by Gary Wingenbach
In retrospect, it wasn’t that cold at the University of Namibia-Neudamm Campus. At least our brief time on campus was not “snow-worthy” cold, as reported by Dr. Martin Schneider (see photo), on this lovely mid-August morning. Then again, time has a way of softening the edges of every experience. So, the 75-degree difference between Windhoek, Namibia, and College Station, Texas, doesn’t seem that grand now.
I feel a bit guilty seeing next week’s planning meeting for “Namibia 2013.” Wait, is that possible? Weren’t we just there a few weeks ago for the Namibia 2012 experience? Yes, and yes. Time waits for no one, especially adventuresome Aggies wishing to feel desert winds, scream wildly at lowly baboons, climb sand dunes, smell seal-fouled ocean breezes, and speak cheetah.
What will Namibia 2013 bring for those adventuresome Aggies? I remain hopeful they’ll experience the same awe and impact, as did students during Namibia 2012. I hope we’ll make new connections, like Chris Janes and Matt Flick, Peace Corps Volunteers making a difference in Namibia’s educational system. You can follow their blogs at http://mathinnamibia.blogspot.com (note: don’t be scared of the word “math”) and http://whereintheworldisflick.tumblr.com.
Maybe some of those Aggies will be inspired to take on new global challenges, whereby their presence will be counted in months or years like those of Chris and Matt, rather than weeks. Don’t get me wrong; such a long-term outcome is “nice,” but not totally necessary to change one’s outlook on life.
I read students’ reactions to the Namibia 2012 experience, and suffice it to say their lives will be forever changed. For some, the surprise of Namibia’s “developed world” status in their electrical, transportation, and water systems changed long-held perceptions of the “African condition,” as seen by most in US-based media portrayals. For others, the lack of student resources at the UNAM campuses will be etched in their memories, causing them to “do something” to ameliorate those situations. Fantastic! Every long journey starts with just one step.
For me, Namibia was a vastly different experience than what I witnessed in Guatemala. My colleague helped me sort out the differences: in Guatemala, Aggies worked in elementary schools with youth groups, while in Namibia, Aggies worked primarily with organizations external to formal school systems and only with adult groups. Neither experience was better than the other, just different. That is to say, Namibia’s freezing cold nights are not necessarily better than Texas’ fiercely hot days, just different.
That difference really sums up an important belief about study abroad at Texas A&M. At least in the Guatemala and Namibia programs, we strived to help Aggies understand that one people, culture, food, or social system is not necessarily better than another, but it is different. When students and faculty, understand and appreciate those differences, we will have impactful study abroad programs at Texas A&M University.