Infographic: Picture of Hannah Lundberg '18 over a map of Africa and images of the savannah. Text: Hannah's Global Experience

Grinnell College senior discovers new perspectives by studying abroad in Botswana

Feb. 13, 2018 — Twice a week last spring, Hannah Lundberg ’18 ventured well out of her comfort zone by volunteering at a hospice in Botswana while spending the semester studying abroad.

“The best thing about it was that it caused me to build meaningful relationships with people from Botswana,” Lundberg says. “Whether we were mopping floors or serving meals, the staff members, who quickly became my friends, were eager to have conversations with me about things happening in everyday life and politics.”

Map of Africa with Botswana highlighted in Red

An English major with a Global Development Studies concentration, Lundberg spent the spring 2017 semester studying abroad in Gaborone, Botswana, where she learned about Southern African history, development, Setswana language, and Tswana culture.

While attending Grinnell, Lundberg had read a lot of theoretical materials about improving the quality of life in developing countries. While Botswana is a relatively successful middle-income country, the hospice didn’t have a lot of money for its operations, and the patients typically didn’t have many resources.

“It was interesting seeing how this Western model of formalized hospice care was being implemented in a very different cultural and social context,” Lundberg says.

A California native, Lundberg looked into several liberal arts colleges, but she didn’t originally have Grinnell College on her radar. However, upon visiting she was drawn to the Global Development Studies concentration, and the College’s ethos of social justice.

Lundberg hadn’t traveled overseas before so the thought of studying abroad was initially intimidating. Gradually she warmed up to the idea.

Hannah Lundberg '18 in Botswana with a hippo in the background in a lagoon
Hannah Lundberg '18 in Botswana. A hippo is just peeking out of the water in the background.

“I wanted to have an opportunity for a more hands-on experience and be exposed to somewhere different,” she says. “As my time at the College went on, I began looking more critically at studying abroad. It hit me that it wasn’t something that I would have an opportunity to do in the same way at other stages of my life. Having financial aid from Grinnell and a structured program meant I wasn’t just going to be a tourist; I would be working and studying in a meaningful way.”

Lundberg took classes at the University of Botswana. Two classes were taught by a faculty advisor from Kenyon College. Three local women taught another course about the Setswana language. She took one course, Contemporary African Philosophy, with University of Botswana students. It wasn’t a widely attended class, but it still was noteworthy to experience what local students were going through in their academic experience.

“It was taught by a professor from Nigeria living in Botswana,” Lundberg says. “It was the kind of subject I’ve studied at Grinnell, but learning about Western biases in academia from a non-Western scholar was really valuable. It gave me a broader scope of what philosophy could be.”

While working with the chaplain and doing a multitude of tasks at the hospice, Lundberg said it was interesting to hear Botswana resident impressions of the U.S. and how they thought Americans perceived them.

“People were well-informed about American politics and popular culture, but they expected us to have a very limited understanding of Botswana, which probably says something about Americans’ poor global perspective,” she says.

Lundberg said she grew up in a lot of ways from studying abroad. While she could have taken an easier route by studying somewhere with recognizable surroundings like London, she was forced to navigate a new place with an unfamiliar language. There were a few uncomfortable situations where Lundberg’s limited Setswana knowledge made socializing difficult, but the generosity of her local friends was helpful in those times.

“There were situations where I was thrown a little off guard,” she said. “It shook me up in a good way. It’s easy to leave Grinnell feeling like you know everything about the world, and that you are prepared academically and socially. My experiences in Botswana were humbling. They made me realize I still have a lot to learn, and I’m excited to keep learning.”

Lundberg is applying for masters of divinity programs. She would like to be a pastor or college chaplain. Her Grinnell and Botswana experiences — made possible in part by donors — has her more prepared for life after graduation in May.

“I wouldn’t be able to attend Grinnell from the get go if not for the generous financial aid that I received,” she says. “I also did an externship during my second year where I got to shadow a Grinnell alumna and learn about her job.”

Most of Lundberg’s friends at public schools did not have similar study abroad opportunities.

“I probably would not have studied abroad either if financial aid wasn’t readily available,” she says. “It was already a daunting thing to begin with. But being at Grinnell made it easy to set up my time in Botswana.”

—by Jeremy Shapiro


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