From L-R: Joshua Nyamungu, Naomi Hassane Dan Karami, and Samuel Ojango at Royal Grounds, December 2016

To Bethel and Beyond

Exchange Students from Daystar University in Kenya Experience a Fall Semester at BU

This fall, Bethel welcomed three study abroad students from Kenya’s Daystar University. Out of 20 applicants, only Joshua Nyamungu, Naomi Hassane Dan Karami, and Samuel Ojango received the go-ahead to spend a semester furthering their education in the Midwestern U.S.

For Joshua, getting through all the logistics was tough. “It was a long process of interviews. [But] I wanted to get the experience and exposure of being here, in a different culture.”

Naomi knew early on that she wanted to spend a semester abroad. “I always wanted to go on an exchange program…My brother went to Korea for a full year. I really wanted to…be in a new culture, and learn new ways of doing things,” she said. “My worldview has changed by being here just four months.”

Visiting the Mall of America, December 2016

While here, the three students took classes and experienced the culture of the Twin Cities. “…We hadn’t been here [before], and we’ve been taken to very many places: Valley Fair, the State Fair, the Mall of America, Minnehaha Falls, Como Zoo, Minneapolis, Stillwater…But I think what bites the biscuit is the people. Because, if we hadn’t met these people…who took us to these different places, we would have stayed in our rooms, in the DC.” Sam said. “Guys here have been so welcoming. We have made really good friends. That is on the top of the list of our favorite things about the U.S. The other [things] come after [that].”

They have all noticed cultural differences between Kenya and the U.S. “Time is one very big difference between [our two countries]” Joshua said. “[Time is] not entirely observed [outside of professional situations]. People are very flexible with time.”

“Most of the times guys are late for meetings.” Sam added. “Whether it’s meeting friends or even a wedding. That’s [the] one thing [we’ve learned here]…Just being timely. We didn’t experience culture shock [coming here]. Most of the culture shock will be [when] we go back to Kenya, [and] we’ll be used to being on time!”

With Bethel University President Jay Barnes and Mrs. Barb Barnes, October 2016

Bethel University’s relationship with Daystar University owes its existence to the persistence of President Jay Barnes. According to Vincent Peters, Dean of Off-Campus Programs and International Studies, Bethel’s exchange program with Daystar University is the only one of its kind in North America due to the threat posed by a terrorist group and some recent terrorist attacks within Kenya. “We got an exemption from the [Bethel] Board of Trustees [to continue our exchange program with Daystar],” Peters said. “This [exemption] had two criteria: that we have a longstanding, trusting relationship with the other University, and that they [and we] have the ability to assist in case of an emergency [to protect our students].”

Because of the costs associated with a university hosting exchange students, a limit has been imposed on the number of students who can study abroad at Bethel. For every two Bethel students who study abroad in Kenya, one Daystar student comes to Bethel for a fall semester. This fall, for the first time ever, three Daystar students came to Bethel in the same semester. “Usually only one student comes at a time, maybe two,” Peters said. Sam has enjoyed coming to Bethel as a small group. “Having each other here has really contributed to our stay here…It wouldn’t be the same [without Joshua and Naomi].”

Kenyan students only come to Bethel for the fall semester, because the weather difference between Kenya’s relatively hot, dry January and February and Minnesota’s winter climate is quite a shock. “In Kenya, it doesn’t get this cold. It’s like 23 degrees centigrade [73 degrees Fahrenheit], and people say it’s cold…No, that’s not cold!” Sam shakes his head with disdain. “[We’ve gotten to] experience different seasons…We’ve never experienced that kind of season change in Kenya.”

“There are tensions everywhere, in the U.S. and Kenya. How can I be the tension reliever?”

While at Bethel, Sam, Joshua, and Naomi have seen a U.S. presidential election and a racial incident occur right here on Bethel’s campus when offensive words were painted on the Kresge Courtyard rock.

“I became more aware of racial discrimination and what it means to people based on who they are,” Joshua noted. “It does affect people differently,” Sam added. “Because we are from Kenya, when something…happen[ed] we didn’t think guys were against us. But watching our friends all affected by this, we said…’Oh, this cuts deep.’”

“For me, I’ve been taking this [class called] Introduction to Reconciliation. We were talking about racial discrimination [and] this racial tension, but I wasn’t getting it…[because] I’ve never seen it and I’ve never experienced it,” Naomi said. “[The rock] incident…opened my eyes to see what was actually happening. It has made me think about ways in which I can bring…the two groups together…And it is not only the United States that has this problem of racism. Also back home…we have problems of tribalism and…religious tension. [Now I ask] ‘How can I be the bridge to connect the two groups?’”

“There are tensions everywhere, in the U.S. and Kenya. How can I be the tension reliever?” Sam added.

Even with these moments of tension, the three look back on this semester at Bethel with fondness. When asked what they’ll remember most about their semester abroad, Joshua said, “When you talk about people, it covers everything. People made it possible for us to do everything [we did]…We’ll remember our friends, [and] the people.”