When I informed the mother of some children I had been babysitting that I wouldn’t be able to babysit for several months because I will be studying abroad in Madagascar, she told me that her son was currently obsessed with the country. She asked me to guess why. Because he is in elementary school, and because I know that Zoboomafoo stopped airing after my childhood, I assumed it was because of the new, popular cartoon movies about zoo animals stranded on the island. To my surprise, this was not the reason. His fascination with Madagascar started with a simple Google search characteristic of angsty elementary school boys: Where is the farthest place in the world from Seattle?
Now, I have not fact-checked this claim, but I don’t plan to. Even though the fact terrifies me a little bit, I like to think that this journey I am beginning will not just take me the farthest from home I have been, but also the farthest from home I can go.
I chose Madagascar SIT program: http://www.sit.edu/studyabroad/ssa_mgr.cfm for several reasons. The first is that the focus on urbanization and rural development, coupled with its location in a francophone country, satisfies requirements for my major in Political Science and minors in International Studies and French. The second, more influential reason I chose Madagascar is because I have dreamed of going there ever since I was a little girl, listening attentively to my Dad telling my sister and me bedtime stories of his childhood adventures on the big island known as the footprint at the end of the world.
My grandparents and great-aunt were Lutheran missionaries in Madagascar from the 1940s into the 1960s. Consequently, my Dad was born in the country and he and his siblings grew-up there. In addition to studying in the capital city, Antananarivo, we will also conduct a month-long field research project while I am in Madagascar on a topic within the broad theme of the program. I hope to explore the ways in which radio has been used as a form of development. This focus will enable me to spend some extra time in Antsirabe, the place where my grandfather started a radio station which still functions today.
Madagascar, in addition to housing diverse wildlife and people with a rich and beautiful culture, is also the home of family lore where my adventurous Godmother and great-aunt, Sylvia, climbed mountains and slid down waterfalls; where auntie Margaret bribed my elementary-school-aged Dad with sweets to write letters home to his parents from boarding school; where my grandfather brought recording equipment into villages to stock the radio library with music never-before recorded for the world to hear; where my strong grandmother raised six children and lived out her incredible faith in God; and where my Dad fell asleep at night to the sound of waves breaking off the shore.
Although I will possibly be the farthest I can be from my friends, family, and home, I anticipate making new friends, learning even more about my own family, and exploring a country that shaped many loved ones in my life and was once their home.