“I always thought that I wouldn’t face culture shock since I’ve lived in three countries [Malaysia, Singapore, and the United States], but this semester made me realize that no matter how much you’ve seen, there’s always a different way to do something that you’ve never thought of,” says Yen Joe Tan ’14.
Tan, a dual major in anthropology & sociology and geology, spent the fall semester as part of the SIT Study Abroad Program focusing on Islam and Swahili cultural identity in Kenya. The program included courses on Kiswahili, research methods and ethics, and an independent research project.
“The class I really valued was the intensive language course, as I became conversant with Kiswahili and that allowed me to interact with the locals such that I could learn more about the country through daily interactions,” says Tan.
For his research project, Tan investigated the problems with solid waste management in Mombasa. He interviewed residents, nongovernmental organizations, municipal workers, and officers to gauge their knowledge and opinions on the issue.
“I went around with the municipal truck to understand their operations from collection points to the open landfills,” he says. “Finally, I collected waste from households and sorted and weighed them to understand the waste composition of the place. Ultimately, my project aimed to understand the various issues related to solid waste management in Mombasa and hopefully aid in future efforts to improve conditions.”
Tan was impressed by the strong sense of family and community during his home stay in Kenya.
“The concept of sharing applies to everything from goods, food, and even money that one brings home,” says Tan. “It took me a while to adjust to it, as private spaces were hard to come by, and our western/capitalistic idea of private ownership seems to have no place within the family structure. But as I slowly immersed myself into the culture, I was really impressed by this value of sharing and amazed by the amount of support I received from everyone after I was accepted as part of the family.”
“This trip definitely further fueled my curiosity about the world, and I want to continue to experience different cultures and societies,” he adds.