AQ Students Prepare For First Ever Malawi Trip

By: Samantha Rinkus ‘11

Published on

women wearing green shirts

Costa Rica, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, and Spain make up Aquinas’ current International Programs list. However, Dr. Swithina Mboko, Associate Professor of Business Administration, and nine students are hoping to add one more country to the list: Malawi. The group will be traveling to the small African country from May 6 to May 18, 2012, to conduct various research projects and observe life, government, and economy in the developing world.

“Malawi is a developing economy. In addition to that it is also one of the poorest countries in Africa and it’s a very peaceful country, a very quiet country, so as a result it goes unnoticed,” Dr. Mboko said. “To this day I am still speaking to people who say, ‘Where is Malawi?’, so that’s the reason we chose it: it’s not a country that is usually chosen.”

Jennifer Kalchik, Rachel Lanczak, Danielle Alexander, Katherine Birgbauer, Brittany Bissell, Lisa Hinkel, Tara Jones, Cassie Schrock, and Lisa Zimmerman compose the diverse group of students accompanying Dr. Mboko to Malawi. Although the trip is through course BS 235 Entrepreneurship in Developing Countries, these nine students represent various departments, including Communication, Business, Political Science, English, Community Leadership, Sociology, Theology, and Biology. With such a wide range of programs comes many different motivating factors for joining the program.

“I’m looking forward to observing. I want to document the stories of the people we meet as well as the lovely ladies I will have the pleasure of traveling with,” said junior English major Danielle Alexander. “This is an exciting trip – a first for Aquinas College – and I can’t wait to be part of the retelling.”

In order for the students “to see, to experience, and to learn” about life in a developing country, as Dr. Mboko put it, the students will have the opportunity to observe several facets of the Malawian culture and government. These include visiting an orphanage, hospital, after-school programs, the U.S. Embassy, the Catholic Diocese of Mangochik, the Liwone National Park, as well as various villages and community organizations. The group will also meet with 2003 AQ alum Clement Chiwaya, a Malawi native who graduated with a Community Leadership and Political Science Major, and is currently serving as a member of the Malawian Parliament. Each of these excursions will also fuel the individual research projects which the students will be responsible for during the trip.

“I’m looking forward to experiencing a new country personally. This will be a huge eye-opener for me,” said sophomore Jennifer Kalchik, who is double majoring in Communication and Business Marketing. “Everyone keeps telling me what I should expect to experience while I’m there and how great it was for them to travel abroad, but I want to keep an open mind and discover that for myself. Part of the reason why I chose Aquinas was so that I could experience something different, which is what I’m looking forward to when traveling to Malawi.”

Although the wide variety of activities during the two-week program makes for a strict schedule, the trip’s brevity is what made it possible for students like Danielle, who attends school while working full-time.

“The two-week format of the trip – as well as the destination – was perfect for me,” Alexander said. “I wasn’t sure how I could pay for it with so much time off work, but Student Support Services helped me find not one but two scholarships. When I got the first scholarship, I knew it was meant to be.”

On top of the experiences within the Malawian communities, the students will also have an opportunity to enjoy the lighter side of African travel: a safari. As sophomore Political Science student Rachel Lanczak joked, “My friends want me to bring back wildlife animals. [But] I hope to just learn about cultures that I never thought I would have the chance to see. It’s a new life experience that will probably change me.”

Through the experience of living and researching within a developing country, Dr. Mboko hopes the students leave with a greater understanding “of the influence of the environment on peoples’ livelihood strategies. And by livelihood strategies I mean how they run businesses, how they look after themselves, how they plan their future, and so on.” On top of this, through their work with various community organizations, Dr. Mboko looks forward to initiating a lasting relationship between Aquinas and Malawi, which will continue giving students the opportunity to experience life and government within a developing country firsthand.

“I’m excited by the enthusiasm shown by the students, and I am also very grateful for the support that has been given by Aquinas College,” Dr. Mboko said. “I am really impressed by the team of students that I am taking with me because they have, from the beginning, been working tirelessly to fundraise for the trip, to plan, to contact people in Malawi, they have just been an awesome team of students to work with and I am grateful for that.”