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Reflection Essay | A Student Journey Of Transformation

We welcomed 14 students from the UK and the USA on our second annual EDU Africa Ecology & Conservation program, a 4-week journey to explore Kenya’s diverse landscapes, wildlife and people. We developed this 4-week course in collaboration with Dr. Sharon Kahara (Humbolt State University) and Prof. Stewart Thompson (Oxford Brookes University), offering students an overview of diverse ecosystems and restoration efforts in Kenya.

The program focuses on our 5 Transformation Goals, giving students the ability to holistically develop on at least five levels.  As part of the program, students are required to complete a reflection essay that critically analyzes their personal journeys of transformation. Students are asked to address each of the aforementioned transformation goals (Intercultural Competence, Global Citizenship, Personal Growth, Intellectual Growth, and Professional Development) and unpack, using examples, the extent to which they have grown in each of these areas.

Below is a written reflection one of our students, Ryan Brissey, submitted. It offers an informative view of what students can expect to gain during this program – perspective-altering growth and development, “broadened…horizons”, and a more sophisticated, nuanced and global outlook on concepts relating to ecology, restoration and conservation.

A Student’s Reflection Essay

“This summer I was fortunate enough to study abroad in Kenya through EDU Africa in an ecology and wetland course. Throughout the month of July I learned much about the savannah environment and I learned a lot about myself as well. This essay outlines five transformation goals that I set for myself at the beginning of the course: global citizenship, intercultural competence, intellectual development, professional development and personal growth. I believe that throughout this course I have achieved these goals and now I have set personal goals to further my education.

Global citizenship is the idea that our world is interconnected. Each action we take has a compound effect not just for ourselves but is amplified locally, nationally, and even internationally. I learned that through global citizenship everything is connected and that events that occur as far as Africa can have a major impact on my home state here in Florida. One component of the course that I was interested in is the reforestation work being accomplished around Brackenhurst conference center. During one of Dr. Stewart Thompson’s lectures, he spoke on rainfall and how it is affected by the African forests. Having taken a precious meteorology class and learning about Africa’s effects on hurricane development for the rest of the world, this new understanding of African deforestation solidified my understanding of this phenomenon. Although this was a minor part of the program it was so influential that I am looking to further my education and focus my masters work towards the effects that landscape and climate change has on our atmosphere. Just as important as knowing what my responsibilities as a global citizen are is my knowledge of the cultures that inhabit given lands.

Intercultural competence is the understanding and communication with another culture. For the five goals that I set for myself, intercultural competence is the area that I had the least amount of success in. Upon arriving in Kenya I did not know much about the Kenyan people and their culture. On the first day of class we were given the opportunity to go to a local marketplace to barter for produce. It was an experience unlike anything I have done before. It was a great way to talk to locals and learn how many of them run their own businesses by selling their crops. Going into this experience I researched cultural norms and languages of the Kenyan people however I was unprepared when I arrived. Research online is limited and I did not know much until I interacted with the locals and got first hand experience of their lifestyle. I wish we would have had more opportunities to interact with larger groups of locals so that I would have a better understanding of their lifestyles.

From this experience I have learned that I will take every opportunity to immerse myself in any given culture to fully understand their lifestyle.

Intellectual development refers to the changes that occur in the way of thinking and understanding. Over the course of this trip I came to understand that I truly did not have enough knowledge about the African continent. There are issues that affect only that area of the planet that are not apparent in Florida. In one of the lectures we learned about the ivory trade and the illegal trade of ivory tusks. I was surprised to learn about the devastation this has on the elephant population. Without an understanding of, or a drive to seek the knowledge for myself, I never would have known about the severity of this issue. Intellectually, my desire to make a change, to make an impact, has changed focus. This brings me into what I now want to do with my life.

Professional development is about the advancement to a person’s professional life and academic progress. During the course I had the opportunity to go to the Maa Trust and learn about the work they do. This organization focuses on helping the local community by increasing the quality of life for the surrounding population. Before taking my journey through Kenya my focus had been on space and all that it has to offer mankind. I would love to work with NASA and the upcoming Mars missions, however after learning about major issues that are affecting Kenya, both in class and at the Maa Trust, I have changed my focus to working on issues taking place on this planet rather than looking towards another.

This experience has inspired me to focus my efforts on the betterment of mankind and our planet.

Personal development is the result of continual efforts to improve ourselves, intellectually, morally and physically. On a more personal level, ultimately I have really come to understand the impact that one person can have on the rest of the world. Having met the other students and Dr. Stewart Thompson I realized that individuals can have big effects on projects that they are passionate about. Dr. Thompson told us about the work and research he has done on wildlife conservancies in Kenya. Three of the Oxford Brooks students told me about their experience last summer studying in India with Dr. Thompson assessing the size and landscape distribution for tigers. Another student told me about her volunteer work dehorning rhinos to help prevent poaching. These people have inspired me to go beyond what I originally thought I was capable of. I do not want to settle for a simple degree just to get a simple 9 to 5 job working for a paycheck. I want my life to have a meaning that makes an impact, one that makes ripples felt throughout other parts of the world.

Now that I am back home, I have transferred to the University of Florida to work on a bachelors in science in environmental management. I will complete my degree in spring 2021. Before I went to Kenya I was not sure if I was going to continue my education after a bachelors but now I have started to look at masters programs in both meteorology and atmospheric sciences. I would like to study weather and climate changes and its effects on human and wildlife activity.

This study abroad program has broadened my horizons and I am grateful for the experience.”

The reflection essay is but one assessment piece in an integrated transformational curriculum that students engage with during their time in Kenya. The program itself includes a multitude of field-based learning opportunities in wetlands, restored indigenous forest, and the savannah; community-based service learning with environmental partners; immersive cultural engagement activities; and dedicated learning support through group reflection sessions, amongst others.

Read more about our Ecology & Conservation Study Abroad Program or request an application form here.

 

Contributor

Ryan Brissey at NASA

Ryan Brissey

In July 2019 I spent the summer studying savanna ecology and wildlife in Kenya with EDU Africa. During my time spent abroad it helped me confirm my interest in the environmental science. After I complete my bachelors degree I would like to continue my studies in atmospheric sciences. In my spare time I enjoy spending time with my family and traveling! I enjoy any and all things related to the space program, and I would love the opportunity to intern at Cape Canaveral Air Station while I live in Florida.

I am originally from Columbia, Missouri and I currently live in Melbourne, Florida. I served in the United States Air Force from February 2012 to October 2017 as a Structural Journeyman. I enrolled at Eastern Florida State College where I completed my Associates in Arts in August 2018. I am currently working towards my BS in Environmental Management at the University of Florida with a projected graduation date of spring 2021.

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