For over 40 years St. Lawrence has operated the Kenya Semester Program, making it one of the longest running U.S. study abroad programs on the African continent. Based out of our SLU owned and operated campus in the suburbs of Nairobi, the Kenya program is rooted in this deep tradition and is committed to providing students with a unique study abroad experience. We believe the best way to learn about Kenya is through cultural immersion and experiential learning. As a result, students supplement formal course work and language study in Kenya's bustling capital city with rural and urban homestays, three additional field components and a month-long independent study where students examine East Africa's diverse social and cultural landscape. As a program which is open to students of all academic interests we welcome applications from both current St. Lawrence students as well as students from other institutions. You can also learn more about the student experience by visiting the Kenya program's blog.
- Based in Nairobi
- Fall or Spring semester
- Pre-requisites: one African Studies course; 2.8 GPA recommended to apply
- Must take Swahili while in Kenya
- Live with in program housing and with homestay families
- State Department Travel Warning and St. Lawrence Policies for Studying Safely in Kenya
Lying on the Equator, Kenya has a unique and varied landscape and is home to a diverse population of over 40 million. The thin, tropical band along the Indian Ocean gives way to vast, semi-arid savannas that dominate 70 percent of the country and support several pastoralist populations. The Central and western regions are characterized by well-watered fertile agricultural zones which are densely populated. Cutting a swath through the center of the country is the Great Rift Valley, flanked by magnificent escarpments, volcanic massifs and the snowcapped peaks of Mount Kenya and Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest summits. To the west, the country is bounded by Lake Victoria, the source of the Nile River.
The cosmopolitan capital city of Nairobi, rising from the plateau of south-central Kenya, is the home base of our program. A city with over three million residents, Nairobi is East Africa's regional center for trade and is one of three cities in the world to host a regional headquarters of the United Nations. Based in this vibrant and diverse city students will gain familiarity with the urban environment while also visiting many of the rural areas, where approximately 80 percent of the country's population resides.
The programs headquarters are located in beautiful Karen, a suburb of Nairobi, where St. Lawrence owns a 5 1/2 acre gated campus. Students use the campus as a home base for the semester, but only spend about 8 weeks living here. The two faculty directors, as well as program staff, also live on campus. Students spend time during the semester traveling throughout Kenya and East Africa on various course components.
The Kenya Semester Program is an interdisciplinary academic program that uses a combination of learning models -- classroom, field-based and experiential -- and emphasizes cultural immersion throughout the semester. Students take two required courses. In addition, students are able to select two elective courses so they can focus on their own field of interest or specialization. The program serves majors from a number of different disciplines. Whether matriculated at St. Lawrence or elsewhere, all students must take four courses to earn full-semester credit. For dual-listed courses, students must indicate while registering in Kenya for which department they want the course listed. Therefore, students must confer with their advisors and department chairpersons well in advance of studying in Kenya to to plan their program and avoid problems.
AFS/ANTH/ENVS/GS 337: Culture, Environment, and Development in East Africa (The Core Course)
SWAH 101, 102, or 103: Swahili (at the appropriate level)
Elective Courses (Students select 2):
AFS/ENVS/BIO 242: Biodiversity Conservation and Management in East Africa
AFS/GOV/SOC 326: Critical Issues in Socio-Economic Development in Kenya
AFS/ANTH/GNDR 247: Gender Issues in Modern and Traditional Kenya
AFS/HIST 354: Introduction to the History of Modern Kenya
The core course, Culture, Environment and Development of East Africa is the organizing basis for the semester and is comprised of several field components which students participate in throughout the semester. Swahili language study and the two additional elective courses are taken in blocks between field components. Be sure to click on the below links to see photo galleries for each component, and see the calendar for a more detailed semester schedule.
The Orientation Week:
Upon their arrival, students are introduced to the various aspects of the Program and to our staff. A main aspect of the orientation is to prepare students to live independently in Kenya. To achieve this they are first introduced to our neighborhood where they learn how to orientate themselves and take care of their personal needs such as shopping, entertainment, etc. Safety and security are emphasized, not only through lectures and discussions but through field visits and real life experiences. Students also visit Nairobi's central business district on their own, use public transport and start practicing to engage with Kenyans one on one. Students learn Swahili, Kenya's national language and are prepared to aspects of cross-cultural living before they set off for their week's long rural homestay.
The Rural Agricultural Field Component:
The rural homestays enable you to live with Kenyan families and offer the opportunity to understand something of their traditions as well as the modern issues they face. They begin after a weeklong intensive orientation at the St. Lawrence University Study center in Karen. This is an opportunity to learn something about rural village life in Kenya. Your week in this small agricultural community will expose you to many issues and topics that will recur throughout the semester. Each student lives as a member of a family, shares in household duties, and gathers insights into questions that you will explore and discuss in a seminar at the end of the week. Given that almost 65% of Kenya's population lives in the rural areas, this component gives a window through which to see and start understanding much of Kenya's population and its livelihood.
