Africa is more than thundering herds of wildlife and safari trucks. The continent boasts more than one billion people over 50 diverse countries.
This summer 14 students were immersed in the culture of Namibia. Situated on the southwest coast of the continent, Namibia has a surface area similar to Texas and an environment just as diverse.
The ALEC department offers the Namibia Study Abroad to any student, regardless of major, interested in the program. While traveling thousands of kilometers across the country, the students take two courses; Agriculture Photography (AGCJ 308) and Cultural Pluralism in Agriculture (ALED 422). Both of these courses correlate directly with the programs activities and cultural interactions.
Professor and senior scientist Gary Wingenbach, Ph.D, taught ALED 422 along with assistant lecturer Erica Bobbitt, Ph.D. Professor and associate department head for Undergraduate Programs Tracy Rutherford, Ph.D., instructed AGCJ 308 with assistant professor Tobin Redwine, Ph.D.
These instructors taught day and night because there were no traditional classrooms and there was constantly something to learn or experience.
Leah Bauer, a junior at Texas A&M University, said that the learning atmosphere was unlike any other.
“It was great to be surrounded by nature and different cultures while we were learning and studying,” Bauer said. “It really provided a solid base for strengthening our knowledge in the subjects we were studying.”
Janesha Moses, a senior undergraduate student, also took part in the program.
“I enjoyed that we got to see life in Namibia through a Namibian point of view. We gained more incite about how the country operates and history’s impact on modern life. We were more than tourists,” Moses said.
Above Photo: A few students trek to the top of a dune near the Gobabeb Research and Training center to capture photos of the gorgeous setting sun.
The students spent approximately a month in Namibia visiting cultural sites and natural landmarks. They toured the capital city Windhoek and met with U.S. Embassy and Peace Corps officials, interacting with locals along the way. Unlike tourism focused trips, the group was also able to visit privately owned farms and learn how agriculture works in Namibia.
Many of the students enjoyed these irregular opportunities.
Leighton Chachere, a junior undergraduate student, said that she enjoyed the opportunity to see firsthand how agriculture was practiced in Namibia.
Another participant, Demi Hofstetter, said that their visit to Farm Habis was another reminder that though we are worlds apart, speak different languages, and eat different things, we have many similarities.
“Farm Habis reminded me of my family’s ranch in south Texas. I think that so many people have a perspective that Africa is all wild and that everyone lives in mud huts and wears little clothing,” Hofstetter said. “Before coming to Namibia, I was one of those people. So it was awesome to visit Farm Habis and realize that we are one in the same.”
This group also had the opportunity to interact with a variety of cultures throughout Namibia. They visited a Damara Living Museum where locals are employed to teach tourists about traditional way of life. Other cultural visits included a Himba village that recently began allowing tourists into their homes and Ombili Foundation, focused on enriching the lives of San people.
Above Photo: Hofstetter affectionately carries a young Himba boy during the groups visit to the tourist village.
Hofstetter said that the most intriguing thing regarding their cultural interactions was visiting the Himba village.
“The Himba tribe is what I imagined all of Namibia would be like. But seeing and experiencing it for myself was mind blowing. It was so hard for me to imagine living the way they lived every single day,” said Hofstetter. “Being in the Himba village I was overwhelmed with different emotions and regardless of how cliché it sounds, it changed me.”
One of the cultural highlights of the trip was when the group had the opportunity to visit a non-tourism focused village. Allie, the Peace Corps member stationed in this village, coordinated with faculty leaders to allow for a morning touring the local school. Along with this, her host family provided a lunch that was characteristic of everyday life in villages surrounding the city of Rundu.
Above Photo: The students experience eating some of the food made in communal Namibia, such as pap a traditional porridge and staple food in southern Africa.
Bailey Keith, a junior at Texas A&M, said she felt that this village was a good representation of most modern day villages.
“There was an interesting balance of traditional and modern influences on their culture, and I felt like they were very excited to be hosting us,” Keith said.
Along with the cultural interaction, the group visited places that would give students an opportunity to capture a variety of high-quality pictures. These included places like Sossusvlei where they climbed approximately 1000 feet to summit the tallest measurable dune in the world. Other notable opportunities were Walvis Bay searching for seals, Popa Falls’ gorgeous sunsets, Etosha National Park for wildlife and Victoria Falls, in Zimbabwe.
Above Photo: Students embark on the long, shifting climb to summit ‘Big Daddy’, the tallest measurable sand dune in the world.
Even with all of these spectacular landscapes, students like Bauer and Katy Baldock said they found the people of Namibia to be the greatest photo opportunity.
“The land and animals were beautiful, but coming back to the US and being able to show pictures of the people of Namibia to my friends and family and tell stories about them has been really cool. The diversity of culture within Namibia was really neat to witness and capture in powerful photos,” said Baldock.
These students had the experience of a lifetime and many walked away with unexpected changes. Baldock said that this trip was the most impactful experience she has ever had, and she benefitted from the program in ways that she never expected.
“I have a more educated outlook on global issues, learned so much about Namibian culture, have a much more positive outlook on life, and formed such great relationships with the rest of the students on the trip. I could probably go on for hours about all of the things I learned, but those are just a few,” Baldock said.
Moses said that she will try to live outside of her comfort zone and not be afraid to take a chance. While Chachere said that keeping an open mind about how other people live was her biggest takeaway.
“The way of living in Namibia is very different. What I have taken away from that is that different isn’t always bad,” Chachere said.
Rather than simply moving on with their lives and keeping the influence of this trip to themselves, the students want to share their experiences with others. When asked if they would suggest this program to fellow students the resounding answer was yes. Baldock agreed.
“ I think this specific trip was wonderful, but I also believe that study abroad in general is something that everyone should experience. The learning aspect goes so much deeper than a regular course in a classroom setting would, and you can’t really beat that,” Baldock said.
Due to her experiences, Moses made the following statement and many of the students agreed.
“We are now ambassadors of Namibia. Everything we have learned, it is our responsibility to teach to others.”