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Trip across the Atlantic Complements Students’ Africana Studies Course Work

Thursday, July 27, 2017

When six St. John’s undergraduates joined Konrad Tuchscherer, Ph.D., Associate Professor and Director of Africana Studies, on a two-week trip through Cameroon in May, they not only got an inside look at the country of more than 23 million, they saw firsthand the benefits of experiential learning.   

“It’s one thing to study about peoples, cultures, and nations in the classroom,” said Camren Murray ’19C, “but to experience these things in a genuine environment made this an experience that has changed me forever.”

The group, which featured students who are enrolled in an interdisciplinary minor in Africana Studies, visited Cameroon from May 16 to 30. Their trip was underwritten by alumna Winifred Ayuk ’07TCB. “Winifred’s generous gift to St. John’s has resulted in a truly transformational experience for students at our University,” said Dr. Tuchscherer.

To prepare for the trip, which included a 6,500-foot climb up Mount Mbapit, students first had to go through intense cardio training in the University’s Fitness Center on the Queens campus. “The students selected were deeply interested in Africa, had a thirst for adventure, and were ready to push themselves to their physical limits,” said Dr. Tuchscherer. “Thanks to Ms. Ayuk, the only other requirements for students were to get malaria pills and bring a camera.”

In the capital city of Yaoundé, St. John’s students met with students and faculty of L'École Nationale d'Administration et de Magistrature and the Institut des Relations Internationales du Cameroun of the University of Yaoundé II. Hosted by the US Embassy in Cameroon, the meeting also served as a reunion between Paul Hoza ’18C, and his father, Michael Hoza, who is US Ambassador to Cameroon.

In the northwest part of the country, the Bamum kingdom, the group worked in the Bamum Palace Museum. There, they documented and cataloged the museum’s collections in preparation for the transfer of objects to a new museum, slated to open in November. They also visited the Limbe Wildlife Centre, where they observed Cameroon’s wildlife while assisting a University of California, Los Angeles researcher with data collection.

Students also had the opportunity to pursue their own research. Anthropology major Jazmine Walker ’18C explored female concepts of beauty through a study of masking traditions and conducted interviews with Bamum queens and princesses. Hannah Sweatman ’20C, a sociology major, collected the oral traditions of a religion called Nwet Kwete, which combines aspects of Islam, Christianity, and Bamum religious thinking.

For Sylvie Do-Vu ’19C, the trip to Cameroon was a stepping stone toward further service work in Africa. She is spending the summer serving women and children as a Jeannette K. Watson Fellow at a nongovernmental organization in Tanzania. “Cameroon inspired in me a love for Africa,” she said, “and a desire to give back to others.”