As the summer before my junior year drew to a close, I knew that I was ready to head off campus and study abroad. The only issue was that I didn’t know where I wanted to go. Sure, St. Lawrence’s programs in Vienna and Copenhagen were enticing, but ultimately they didn’t strike me as an experience that would take me out of my comfort zone. Then, out of the blue, I received an email:
Hope your summer was relaxing and productive. I wanted to follow up on our discussion last year about the Kenya program. If I can sell you on Spring 2016 or Fall 2016, please let me know as I think you would be a strong applicant. Let me know if you would like to discuss this opportunity more.
It came from a professor I had only met once and who I had never had a class with, yet it completely changed the course of my experience at St. Lawrence. It also introduced me to Matthew Carotenuto, an assistant professor of history and the coordinator of St. Lawrence's African Studies program. Matt has a deep interest in expanding students’ horizons and making sure that they get the most of their St. Lawrence education.
Within 24 hours of receiving Matt’s email, I was sitting in his office discussing the intense itinerary for the Kenya Semester Program (KSP) as he helped me to rearrange my fall semester schedule so that I could complete the program’s prerequisites. He saw my potential to embrace a new continent and culture, even when I felt lost in the study abroad process.
Just four months later, I was on a plane to Nairobi and ready to embark on an adventure of a lifetime. In Kenya, I was accompanied not just by an incredible group of SLU students, but also by Matt. Filling in for the Resident Director of the KSP, Matt and his family made the trip halfway around the world to spend a semester making the KSP function as smoothly as possible. Whether organizing field trips, securing our internships, or making the Kenyan grilled dish of nyoma choma at the KSP Study Center, Matt was so invested in our experience that he made sure it was success.
Over the course of the semester, I also got to know Matt in an academic setting. Teaching a course on modern Kenyan history, he opened my eyes to the complexities of colonialism in Kenya and showed each of us how history still impacts Kenya’s contemporary government and society. Through this course, Matt also discovered my passion for politics. Not only did he help me craft a final paper on the politics of Nairobi’s most impoverished neighborhood, he also arranged for me to serve as an intern for Ken Okoth '01, a member of the Kenyan Parliament. For four weeks I joined "Team Ken Okoth" as an economic development intern, and applied the knowledge I had gained from studying Kenyan politics to a real-world experience. This opportunity also helped me build upon my passion for public service, and explore the way that Kenyan citizens interact with their government.
Now back at St. Lawrence, Matt and his wife Jolene still support each member of our Kenya Semester Program. They invite us into their home to exchange stories from the semester and share updates about our lives. Each semester, I also join Matt to make a meal of traditional Kenyan food and welcome the students who have been accepted to study abroad in Kenya. Over chapati, a traditional Kenyan flatbread, and chai, we introduce them to the transformative nature of the Kenyan Semester and the adventure they’re about to embark on.
At St. Lawrence, professors who are deeply invested in their students are not rare; instead, they’re the norm. It’s not uncommon to see students and professors debating current events over a coffee at the Brewer Bookstore or meeting in the library to discuss a research project on a Sunday evening. Within St. Lawrence’s tight-knit community, our professors advise and mentor us while also forming strong personal relationships that are hard to find anywhere else.