Saara Shanti Kumar
Organization: SIT Study Abroad Madagascar
Dates: 1/28/2016 to 5/14/2016
Web page: SIT Madagascar
In Shanti's own words
How I contributed: In the final third of my semester in Madagascar I conducted an independent research project on the level of adoption of agroecological methods on smallholder farms in the arid region of southwestern Madagascar. My research contributed in a small way to the information available about the challenges and reasons for agroecological method adoption in that region, and some proposals as to how to move forward with agricultural development in a drought-ridden and economically depressed region. This aligns with the goals of my program and the agricultural communities in which I lived. In my homestay in a more urban area, I participated and benefited from cultural exchange through family events, story-telling, meals, and day trips.
What I felt most challenged by: I felt most challenged by the cultural differences around food, medicine, and time. Food and medicine ended up becoming inextricably linked because of how often my peers and I would fall sick from local food or water, and how often we would need to obtain medicine (which was oftentimes far away or simply the wrong antibiotic). Time and timeliness and lack thereof was hard to understand and get used to in the beginning, but soon enough I was functioning on local timeliness expectations as well (with the exception of certain professional and formal social obligations). Navigating that was interesting! My time in the rural homestay was the most challenging, but it's perhaps the time I will remember best because it was by far the most different experience I have ever had from my regular life.
What I enjoyed most: The time I completed my independent study project was the happiest month of my life. I entered a new city totally alone, made friends, did my research, cooked my own food, etc. It was like "growing up" and finding independence but with the compounded challenge of doing it as a foreign single woman in Madagascar. Back in the home city of the program I became very close with my homestay family, particularly towards the end of the program. I enjoyed speaking French with them and leaning on them for emotional support throughout the semester.
Would I recommend this experience: I would recommend this program to students who are willing to do a lot of field work outside the classroom. This includes walking up to several miles a day in the heat to reach farmer communities or climbing uphill in the rain to find lemurs in the rainforest. If a student goes into this experience wanting a very hands-on and self-driven academic experience and is willing to literally get dirty (and accept gastrointestinal illness as part of life in this field), this program is for them! It is a physical challenge and an intellectual and cultural delight.