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Abroad in Africa

Spring 2011 | By Tammy Weaver-Stoike. Photo by Ellen Gruenbaum.

Observation is a hallmark of anthropological research, and this spring several Purdue students will have a unique opportunity to hone their perceptual skills. For the first time, the Department of Anthropology is offering a study abroad experience in Eldoret, Kenya, through an internship exchange program with Moi University.

“All of the grand challenges we’re trying to address have a human element,” says Ellen Gruenbaum, professor and anthropology department head. “How do we use our understanding and knowledge of different cultures to improve the human condition?”

As part of the three-week program that begins in May, students will participate in community development projects supporting education, youth empowerment, sustainable development, natural resource management, food security, and e-commerce. Students will spend part of their stay with a host family in a local village and collect life histories of the older adults.

“The students will learn about daily life in an African village and really engage with these families in a deeper, more meaningful way,” says Gruenbaum. “I had my first study abroad experience as a sophomore in college, and it changed my life. I became so excited about how different the human experience could be.”

Gruenbaum and Laura Zanotti, assistant professor of anthropology, traveled to Kenya last summer to meet with faculty from Moi University and explore opportunities for study abroad related to social and cultural contexts. While there, they visited a women’s farming cooperative (above), a community center, and a girls’ boarding school — all with links to Moi. Faculty from the university will be responsible for guiding the Purdue students’ experiences as they participate in some of these community projects.

The program is open to all majors at Purdue, not just students studying anthropology. Both Gruenbaum and Zanotti agree that the lessons to be learned can be beneficial to any student, regardless of major.

“We really feel that a student program like this is key to supporting Purdue’s strategic plan,” Zanotti says. “The first step in trying to solve global challenges is understanding and valuing diverse cultures.” 

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