November 30, 2012

Trading Places: Project Boma Allows Students to Experience Different Cultures

Friends and roommates Sam Stuart ’13 (Wichita, Kan.) and Chao Wang ’13 (Changchun, China) grew up in different hemispheres and met on campus. As first-year students, Stuart helped Wang through a college writing course, and Wang tutored Stuart in his introductory Chinese course.

They have learned a lot about each other’s cultures through their friendship, but over semester breaks they went their separate ways.

Zhe (Jason) Sheng '15 does some chores at Helen Hutchens' ranch in Colorado.

Zhe (Jason) Sheng ’15 does some chores at Helen Hutchens’ ranch in Colorado.

Now, through a new program called Project Boma, they will get a chance to experience each other’s cultures firsthand by taking each other home over winter break.  The program derives its name from the Maasai language of southern Kenya and northern Tanzania, where Boma means “home.”

Read students’ accounts in Voices

Pairs of students, one international and one domestic, were invited to submit proposals outlining the types of activities they would participate in while staying with each other’s families and being integrated into their “boma” during the summer or winter breaks for two to three weeks. The six students selected to participate were awarded funding to cover roundtrip travel expenses as well as a small stipend.

During their upcoming trips, Stuart plans to introduce Wang to Christmas in the Midwest, and Wang will show Stuart the ancient history of his home country.

“He will be exposed to the pomp of Christmas decorations and traditions, and feel the holiday spirit from an insider’s prospective, which he never gets to see since he is usually at home during this time,” Stuart says.

Over the summer, Helen Hutchens ’15 visited the home of Zhe “Jason” Sheng ’15 in Dalian, a city in northeastern China, after hosting him in rural Pennsylvania and the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.

Tatiana Logan '13 in Kathmandu

Tatiana Logan ’13 in Kathmandu

For the first week of their exchange, Hutchens invited Sheng to visit her in Lancaster, Pa., where she took him to see her old high school. Then they flew to Denver, Colo., where Hutchens spends her summers visiting her grandmother.

“I wanted to teach him to ride horses and see how he fared as a cowboy, and I wanted him to see an area of America that is very different from Lafayette,” she says.

Watch a video created by Hutchens and Sheng

In Colorado, they went horseback riding, hiking, fishing, and whitewater rafting, took the highest railway in the nation up to the top of Pikes Peak at 14,115 feet above sea level, and went to see a rodeo.

“I had never seen a cowboy in real life before,” Sheng says. “During the rodeo competition, I watched scenes that I only watched on television before.”

After their outdoor adventures in Colorado, the pair took a 7,000-mile journey from Denver to Dalian. Hutchens stayed for three weeks with Sheng’s family in an apartment near the center of the city. Some of the biggest challenges of living in China were the traffic and the language.

“Body language, tone of voice, and many other clues communicate as much as words,” she says. “It can be hard to communicate through a language barrier, but when people respect each other and care about understanding, they can live together as I lived with Jason’s family.”

Nirav Giri ’13 (Kathmandu, Nepal) and Tatiana Logan ’13 (Santa Barbara, Calif.) will spend their winter break in California after spending last summer at Giri’s home in Nepal.

Helen Hutchens '15 in Dalian, China

Helen Hutchens ’15 in Dalian, China

For Logan, meeting Nirav’s large and close-knit family was a highlight of the visit.

“I want to put his grandmothers in my pocket and carry their warm smiles and fierce strength with me always. His mother is bubbly, adorable, giving, and beautiful. Neetu, a “cousin-sister” or what Americans would just call cousin, is already one of my close friends. Everyone loves Nirav and they love to feed us. I love it all,” Logan says.

Although Logan had plenty of opportunities to experience the culture in Nepal, many sightseeing excursions were impossible because mass strikes during her visit effectively shut down public transportation and business. These political protests were tied to the country’s attempts to write a new constitution.

“I was never interested in politics, but this time I was forced to stay updated on the happenings since our travel plans depended on what days were not booked for strikes all over the country by different parties and groups to have their demands incorporated in the new constitution. In that process, I found out how complicated the situation in Nepal had gotten,” Giri says.

The time spent in Nepal was very rewarding for both Lafayette students, who found that some things are universal.

“The times when my grandmother and Tat tried to communicate without understanding one another’s language were very heartwarming,” Giri says. “This trip made me realize that there are more important things in life than the boundaries that we have enclosed ourselves in.  Instead of focusing on our ability to communicate with one another using languages we know, it is also fun to let our instincts tell us what the other person is trying to say. Smiles are great tools to help us bond with one another.”

posted in Academic News, Make Big Use of Big Resources, News and Features, Students, Top News

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1 Comment

  1. How wonderful! I especially like the lovely picture of Tatiana!

    says Evan Gooberman
    December 13, 2012 at 12:39 am

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