Dan Shafer '08 studied off-campus on the Kenya Semester program Fall ’06 and in Ethiopia during Summer '06. He is the Director of Operations of Crop to Cup Coffee Importers, a Brooklyn based direct-trade coffee importer that focuses on East Africa. Here he describes how studying off-campus changed his life.
My study abroad experiences in Ethiopia and Kenya had a profound impact on my life and sparked a lifelong interest in understanding global connectivity, supply chains, and of course, East Africa.
Studying abroad revealed a world far too complex to ever be truly understood, which I found both humbling and incredibly exhilarating. Engaging with daily doses of new perspectives that re-oriented already layered understanding was thrilling. This chase of an illusory truth that was right in front of my face, but I couldn't see it until... sometimes I did, was, and is, an intoxicating perspective that hooked me for life on experiential learning.
Through studying abroad I learned so much about myself, about empathy, about global positionality, about difference, about social constructs, about humanity, about language and yet... I also knew I had only scratched the surface of these things. I was determined to put these experiences into a greater context. After college I led high school students on experiential learning trips abroad, driven by a desire to share my love of learning about the world and in that love, promote empathy for others. I saw E. Africa, South Africa, and Southeast Asia with new eyes, but longed to get a deeper understanding of E. Africa. In New York I found a socially conscious for-profit company called Crop to Cup Coffee Importers and dove head-first into understanding the complexities around smallholder coffee farming in East Africa. For the past 7 years I have been up and down the coffee supply chain, working in every country in East Africa, in an attempt to understand and be an active contributing member of an industry that touches so many.
While studying abroad clearly helped fill my life with meaning and purpose, it also empowered me with a strong sense of independence and imparted some lessons that have served me very well in my career.
- You can not, and will not, be in control of everything; embrace chaotic situations with patience, work with others
- You can not, and will not, know everything; work with others.
- Difference is not, by default, negative; appreciate and explore it.
- Problems and solutions are complex
My top 4 reasons for studying abroad:
#1- Empathy. Studying abroad takes you outside of your comfort zone into a place of difference. Engaging in this difference (cultures, people, language, places, etc.) with your eyes open, helps engender empathy. Empathy, in my humble opinion, is one of the most important character traits an individual can hope to achieve, and one that is most easily attained in higher education through study abroad.
#2- Personal Growth - As much as you will learn about the places/people your are visiting while studying abroad, you will learn more about yourself. Your former "sense of self" will change, your worldview altered, and you will be a 'new you'. In short, study abroad is an incredible opportunity for personal growth.
#3 - Put Reference Points to Abstract Concepts- As smart as we may think we are at synthesizing information in Canton, NY, having personal experiences to tie theories too is vital. The experiential learning that takes place while studying abroad stays helps lock in all the other learning gained through seminars, texts, lectures, etc. at your University/College.
#4 - Fall in love - Whether it is a naive doe-eyed love for a country, a slow-building love for being part of a world much bigger than you ever knew, a passionate love of being a global citizen, a connecting love of the people you meet, or perhaps the renewed love of your home; no matter what you are guaranteed to fall in love. Falling in love never comes without complex emotions, but in going through this process you will be able to put other people's loves into a better context, as well as your own.