‘Becoming a global citizen’

Reflections on a summer internship in Kenya

February 11th, 2022   |   Kenya, SIT Study Abroad

Kisumu, Kenya

By Saliya Ali

Saliya Ali is a 2021-22 Gilman Alumni Ambassador from South Dakota. Saliya graduated from Augustana University in 2020 with a degree in government/international affairs and Spanish. As part of the U.S. Department of State’s Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship Program, she studied abroad in Kisumu, Kenya, in summer 2019 on an SIT internship program, Kenya: Public Health in the Tropics.

For the first time in my life, I stepped out of my comfort zone and into a place that only lived in my curiosity.

I was born in a small village outside of Deder, Ethiopia, and grew up in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Coming from such a small place has left me with an insatiable desire to prove the world is much more vast than the tiny one I was born into. To broaden my worldview and study Swahili, I sought out an internship opportunity in Kisumu, Kenya, in the summer of 2019. Kisumu was everything I expected and more, and I am forever grateful for the opportunity to live, work, and study in Kenya.

For the first time in my life, I stepped out of my comfort zone and into a place that only lived in my curiosity. I was worried about how I would adjust to life in Kenya and what it would be like to live with a host family. To my surprise, the program I studied abroad with went above and beyond to accommodate me, even to the point of making sure to place me with a Muslim host family so that I would not have to experience the month of Ramadan alone.

The opportunity to intern in Kenya allowed me to strengthen my intercultural communication skills and learn about Kenyan work culture. Being a Gilman Scholar paved the way for me to work toward being a global citizen.

When I left to study abroad in Kenya, I had only a vague idea of what to expect. A few books that I had read prior to my departure led me to believe that I had landed an opportunity to live out the adventures I had only dreamed of. When doubts came over me and some of my dreams of adventure seemed far-fetched, I remembered all of the hopes that I had for myself to grow as a citizen diplomat.

Nurses in Kisumu
(SIT file photo)

Working alongside my Kenyan colleagues and watching them in action has been one of my greatest memories, alongside interacting with locals, traveling to other parts of East Africa, and hanging out with other students in the program. I was granted opportunities to attend a wide variety of presentations on different strategies to improve health outcomes in Western Kenya.

At my internship, I was inspired by the important work my colleagues did on a daily basis and I was able to connect with them due to our shared values. I took pride in my work and the small role I got to play in helping with the roll-out of Universal Health Coverage in Kisumu.

I was granted opportunities to attend a wide variety of presentations on different strategies to improve health outcomes in Western Kenya.

When I left Kenya, I knew I wanted more. At this point, I was a senior in college and I started looking at other opportunities to go abroad. I had taken Spanish classes starting from eighth grade and all through high school. I decided to add a Spanish major and pursue a study abroad program in Granada, Spain. My experience in Kenya learning Swahili pushed me to work toward attaining fluency in Spanish.

While my experience in Kenya came with its own challenges, I found myself leaning toward my strengths even in the moments where my insecurities blurred my vision. I also learned to find comfort with not knowing, and to accept the challenge as it came along. My experience in Kenya prepared me for my study abroad in Spain and for post-college life. The thrill of jumping into the unknown and seeking to live what may have seemed like undreamt dreams for a little girl from a small town in Ethiopia have instilled in me grim persistence and work ethic to work toward my goals.

This article was first published on the U.S. Department of State’s Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship Program website. It is republished here with permission.