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Students learn about Africa's enormous diversity

Students Justine Crittenden, Charlotte Smith, Allison Conners, and Natalie Rizzo (Photo courtesy of Natalie Rizzo)

Addis Ababa - often called the “Geneva of Africa” because of its diplomatic significance - was the perfect location for students to study the economic and social development of the continent.

Since Addis, as it is commonly called, is home to many intergovernmental organizations, including the African Union (AU) and United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), students were able to engage directly with policy-makers, diplomats and government representatives, to learn first-hand about the economic and social development of the African continent.

“I now have not only a better understanding of the issues facing Africa, but also about the programs and initiatives being implemented to meet these challenges,” said Allison Conners, a first-year student at Victoria College who is planning to pursue a double major in International Relations and African Studies. “It was also interesting to hear different perspectives on various African issues. We not only heard points of view from the AU and UNECA, but also from the EU and representatives from both the Canadian and American embassies,” she added.

The trip - designed to promote African Studies’ broader goal of training students to understand Africa as both an intellectual arena and as a living space - was part of the Faculty’s International Course Modules (ICM) program. Typically, ICMs provide an opportunity for faculty members to incorporate an intensive international experience into the framework of an existing undergraduate course. But in this case, 13 African Studies students from four classes - one at each level of undergraduate study - participated.

After the Reading Week trip, the students edited a volume of their essays that examined the contemporary issues facing the AU. Topics included the myriad issues they explored first-hand, including regional integration, the role of women in the continent’s development, the recent famine in the Horn of Africa and the role of a civil society in a maturing democracy.