Study Abroad: Understanding Human Ecology in Guinea-Bissau

Rachel Langkau

All of us with our two Kriol teachers Falarim and Sana along with one other student outside Tchicote

The broad goal of the summer study abroad practicum with Dr. Lundy was to attempt to understand human ecology in Guinea-Bissau, specifically how millennials (in this case defined as students enrolled in university in Guinea-Bissau, ages 18-38) perceive their environment. We spent a majority of our time moving between universities and meeting with students, faculty, and administration. Apart from collecting data, much of our summer abroad consisted of meeting with government officials, government and non-government organizations, and groups involved in environmental projects and conservation efforts around the country. We also spent time traveling to different regions in order to observe the differences between the different environmental zones and to see as many historically and culturally significant sites as we could in order to learn more about the history of the country, particularly its ecology and its peoples. The primary data collection techniques, which were employed, included keeping field notes from direct and participant observations, group community mapping exercises, Likert-scale surveys, content analysis of student artwork, and semi-structured interviews. In addition to students, administration, and faculty, participants of the study also included environmentally focused civil society organization managers, government officials, international and domestic
businesspersons, and community members.

Me numbering and labeling surveys at Catholic University
All of us with Ambassador Mushingi and one of his colleagues

On a typical day, we would be up and eat breakfast at our hotel, which usually consisted of bread and Nescafé. We almost always left by 9:30 am if not earlier depending on the events of the day. We would take a taxi from our hotel to Tchicote most of the time, the country’s teachers’ training college. If not Tchicote we were likely going to either go to University Lusófona or the University Amilcar Cabral. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays (if we had no other meetings scheduled), we had Kriol lessons (a Portuguese-based Creole language spoken as the lingua franca in Guinea-Bissau) with Sana and Falarim (two recently graduated English teachers) for about two hours. Once we got to the schools, we would set our stuff down in a room where we could work. We then would recruit students by walking around the campus and asking students to “ajuda par pesquisa” or “help with research” in what was for me especially, broken Portuguese. Kamran was by far the most helpful when it came to addressing whole classes or groups of people because he was the most fluent. Sami was by far the most outgoing, she was the best at rounding up students, and from there Kamran and I could break down the general instructions. Recruited students, faculty, and administration would generally follow us to the room where they could sit down and if they had questions, Dr. Lundy was in the room, or they would just fill out the surveys in the hallways or classrooms, wherever we could find space. We would often have lunch at the university if we could. Tchicote had a cantina/cafeteria where a woman who also had a restaurant across from the school also ran the kitchen. After a solid day of collecting data at the universities, if time was permitting, we would explore and walk around the small city center or we would keep ourselves busy with meetings, museums, and card games. We pretty much always had dinner close to the hotel; we would walk to find a restaurant and back. Before bed we all did some journaling and reading before getting to bed to start it all over again in the morning.

Me with some kids at Dr. Lundy’s friend Tchoca’s house
Sami, Kamran, and me at the IFAN Museum in Dakar, Senegal

We learned a lot about the history of Guinea-Bissau as well as its environment from our trip. On one day a biology professor that we first met at Tchicote drove us around and he showed us different “humid zones” (wetlands and flood zones) within Bissau and spoke a lot about ongoing pollution and other environmental concerns affecting the capital city of Bissau. One of the things that surprised me the most from the trip was just how passionate people are about protecting their environment and diversifying agriculture. When we were at Tchicote for the 2nd National Convention for the English Language Teachers Association, I spoke to a classroom of students and teachers who talked about their concerns for their natural environment. We also learned a lot about the importance of biodiversity and conservation when we went to IBAP, which stands for Instituto da Biodiversidade e das Áreas Protegidas (Institute for Biodiversity and Protected Areas). We learned that it takes about four to five years to establish a protected area and they take into consideration the people who live in those areas, imposing regulations that align with traditions as best as they can. They actively promote ecotourism in the protected areas, which also serve as national parks.

Overall my experience in Guinea-Bissau was amazing. We were lucky to have so many opportunities to speak with environmental and social organizations and government officials like Tulinabo S. Mushingi the U.S. ambassador to Senegal and Guinea-Bissau. It was really cool to learn so much about another country’s culture and to be welcomed into it. As much as we loved learning from students in Guinea-Bissau it really felt like they enjoyed learning form us too.

Sami, Kamran, and me in front of IBAP
All of us with Raul Fernandes, our host, and Justino Biai the director of IBAP

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