Tanzania Field Study Component:
This field component focuses on the Hadza, one of a few communities that still practice hunting and gathering and live entirely off the land and do not practice any agriculture or keep livestock. Students spend 3 nights with the Hadza in the Yaeda Valley and immerse themselves in their hunter-gatherer lifestyle. They join the Hadza women in a food-gathering excursion and go hunting with the Hadza men. They practice how to make fire by rubbing two sticks; dance and sing with the Hadza, learn how to make and use bows and arrows and, discuss with them their culture and the future of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle in the face of the accelerated development currently taking place in Tanzania.
Urban Study Component:
While doing their classes in Nairobi students spend three weeks living with an urban host family in Nairobi and many students maintain close family ties long after the homestays are over. These home stays offer an opportunity to learn about some urban Kenyan families' lifestyles and at the same time understand the main issues related to the city of Nairobi and its environment are introduced. Most of the homestay families have very close contact with their rural homes and this gives students an opportunity not only to compare rural-urban lives but also to see the processes of change and adaptation that urban-dwellers make because of their inclusion into the urban space.
Amboseli Field Study Component:
This component focuses on the socio-economic, and environmental factors responsible for changing the Maasai culture and pastoral lifestyle from pure nomadic pastoralism to semi-sedentary mixed agro-pastoralism in the Amboseli region. More recently, the region has seen a greater influx of non-Maasai immigrants and experienced a gradual shift from purely pastoral to mixed agro-pastoral economy. This shift, coupled with the increasing human-wildlife conflicts and, the introduction of community-based tourism have resulted in significant changes in the Maasai's pastoral lifestyle. We will examine the competition and conflicts over land, water, pasture and, natural resources. We will explore how the local Maasai manage their own wildlife sanctuaries, tourist lodges, campsites and, cultural tourism ventures. We will also examine the major conservation issues in the region. Students spend a night in a traditional Maasai homestead to engage our host community in many formal and informal discussions.
Independent Study Component:
The last four weeks of the program are devoted to an independent study, which is arranged individually according to each student's academic field of specialty and interest. Students carry out activities as instructed by a supervisor from the host organization and in doing so they get exposed to the daily work of a Kenyan organization, and if possible, to provide some small help to the organizations that kindly agree to host you. At the end of your independent study, you will write a final term paper for the St. Lawrence University Kenya Semester Program. The paper explores some aspects of Kenyan life in an analytical way, with special reference to the course themes, Culture, Environment and Development. It is not a research report on data collected during the course of the independent study.
The programs headquarters are located in beautiful Karen, a suburb of Nairobi, where St. Lawrence owns a 5 acre gated campus. Students use the campus as a home base for the semester, but only spend about 8 weeks living here. The two faculty directors, as well as program staff, also live on campus. Students spend time during the semester traveling throughout Kenya and East Africa on various course components. Students spend the various course components living with homestay families, in tents, and in guest houses.
Week 1 (Day 1 - 6): Orientation week in Nairobi
Week 2 (Day 7 - 15): Rural homestay with an
Week 3 - 4 (Day 17 - 28): Classes in Nairobi (Students
stay at compound)
Week 5 (Day 30 - 36): Tanzania field trip with the
Week 6 - 8 (Day 40 - 58): Classes in Nairobi (Students
live with urban homestay families)
Week 9 (Day 62 - 68): Amboseli field trip with the
Week 10 (Day 69 - 73): Coastal field trip in Mombasa
Week 11 - 12 (Day 75 - 86): Classes in Nairobi
(Students stay at compound)
Week 13 - 16 (Day 89 - 116): Independent Study
Week 17 (Day 117 - 122): Closing module (Students stay
For a more detailed calendar, with dates for specific
semesters, please contact the CIIS Office.
Pre-departure: The CIIS office organizes in depth orientation sessions on-campus prior to the students participation in the program. This includes a program specific session(s) in which the students will learn more about the program, local culture, academic expectations, and any other important information. There is also an orientation session lead by the CIIS office on culture shock, and what to expect, as well as safety and security while abroad.
On site: Upon arrival in Nairobi students participate in an in-depth, week-long orientation designed to introduce them to Kenyanculture and daily life and familiarize them with the Kenya Semester Program. The orientation combines structured informational sessions with organized activities and free time to familiarize participants with Nairobi. Topics such as safety and health, Kenyan family life, cultural adaptation, program regulations, participant responsibilities and other essential information are all discussed during orientation. During the on-site orientation students also meet their professors, receive final language placements, and become familiar with the program staff.
If you are interested in learning more about the Kenya Semester Program please contact one of the following people.
CIIS Office: Karen Smith, Assistant Director of Off-Campus Programs - Questions about eligibility, program logistics, and other off-campus opportunities.
Faculty Coordinator: Dr. Matt Carotenuto (Kenya Semester Program Alum) - Questions about program academics.