Why did you choose to go to Madagascar for study abroad?
I started looking into Madagascar because it's a French-speaking country, and I wanted to practice my language skills. After reading the course description on the School for International Training (SIT) website, which explained classes as well as the various excursions we would do within the country, I was sold. The tropical climate and indigenous plant and animal species were an added bonus.
What was your biggest surprise on arrival to Madagascar?
We flew into the capital and I was surprised at how populated and urban it is. While most of the country is rural, our program base was in the city. We had access to mostly everything we would get in the states, which I definitely did not expect. Everything was also really cheap, so I was surprised with how little I actually had to spend during the semester. The best surprise, however, was how nice all our families were to us and how willingly they took us in.
What did you learn from studying abroad?
My classes taught me a lot. We had great professors as well as guest lecturers from the University of Antananarivo. But I learned the most from my host families. They taught me how to cook traditional Malagasy dishes, a lot of dances, words from their language, and aspects of their culture I couldn't have learned from a course.
What is the biggest change that you have noticed about yourself since coming back?
In Madagascar, they have this phrase which can be translated as, “Foreigners have clocks, Malagasy people have time.” This is to say that in their country, no one stresses over being at a certain place at a certain time. The point is to always be in the moment rather than worrying about reaching a certain destination. Now that I am back home and spending so much time commuting to and from different places, I try a lot harder to just think about where I am and not waste as much time.
How difficult was it for you as a vegetarian to change your diet to include meat and then change it back when you came back home?
I brought vitamins with me for the first month to help my stomach deal with the extreme change in diet, and also started to eat meat very gradually. It surprised me, but there were no physical problems with eating it throughout the semester, even though I have spent most of my life as a vegetarian. A lot of the meat textures were weird for me at first, but I'm really glad I ate it because food is such a huge part of their culture. It made me feel a lot closer to my home-stay families to eat the way they did. Plus, I ended up loving the seafood and curry chicken they prepared there. Now that I'm home, however, I'm back to not eating any animal products.
Why would you recommend study abroad?
It is such a great opportunity to meet new people, travel, and experience something completely different from a standard college semester. Last spring, I had possibly the best 3½ months of my life. I was able to try so many new things and just immerse myself into another culture. I really recommend it as a way to improve the college experience and take a break from routine.
This SIT program looks at the internal and external influences shaping the island nation of Madagascar. There is a particular focus on urbanization/urbanism and the relationship between rural and urban areas. Students can expect to experience the complexity of contemporary Malagasy culture and society while participating in the daily life of host communities. Coursework comprises a seminar on urbanization and rural development, a research methods and ethics course, language instruction in both French and Malagasy, and an independent study project.