“Who is your favorite student out of the group?” I playfully asked our guide, Danstan.
He smiled and chuckled. “That was a very American question.”
I soon learned that not only were my questions “very American,” so were my thoughts and ideas and actions. Truthfully, I didn’t have the vacation of a lifetime on my study abroad trip to Kenya. It wasn’t relaxing; I was often uncomfortable and sometime anxious; and I hated the food. But I learned and grew more on this trip than through any other single life experience in my life. The thing I learned that hit home the most was that most of my expectations about other cultures were often completely off base. I expected to be wowed by the wild, vast landscape of Africa. At times I was, but mostly I just became accustomed to the dirtiness of the capital city. I expected the people to be incredibly foreign and exotic, but I found that I could always find common ground with any individual I came across. I expected to be unplugged completely for a month, but I usually had access to Wi-Fi. These are just a few of the expectations that were shattered for me. What really struck me was that we are all humans, and we share human experiences, which unites us.
While in Kenya with UTC’s Honors College and College of Business, we worked with a nonprofit organization that helps underprivileged entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. The students from UTC divided into groups and were able to observe and learn from the entrepreneurs, as well as help implement new ideas and strategies using design thinking. Specifically, I worked with a restaurant owner named Esther, and she and my group were able to design and implement a new advertising campaign that included new signs, new menus, and pricing changes. We also got to visit some really neat places and see some of the biggest attractions in Africa! My favorite experience by far was going on safari and getting to see some exotic animals up close. We also visited an elephant orphanage and a giraffe conservation center (while Ellen DeGeneres was there!), as well as the largest mall in Africa, tea fields, the United Nations, and several other neat places.
I definitely had some once in a lifetime experiences on this trip, and I have gained a better understanding of Kenyan culture, American culture, and myself. I made two very close friends, who I still talk to almost every day and made relationships with many Kenyans that I will never forget. I am incredibly glad I went on this trip, although I am also glad that I’m back in walking distance of Chick-fil-A.
Aubrey Buttrey is majoring in Psychology. She participated in a faculty-led trip to Kenya through the College of Business and Honors College in May, 2018.
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