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School for Field Studies (SFS) Study Abroad Program in Kenya and Tanzania
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Kate Thompson

Paterno Fellow
Majors: Anthropology and Community, Environment, and Development
Minor: World literature
Hometown: Danboro, Pennsylvania

How did you learn about this opportunity?

In the middle of my freshman year, I sought out a study abroad experience that would open my eyes to how I could use anthropology to make a real world difference. I discovered SFS Kenya and Tanzania and contacted professors here at Penn State inquiring about doing research while abroad.

Tell us a little bit about your experience.

I worked in two labs while studying abroad. In the first, I studied animal bones and the second I assisted with primate research. East Africa changed my life. I wanted to explore my neighborhood, connect with people, and learn about wildlife. I woke up and went out into the wide world even when I was tired or shy!

“Living in a foreign country, in a non-English speaking culture, challenged me to leap out of my comfort zone.”

How did this experience impact you academically?

My experience studying abroad laid the foundations for my own research. Living and working in Africa helped me to understand some important things about myself that have shaped my academic career. I discovered I could live in the foreign places where I wanted to do research and I loved learning about wildlife and human interactions. My experience was like a check-up to make sure what I thought I enjoyed in school was really what I wanted to pursue in the real world! This experience refined my academic dreams and then showed me a way to attain them.

What are your career goals and plans? How did this experience impact them?

I hope to pursue a PhD in Anthropology, continue my research, and become a sort of “scholar activist.” I dream of using my research in archeological contexts to help us understand how humans have impacted wildlife populations in the past and what it means for us in the present. I want to study how humans perceive and affect their non-human primate neighbors and vice versa. When working to conserve wildlife, it is critically important that local people’s needs are understood and met in the process. I would like to use what I learn to aid in improving the way we balance human needs and primate biodiversity in East Africa and Madagascar.

Would you recommend this experience to other Liberal Arts students?

Absolutely. Get out and explore!

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