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Athlete Scores Service Experience While Abroad

By: Genna Welsh Kasun '06

Issue: Winter 2013

Photo: Courtesy: Noah Walstrom '13

Summertime for most collegiate football players means relaxation and preparation for the upcoming season. But, that wasn't enough for Juniata student Noah Walstrom '13.

A captain of Juniata's team, Walstrom and fellow student John Hill chose a road less traveled, and opted to spend three weeks in The Gambia on Africa's western coast as part of a semester-long course on Senegambia taught by Juniata Professor Emil Nagengast.

For Walstrom, a political science and communications student and aspiring lawyer, the trip to The Gambia gave insight into the politics and everyday life in the nation after studying it in class throughout the spring semester.

Everybody was willing to come up and say hello and help us with anything we needed— they were the friendliest people I've ever met, said Walstrom, who recounted one instance where a 16-year-old boy spent three-and-a-half hours helping Walstrom and his classmates out with a scavenger hunt exercise for class.

But that wasn't the end of Walstrom's excursion. Over the three-week trip, he had the opportunity to see a number of non-governmental organizations in action in The Gambia, working to improve various aspects of life for the population including women's rights, and vocational and technical education. He observed one solar energy NGO's attempts to produce ovens that could cook food using only the sun's rays. And, he also had the chance to meet students ranging from elementary age up to university students, including students and the dean at The Gambia Law School.

It wasn't easy. Walstrom's travels took him inland, away from the coast, to explore the wilds of western Africa. His group hiked much of the day as the temperature pushed 115 degrees, stayed in huts at night, and saw a range of wildlife that included monkeys, hyenas, and crocodiles.

At different points on the trip, Walstrom was able to participate in some traditional ceremonies with plenty of singing and drumming; play a lot of soccer, the prevailing sport in The Gambia, with some of the local youths; and even play some pick-up basketball with the Gambian military basketball team.

That interaction with the people in The Gambia left the deepest impact, said Walstrom, who acknowledged the impression left on him has stayed with him now that he's home.

They have a fraction of what we have here, but they still have their families and their homes and they were still the happiest people, said Walstrom. They showed me there are so many things that we take for granted—things that aren't guaranteed over there and aren't nearly as accessible. It's shocking when you get back here and realize how easy our lives are, said Walstrom.

The trip to The Gambia is one of Juniata's 41 study abroad programs in 21 countries. In fact, the College has study abroad options on every continent except Antarctica.