomfortable, it was not incessant. I believe this would have happened in any country, and I do not let it diminish my outlook on my time in Kenya.
What surprised me the most was how friendly everyone was in Kenya. Everyone was smiling, and willing to listen to our best attempts at speaking Swahili wherever we went. They would always be willing to help us find our way if we were lost, teach us new words, and teach us more about their culture. A local named Karen let us throw a Fourth of July party at her home, where she cooked us chapati, mbuzi choma, and ugali. Chapati is a delicious Indian flat bread but in Kenya it differs slightly because the bread is thicker. Mbuzi choma is marinated and grilled goat meat. Ugali is a ball of maize which you break off to eat with food, like the mbuzi choma or sukuma wiki which is a cooked kale dish. Karen even gave us peanuts from her peanut garden and told us all about her family. Later she even taught us how to make chapati! Most people are friendlier and more welcoming than they seem, and I learned that in Kenya I should never be afraid to get to know new people and ask people questions.
I loved my time in Kenya, and I wish people would not overlook doing study abroad in Kenya or other countries like Kenya because it is not the ideal experience. I got to do things I could not have done elsewhere, like kayaking on the Nile or going on a safari in the Maasai Mara.
Michaela Zimmer (public health major), a Diversity Ambassador Scholarship recipient, participated in the SIT Public Health in the Tropics program in summer 2022.
The Diversity Ambassador Scholarship program provides awards to study abroad for a summer, semester, or academic year. The scholarships are intended to support the diversification of students who study abroad. Upon completion of the study abroad program and return to UI, award recipients are asked to submit a photo and an open letter to prospective students or suggest an alternate means of sharing with prospective students.
Please note that the opinions and views expressed by diversity ambassadors are solely those of the students and do not reflect or represent the views of International Programs or the University of Iowa.
International Programs (IP) at the University of Iowa (UI) is committed to enriching the global experience of UI students, faculty, staff, and the general public by leading efforts to promote internationally oriented teaching, research, creative work, and community engagement. IP provides support for international students and scholars, administers scholarships and assistance for students who study, intern, or do research abroad, and provides funding opportunities and grant-writing assistance for faculty engaged in international research. IP shares their stories through various media, and by hosting multiple public engagement activities each year.