Reflections on a semester in Kenya


We had the pleasure of meeting Global Routes alumnus, Emil Kim, in New York earlier this winter when visiting his office at SEO Scholars, a unique program focused on preparing students from low income families for a successful college experience. Emil is  the 11th Grade Program Manager at SEO Scholars and as part of the 11th grade experience helps students to find summer opportunities like Global Routes. We asked Emil a few questions about his experience starting with his time in Kenya with Global Routes. Enjoy reading and viewing some of the photos from Emil’s program!



How did you hear about Global Routes?  
I came upon the Global Routes website by chance while researching global volunteer opportunities for a paper I had to write when I was a freshman in college.  I remember reading through some of the experiences of past participants and seeing a photo of a student my age dancing around a fire with members of the Masai Mara tribe.  It touched me somehow.  It made the experience seem tangible and within my grasp.  While I had no thoughts of such an adventurous undertaking at the time, I found myself on a plane heading towards Kenya one year later. 

What was one of your favorite aspects of the program?

This is a difficult question.  I guess my favorite aspect of the program would be the home stay.  While other components such as the first week orientation and the weekend excursions were not only fun but a necessary break from village life, the home stay portion of the program is what made this experience truly memorable.  I lived in a mud hut with a corrugated steel roof.  I caught and beheaded a chicken for dinner that same night.  I walked to school every morning with a gaggle of children following me, reaching out to touch my arm or my hair.  These are not the experiences of a tour group or an adventure trek.  These experiences were also at times overwhelming, draining, and enriching. 

How about one of your silliest moments? 

Some of the silliest moments of my trip occurred after classes at the village school.  My village partner and I would spend the afterschool period teaching our students some of the games we played in the US growing up.  We even taught them to play baseball, though we lacked any real equipment.  We made due by using sticks and an improvised ball made of rubber, paper, and glue.  Though most kids understood the concept of trying to hit the ball with the bat, running the bases and scoring runs were a bit more challenging to understand.  They mostly ended up hitting the ball and running in random directions while screaming in delight.  Babe Ruth probably rolled over in his grave.   

Emil is at the front of the photo, on the right in the blue shirt!


What was the biggest challenge for you on program?

Honestly speaking, the most challenging part of the program was the first night alone in the village.  It may have been the loneliest I’ve ever felt in my entire life.  No matter how well they train you and prepare you emotionally and psychologically, there is a certain shock to being left in a rural village in the middle of Africa alone.  However, I think it speaks to the Global Routes experience that the second biggest challenge of the program for me was the last night I spent in my village.  Between the first night and the last, there were so many connections and experiences I shared with the people in the village that the last night felt like I was leaving a second home. 

Has your Global Routes experience stayed with you?  How? 
There are many ways the Global Routes experience has stayed with me.  I still keep in touch with many of the people that were a part of my Kenya cohort.  In fact, my village partner and I both reside in New York City, and we see each other every once in awhile to catch up.  Another thing that has stayed with me is the confidence I gained in myself through this experience.  Global Routes requires its participants to be independent and resilient.  From the fundraising done at home to the community project each member decides to undertake in their village, each Global Routes member is given the leeway to take initiative and decide upon the best course of action.  While it can be intimidating to have that much responsibility, I was left feeling empowered and proud of what I was able to accomplish.

Finally, and most obviously, the memories have stayed with me.  What still surprises me to this day, though, is the clarity and detail of those memories.  Every time I have a cup of chai I am transported to early mornings in Ebu Khaya surrounded by all the members of my Kenyan family.  Every time I take a hike outdoors, I am taken back to the windy paths of red clay that twisted in and out between villages.  Every time I see the unhindered horizon, a rare sighting where I live, I think back to the open vistas of the Serengeti.         

Your work at SEO is very interesting, can you tell us more about your role and the organization?
I currently work at a non-profit called SEO(Sponsors for Educational Opportunity.)  SEO is an innovative out of school program for low income, high-achieving students in NYC public schools. SEO provides coursework in Critical Reading, Writing, and Math, and offers SAT Prep, college tours, summer study abroad programs, and mentoring. I work as the 11th Grade Program manager and my main responsibility is to guide these students towards a successful path to college and beyond.  More specifically, as the 11th Grade program manager, my main goals include academic preparation, SAT prep, and finally, enrichment programming.  That last component, enrichment programming, is something that directly connects with my own experiences in Kenya with Global Routes.  As an organization, we feel all students regardless of background should have the opportunity to have life-altering and enriching experiences to prepare them for college and their eventual careers.  I know from my own experience how impactful a well-run travel abroad program can be, and it is my goal to expose my students to similar experiences in any way I can.

What is one piece advice that you would pass on to students considering a Global Routes program?
Bring a Frisbee.   




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