Botswana ISLP Reflections

By Meredith Cooksey, Kyle McMahon, Josh Saylor

Students who participated in the ISLP Trip to BotswanaOn April 30, 2017, civil engineering and other students left Louisville International Airport for a 16-hour flight and the adventure of a lifetime. The students traveled with the UofL International Service Learning Program (ISLP) to Botswana, Africa for a 10-day trip both teaching and exploring. The program aims to promote student learning and awareness through immersion in a foreign culture. The program is designed to allow students to teach in a local school, to serve as positive role models, and share interactive activities to spur interest in engineering as well as other disciplines. This year students Meredith Cooksey, Kyle McMahon, and Josh Saylor collaborated to recount their amazing experiences in Botswana.

As part of the program, we spent the semester studying the culture of Botswana while preparing lesson plans. We decided to plan themes for each day and base lesson plans around unifying important concepts. The themes we chose were team building, sustainability, and personal health/growth.

The earthquake-proof buildings lesson was started by teaching the students some basics about statics. We were very impressed with how quickly the students picked up the concepts! The earthquake experiment was an immediate hit, and we were all impressed by the creativity and strength of the buildings that the students made. This lesson was more important than others because a large earthquake had occurred in Botswana not long before our trip. For the calorie counter experiment we taught the students a formula that would tell them how many calories were in 5 grams of Cheetos! We would burn the cheetos over a soda can filled with water. The soda can heated up and the difference in the water temperature before and after the burning would tell us how many calories were in the cheetos. This experiment taught students not only about the importance of understanding calories and their effect on their bodies, but also taught math and science experiment concepts. The students enjoyed the fire too!

We also taught colloidal suspensions with cornstarch and water, while this mostly just allowed them to make a mess, we also spent time teaching them about physical properties, how to take scientific notes, and about colloids and states of matter. The last engineering lesson we taught was about rockets and they were supposed to design their rockets for the highest and best take-off. The baking soda and vinegar sent rockets flying into the sky. Our students were so excited to see who had the best rocket.

In addition to engineering lessons, we also taught our students geography, yoga, proper personal hygiene, confidence and anti-bullying, and the importance on how to be an effective team.

At the end of the three days we finally got to play some traditional “football” (soccer) which was an incredibly fun experience. Usually the girls don’t play with the boys but our lesson on teamwork must have made a good impact on them because by the end of the game the girls felt comfortable enough joining in. After the game, it was time for our goodbyes… the hardest part of the week! So many hugs and an hour later we left with 100 more friends halfway across the world.

In addition to the teaching experience gained through the ISLP program, we were able to experience, first-hand, the culture of Botswana. We spent a day traveling around the city, appreciating their 50 years of independence, learning about the history, and values of the people. As part of the traveling we visited The Three Dikgos ( Chiefs) monument; while there we learned about the entire Botswana history, starting with natives and colonization, and moving on to their independence. We then visited a local mall and village where we saw traditional customs.

While traveling around we visited a military zoo and stood just inches away from cheetahs, lions, wild dogs and leopards as well as some of the most dangerous snakes in Africa. Of course, no trip to Africa is complete without an African safari! We traveled to the Etali Safari Lodge - Madikwe in South Africa to search for “The Big Five”. It was a breathtaking experience seeing animals in their natural habitats.

Overall, our experience was shaped not only by being able to travel to a new country, but also by being able to be fully immersed in the culture and traditions of the country. We were sad to hop back on the plane home, leaving behind a place we quickly fell in love with, but we knew we weren’t leaving empty handed but with so many memories and friends.