In college everyone is encouraged to try new things, experiment, and to broaden their horizons as an artist and as a person. No experience encapsulated all these things better than my time in Sao Tome and Principe with MICA in 2012.
Most colleges have abroad programs to Europe and Asia, but there are very few opportunities to visit a place so remote, different, and largely untamed. Sao Tome and Principe are places where you can explore something completely outside your realm of understanding. We explored overgrown cacao plantations, painted on the beach, attended the prom of one of our student translators, and drew portraits of people who’d never seen their own photograph. It was also a very individualized experience-- some of us worked with local woodcarvers and seamstresses, some of us learned how to break dance at the community center, and some of us chose to spend all our time making art. My memories from this brief time abroad are incredibly valuable, and it was an adventure in the truest sense. The trip requires some fearlessness, but all of us who went were very well rewarded. “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage” (Anais Nin), after all!
Christina with Batuquadeiras in Cape Verde.
As a graduate of University of Maryland’s Landscape Architecture Program, I saw the Summer Travel Intensive to Sao Tome as a way to improve my skills while seeing an incredibly challenged part of the world. Admittedly, I had to Google search Sao Tome while looking into the program, however, after learning more about the Portuguese colonized country, I couldn’t contain my excitement. With each day’s activity we had the opportunity for cultural exchange leading to a great understanding of the complexity of the issues that typically plague a post colonial African nation. It seemed impossible to contain the richness of the experience in one medium. At the completion of the program myself and a group of 3 other students performed a modern dance piece wearing elaborate costumes made of found materials, to a group of international and national stakeholders. The piece was performed at a gallery exhibition of other students and artists work.
The experience inspired me to explore in detail the complex issues that are integral to post colonized African countries. Upon returning to the United States I applied for the Peace Corps and spent two years in Zambia working and living in rural communities. Since returning from Zambia I have recently started graduate school at American University’s School of International Service studying Global Environmental Policy in hopes to dedicate a career toward solving problems associated with developing countries in Africa.
Lauren at the Cacau space.
…I would have never guessed that my experience in Sao Tome would be tantamount to an awakening. Never before had I been immersed in a culture so rich in art, and also so willing to share this art with a complete stranger. Being immersed in the Sao Tomean culture revealed just how dynamic art around the world can be and how a country can be molded by art and vice versa. My exposure to the unspoiled way of life opened up my mind to the idea of international development work eventually leading to my current job as a Peace Corps volunteer in Burkina Faso working in Community Economic Development…and my exploration in art continues still!!!
John in Burkina Faso