Thoughts and Reflections on Study Abroad

As I sat down to ponder about what I am going to share with you today, I remembered of a movie that I watched a long time ago. This movie is called Coming To America. Eddie Murphy stars in it as an African prince from a fictitious kingdom called Zamunda. Eddie is a prince who is discontented with his pampered life of royalty and was mad that his parents had chosen a bride for him to marry. A bride that he barely knew nor even had ever seen before the day she was presented to him. So he and his sidekick servant decided to travel to America to find a wife that he can love and respect. One of my favorite scenes from this movie is when Eddie and his servant upon arriving in New York, they rented a room and disguised themselves as foreign students so that they could get a job. Eddie walks to the window and shouts “Good Morning New York!!” To his surprise the many ant-like busy people on the streets just stare at him and someone shouts the “F-U-C-K You word.” Eddie just stands there with his broad smile and his arms raised saying “Thank you! Thank you!”

I can identify with Eddy in this movie in a great number of ways. Well; may be not the part of coming to America to find a wife or that part of being cursed at. {Pose} But I identify with his excitement, his super expectations of life in America. This scene that I have just alluded to, depicts the feelings I had when I first stepped off the Boeing 747 Emirates air-bus at JFK. I was just super excited, high up into my cloud nine!! This is a dream come true. I can’t quite capture my feelings here in black and white but I was and still I am so excited to be here. Sometimes when I walk on the snow I keep pinching my self just to make sure it’s not a dream. That I will wake up on my bed back at home and realize that it’s all been a dream. But I am grateful that if you are hearing my voice now then it’s the real deal and not a dream.

Friends allow me to share with you a few things that I have observed, experienced and that I am continuing to experience during my stay here at this wonderful place called K. This will help me answer the question of what it means for me to be here in time and space.  My being here has really impacted me in all spheres of my life that is my mental, social and spiritual life. I must say that I feel so privileged to be in this Kalamazoo College community. A place where I feel so welcomed and accommodated in a great way. Back at my home university, The University Of Nairobi, we are about 30,000 students and in a class you can be with 600 kids; some of whom you may never end up talking to in the four years that you are there; let alone even sitting near some of them. But here I feel so privileged that we can interact with each other and share our own points of views. One thing that I have really appreciated from my experience here is that I have learnt to speak out my mind and be free to share what I believe in. To be honest this has not been so easy for me since I am kind of a shy and reserved person but here I have been able to observe how people freely interact, sharing out their opinions and values without necessarily having to fear what others will think about them. So for my social life I have been able to form a large network of friends, not only Americans, but from also from Spain, France, Germany, Pakistan, Mexico, China and on a light note this means more friends on my face book page.

The other sphere of my life that I feel impacted and challenged is in my spiritual life. I am a Christian and many of the things I do and how I think is shaped by my Christian values. Having come from an environment where at least all the people I hang about are Christians or are into going to church, and again by the mere fact that Kenya is ranked as 80% Christian…well lets just say “Christian”. But being here I have been stretched in all ways and I am at a place where I am learning to not be judgemental or dismissive of other people’s belief or non-belief; but I am learning to embrace people and understand where they are coming from. I am also learning that me being a Christian is just an opportunity for me to impact others as well as others impacting me.

One of my reflections that I wanted to share with you today is of how you as Americans are privileged with the abundance of choice and opportunity. From the choice of food that we eat at the cafeteria, the opportunity to practice your faith and values, the opportunity for one to practice their preferred sexual orientation to the privilege of access to technology. The reason I say this, is because I was so surprised that here issues like coming out is not a big deal, while like in my home university and society you can not even entertain the idea of coming out in your own head; let alone even confiding to your friend. It does not mean that we do not have people who would wish to come out but our society is really a conservative one. So Friends let me urge you to celebrate this privilege that you have; for many of us back at home don’t have this privilege neither the opportunity.

In conclusion, I would like to share with you my first encounters with some of my now wonderful friends in the couple of weeks that I had just arrived here. These are some conversations and questions that to me as a Kenyan/African, I feel at first made me mad but now I look back and just laugh at my self and those who asked me the questions. So one guy comes to me and says, “Hey you are an international student right,” I answer, “Yes”. “So where are you from?” “I am from Kenya” “Oh wow!! So do you run?” [Silence] Here is another , “Did you get these clothes at the airport when you arrived?” [Silence]  “Oh, Rufus, you dress so well for an African!” [Silence] “Is Kenya a neighbor to South Africa?” and my all time favorite is this one: “Let me ask you, do you have bottled water in Kenya?” This last one made me want to crack up so hard but I just looked at the guy and smiled because he asked me with such seriousness that I felt if I burst out into laughter, I would send the wrong message. These are some of the many encounters that plagued me in the first few days that I was in America and I thought to myself  “Hey wait a minute”, I thought this was the great U.S of A. The great land that I thought people knew everything about the world; a place where people have an informed global point of view; but it seems I was mistaken.  I realize now how so much or so little do people here in America know about Africa so when the chaplain floated the idea of us speaking at Jama; I was so delighted. I hope that in my time here at K, I will be able to be a good ambassador of Kenya and Africa.

Friends, there are many things that I would have loved to share with you but allow me to leave you with this, I urge you all to take the initiative to know more about Africa. Know more beyond what you see on CNN or BBC. I don’t want to dispute that we have our own share of problems but I urge you all to take a step further and network with an African friend. But more importantly take time to celebrate the privilege and opportunities that you have. Thank you!


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