New Program Offers African 'Immersion'

Jan. 26, 1998

by Alan Hunt

Africa is a place many people only dream of visiting. But now, thanks to an exciting new program at Baylor, students have the chance to realize their dreams of adventure.

Through the new East Africa Semester Abroad program, scheduled to begin with the fall 1998 semester, students can experience firsthand the culture and beauty of this part of the globe.

Additionally, a new course in "Elementary Swahili" has been introduced at Baylor this spring, providing basic communication skills to students who plan to study or work in Africa.

Dr. Blake Burleson, acting director of the African Studies Program and lecturer in religion, said "a unique experience" awaits students participating in the program, which is Baylor's second semester¡long study abroad program.

Earning credit

The East Africa Semester Abroad program will accept 24 students from Baylor and other universities represented in the Consortium for Global Education. The consortium consists of 47 Baptist¡affiliated colleges and universities across the nation.

Students will leave for Kenya in early September 1998 and return in mid¡December of that year. They will earn 14¡17 credit hours upon completion of the program.

The students will be based at the Brackenhurst Baptist International Conference Center, near Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, and will enjoy excursions to other parts of Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda.

World citizens

Defining the main goal as cultural "immersion," Dr. Burleson said students will experience three week¡long "homestays" during the program. One will be with a rural family on a shamba (small farm), the second with a middle¡ or upper¡class family in Nairobi, and the third will be with the nomadic Maasai people.

"There's no substitute for this kind of experience," he said. "You can't get it out of a book, and you can't get it out of a lecture. I think the motivation for the directors of all of our study abroad programs is knowing what happens to the students. It's life¡changing, and the education they receive is unequaled in the normal classroom. They become world citizens."

Students will be closely supervised at all times during the program, and Dr. Burleson said they also will get the opportunity to participate in distance learning through regular Internet contact with faculty on the Baylor campus while they are away. "Part of their assignment will be to interview Kenyans, and they'll submit these interviews via the Internet back to the Waco campus," Dr. Burleson explained.

Strong Appeal

Interest in the program is running high, with an average of 20 applications per week being received. "This will enable us to be a little selective with the students we accept for the program," Dr. Burleson said.

Dr. Burleson will spend several weeks in Kenya with the students, teaching one course in the program. Serving as field director will be Sam Harrell, an American who resides in Kenya with his family. Additionally, the program will employ faculty members from the University of Nairobi and other Kenyan institutions, a resident Swahili instructor and a driver.

"Mr. Harrell speaks fluent Swahili, and we are really fortunate to get him," said Dr. Burleson. "He grew up in Kenya, the son of Baptist missionaries, and he is quite at home there." Harrell serves as an adjunct instructor in African Studies at Baylor.

An expert faculty

Dr. Burleson also spent time in Kenya, teaching at secondary schools there in the late 1970s. He has visited Africa numerous times since 1990, serving as director of the Baylor in Africa study abroad program and conducting field research among the Bukusu people of western Kenya.

Another former long¡time resident of Kenya is Stacy Houser, director of student life and church relations at George W. Truett Theological Seminary, who will be teaching Baylor's new courses in "Elementary Swahili." The courses were approved recently by the Arts and Sciences curriculum committee.

Houser's parents moved to Kenya in 1965 when he was 9 years old, and he lived there until 1973, when he left for Baylor.

"There is a tribe known as the Swahili tribe, but Swahili is spoken by most tribes in Kenya as either a first or second language," Houser said. "I think it is very important for Baylor students specifically, and Americans generally, to learn to speak and understand another language and culture."

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