Whitman students travel to Kenya for a cultural immersion experience

Whitman students participating in Kenya Cultural Immersion 2022 had the opportunity to connect classroom lessons to a real world environment.

Fourteen students from the Whitman School of Management eager to experience the global economy, connect with global partners, and learn the customs and culture of Africa were part of the 2022 school Cultural immersion in Kenya. The pilot immersion trip allowed students to relate lessons from the classroom and apply their knowledge in a real world environment. The travel team was able to navigate how to become a global manager and a better global citizen.

Before Immersion

During the spring semester 2021, assistant professor Elizabeth Wimer G’06 shared with the class own travel experiences in South Sudan and Africa, where she consulted and taught in a rural primary school. Wimer noted that the topic led to one of the most interactive and dynamic weeks of his Managing in a Global Environment course. Through the stories and photographs she presented, students were able to make connections between what they were learning in the classroom and what lesson concepts looked like in parts of the world that were not so familiar to them.

“I figured if there was that much energy in a class discussion, there would be even more energy, excitement and extension of learning if I could find a way to put them together. on the ground in Africa,” says Wimer.

A few months later, she was able to do it. The trip was approved in fall 2021 and the travel team started in Nairobi, Kenya in May 2022.

All students in Wimer’s class were given the opportunity to apply for the Cultural Immersion Experience in Kenya at the start of the Spring 2022 semester. To be selected as members of the travel team, students had to apply and pass a meeting.

Once selected, the travel team prepared their trip with a one-credit class at the Whitman School. Wimer had three main objectives for this course: cultural education, team building and logistical preparation.

“Professor Wimer prepared us with a class where we learned a lot about what to expect when we arrived in Kenya. We talked about how to dress appropriately, what kind of food we were going to try and greetings appropriate,” says Jared Dowling ’24. “We also learned a lot about cultural norms within the classroom.”

On the ground in Kenya

Dowling wanted to go to Kenya because he wanted to make a global connection and immerse himself in another culture. “Going abroad is one thing, but going abroad with a purpose is completely different. I wanted to make a tangible difference with the partners and people we met on this trip,” he says.

While on the ground in Kenya, Dowling and the group were able to do just that. The week-long trip contained a busy schedule with days starting at 6 a.m. and ending around 10 p.m. It was not a vacation, Wimer pointed out. Every day was a working day filled with opportunities to help partner organizations, the community and local refugees.

The bulk of the students’ time in Africa was spent meeting with three global partners: Zaynah Khanbhai, founder of Merging Moundos and South South Women, a nonprofit that focuses on connecting voices and experiences from the Global South; Stacia Hiramine, creative communications coordinator for Tirzah Bazaar, an international nonprofit that works with refugee artisans to sell handcrafted products; and the Child Discovery Center, a shelter and education center for orphaned and abandoned children in Nakuru, Kenya.

Connecting with these global partners allowed students to see first-hand how businesses operate differently in another country, especially a country with fewer economic opportunities, limited education and infrastructure.

During a business panel led by Khanbhai, students had the opportunity to reflect and share ideas on how to bridge the gap between North and South in relation to their generation. Through their conversations, the students were able to learn more about the entrepreneurship needed from the women who shared their stories of the businesses created so that they could support themselves and their families. Additionally, the travel team was able to meet local artisans and see the workshops where products are created for Tirzah Bazaar. From this visit, the students were inspired by the stories of so many artisans’ dreams and entrepreneurial aspirations. Overall, the travel team found that employees of these nonprofits greatly value learning a skill set and use their skills as an entrepreneurial opportunity.

It wasn’t all business, however. When not working, the group was able to experience some tourist attractions in Kenya – going on a game drive, watching and participating in cultural drumming and dancing, tea tasting and a visit to a giraffe centre.

Back in the United States

The Whitman School offers a global opportunity like this gives students a chance to see what it is like to manage business operations in diverse cultures. Students can use their training and experience through these opportunities to go out and make a difference in the world while being a global manager.

“What we learn in our classes at Whitman is great and very helpful, but you can’t learn so much from a textbook as you can from experience,” says Isabella Simon ’24. “I think taking that trip to Kenya, preparing to understand other ways of life, and then gaining a first-hand perspective, made the world our classroom.”

Story by Anna Rooney, junior marketing management and finance student at the Whitman School

James C. Tibbs