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Noa Wesley

Organization: Cornell SMART Program in Ethiopia
Date:  6/2/2015 - 8/02/2015

In Noa's own words

How I contributed: The SMART program works to build a collaborative relationship between institutions made up of diverse array of people from different educational and cultural backgrounds.  Within my program, the goal was to use this framework to carry out an interview-based social science research project.  While these were the objective goals of the program, it seemed that many of the underlaying goals were about institutionallinkages and professional development for the Ethiopian participants.  A rewarding part of this experience was working with my research partner, Seble, an Ethiopian Masters Student and helping her learn how to do statistical analysis.  I do not think our program contributed to the local farmers were working with, I hope that they were not exploited in the interaction.

What I felt most challenged by:  I felt the most challenged by collaboration and communication with my research partner,translator, and the other Ethiopians I was working with.  We worked with many different stakeholders who had a variety of different personal and institutional objectives within our program.  It often seemed that between different stakeholders, these objectives did not line up, and were sometimes difficult to reconcile.  I think this is the nature of cross-cultural collaboration, especially between a variety of institutions, but even in acknowledging this, it did not make it easier to work with others who seemed have different and often contrary goals. 

What I enjoyed most:  The most enjoyable part of the SMART program was being in Ethiopia for two months, meeting new people, and seeing the way smallholder farming communities live in the rural highlands.  The strength and vibrancy of the food culture, and how it related to religious practices, landscape, and farming was astonishing.  Experiencing the flavor and care that went into the food there was wildly different from anything I had ever experienced.  Food and farming were more connected to each other in Ethiopia than anything else I had seen and this connection translated to people and the kind of interactions they had with land, farming food, and each other. 

Would I recommend this experience:  I would only recommend this program to undergraduate students who are looking for an abroad experience that is controlled and similar to a school sort of environment.  The research did not have a purpose or a greater intention than to help educate the participants, though I do think participants were able to learn a lot through this experience. 

Sean Finnerty

Organization: Cornell SMART Program in Ethiopia
Date:  6/10/2015 - 8/4/2015

In Sean's own words

How I contributed:  We were supposed to work with Ethiopian students that were Masters degree candidates at several universities in country.  In theory, we were going to work in research teams addressing different issues related to agro-biodiversity.  This more or less happened according to plan.  I do not think that the farming communities were ever supposed to directly benefit from our work so I cannot say anything about helping local people.  I think we helped some of the Ethiopian students to establish a more cosmopolitan professional network, as well as the numerous faculty members that were invited to participate in the course.  I think the cultural exchange helped both parties understand things in new ways that would have been impossible without the program.  

What I felt most challenged by:  I think the inherent difference in power between "locals" and foreigners is really difficult to fully appreciate and despite our best efforts at creating a just and equal environment, the benefits of research are not distributed as equally as we would like to see.  Also, not speaking the language was a challenge.  Perhaps next time the students could spend more time learning and speaking the local language. 

What I enjoyed most:  The time spent visiting with farmers drinking coffee, talking about agriculture, and eating the local bread that they grew themselves.  Also walking around the beautiful country side of the Tigray region. 

Would I recommend this experience:  I would on the condition that they reorganize the course so that there was more time spent on research and less on lectures.  For example, we spent almost four weeks listening to lectures that were in ways ver similar, while the research time was about two weeks.  Also, there needs to be more time spent attempting to speak the local language.   

Brendan Brown

Organization: Cornell SMART Program in Ethiopia
Date:  6/12/2015 - 8/20/2015

In Brendan's own words

How I contributed:  I believe that my group's participation in this project supported a partnership between Cornell University a research institutions in Ethiopia.  This partnership will aid in gaining funding for both institutions and strengthen Cornell researcher's a base of activity in Ethiopia.  I don't feel that the local people benefited except perhaps in highly indirect ways and insofar as we spent money there. 

What I felt most challenged by:  I felt most challenged by my mental state while sitting through boring and poorly organized lectures.  I also felt challenged by the lack of water at times which was anathema for exercise. 

What I enjoyed most:  Food, conversation, and landscape.

Would I recommend this experience:  No.  It was poorly organized, not as educational as it could have been, and didn't allow for much autonomy.  The things I learned I didn't need to learn in Ethiopia.