Saturday, January 29, 2011

So Many Firsts

Since I knew I wouldn’t be able to post right away, I have been jotting down notes in what now amounts to a collection of memorable moments from the first few days in Cameroon. As a result this is a lengthy post and I apologize in advance.

I got my first (and somewhat abrupt) introduction to Cameroonian family responsibility on the flight to Yaoundé when the woman in the seat behind me thrust her infant into my lap without any kind of explanation. Once she was halfway down the aisle, I realized she just needed to use the bathroom and I was the nearest potential babysitter. Although I was caught off guard, the kid was precious and he could have sat with me the whole way there. I’m actually hoping that there will be more spontaneous child cuddling during my semester.

Also on the plane, secret documents on my computer and letters read over the Atlantic brought a smile to my face from home.

Flying over the Alps was beautiful!

I can hardly remember what happened the first day of orientation. It’s just a blur of information, laughter, beautiful scenery, more laughter, and eating a lot of delicious things that I couldn’t really identify. But after almost week in Cameroon I am already a pro at bucket flushing a toilet and taking showers in water that is nothing less than “brrrrrzles.”
Me at the monastery where we stayed for orientation; in the valley behind me is some of the city of Yaoundé.
View from my room at the Monastery.

On Thursday we were dropped off in pairs around the city of Yaoundé, which sprawls for miles! I have never been so confused or directionally challenged in my life. Fortunately, my partner had a better idea of where we were. “Firsts” during that excursion: first time hailing a cab, first time being called “blanche,” first time in a hectic Cameroonian market, and first time in a cyber café. I wish I had pictures of all of these things to post, but we have been advised to keep our cameras hidden for awhile because pulling out valuable items in public makes you a bigger target for theft.

Friday was the first day at the SIT office. It is an open and airy house on a quiet street outside the hustle and bustle of “le centre ville.” There are 14 students on the program and this is where we will take our classes, prepare for the independent study, and spend some of our free time.
SIT Office
Things are still a little bit surreal, but I’m having a great time.
Next on the agenda: homestays.

Monday, January 24, 2011



In a few minutes, I'll recheck my suitcase again.
In a few hours, I'll be headed to the airport.
In a few days, I'll be in Cameroon coping with jet lag and culture shock.
Right now, I am so excited.

And honestly, it's a relief because the past few weeks have been a little bit of a roller coaster. Ever since packing up my life at Hope I've been stuck in this weird in-between place, like a drawn out foreword that I would have liked to skip over. I'm anxiously waiting to leave and at the same time nervously wondering what I will find. I can't wait to go somewhere new, but its bittersweet to hear about what's already happening back on campus. I know I will build new relationships, but I'm still missing out on time with a lot of pretty fantastic friends (you know who you are.)

Fortunately, I got some really great advice from someone who knows a little bit about living cross-culturally. She reminded me that it actually makes sense to have butterflies when you exchange home for someplace unknown, but as soon as the plane touches down questions start to get answered, things you wondered about become clear, and a new sense of belonging begins to grow.

I have also been really encouraged by all of the people who have checked out this blog and asked about the trip or made time to skype before I go. Hearing from all of you has been the best way to wrap up my time at home and the perfect send-off to Cameroon. 

Not sure exactly how soon I'll be able to post again, but it should be a good one. 

Saturday, January 15, 2011


My countdown clock is dwindling and my empty suitcase will soon be filled. Before I go, I hope this answers some of the questions about what I'll actually be doing in Cameroon.

A street scene in Cameroon, picture from the SIT website.

It is called study abroad so there will be some schoolwork involved in my semester. Through the School for International Training my main course will be a thematic seminar focusing on topics like women, minorities, and religion in Cameroon. My other traditional course will be a French language class. The rest of my credits will come from an independent research project during the last four weeks of the program. Based on my major at Hope, I have chosen to research primary math education and I look forward to spending time in a Cameroonian school.

While I am in Cameroon I will be living with three or four different homestay families as we move around the country. The opportunity to live with families (as opposed to in dorms) was one of my favorite aspects of the SIT program and many returning students cite their homestay experiences as the best part of the semester.

Me, my personal mosquito sleeping tent, and all my luggage. Packing light!!

From what I've heard, meals in Cameroon consist of ___________ and sauce: rice and sauce, yams and sauce, couscous and sauce. Despite the possibility of breaking my "I don't see it before I eat it" rule, I'm looking forward to entering a new world of cuisine.

Ndolé, a bitterleaf stew that is the Cameroonian national dish.
I have gotten a lot of questions about how I will stay in touch during my semester abroad. Of course, the whole reason I started this blog was to create a convenient way to share stories and experiences with friends and family at home. I'm relying on this to be my main form of communication and can't promise prompt attention to facebook/email. I will have some internet access and students from previous semesters say Skype is a life saver. If you want to send something to me I will have a snail mail address in Cameroon (shown in right sidebar). I love receiving letters at home and I'm sure that feeling will be multiplied overseas, just be forewarned that mail can be slow and unreliable so don't send anything valuable.

That's about all I know right now. As much as I've researched the program and stalked the photo albums/blogs of previous students, there is an element of uncertainty about what I'm walking into. Right now I'm living in a state of eagerly nervous anticipation. Sometimes I wonder if I'm crazy for signing up for this, but at the same time I can't imagine doing anything else.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

You're Going Where??

Whenever I share with someone my plans for spring 2011, they respond with an initial glimmer of interest at the words “study abroad,” followed by a quizzical look when I say “Cameroon.” Then comes the inevitable question: why there?

For me the past year has contained countless brochures filled with beautiful pictures of foreign places and hours writing essays or completing applications. Since choosing to study French in middle school, I’ve desired to visit a country where this beautiful language is more than a classroom speaking exercise. I have also had a growing interest in Africa and in truth I would love to teach there someday. So when I discovered SIT’s program in Cameroon I was excited by the combination of a continent and a language that I long to know more about.

In case you’re not sure, Cameroon is located in western Africa - bumping shoulders with Nigeria, Chad, Gabon, Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, the Central African Republic, and a little bit of the Atlantic. Official languages are French and English, but the country has over 200 ethnic and language groups. The landscape includes volcanoes, mountains, savannas, rain forests, and plains. Such diversity, of people and of geography, has earned Cameroon the nickname “Africa in Miniature.” If you want to read more about the country, click here.

Flight Path: United States to Switzerland to Cameroon all in all a 20 hour trip.

So why Cameroon? Pourquoi pas?