Civil Engineer Enjoyed Semester In Botswana

SOCORRO, N.M. July 31, 2012 – Civil engineering student Gwen Brown might not finish her degree in four years, but she will finish her studies with an international experience that she’ll never forget.

The rising junior from Los Alamos spent the spring 2012 semester in Botswana on an international exchange program, studying along side native African students and other international exchange students.


Gwen Brown, rising junior at New Mexico Tech, works a Mokoro boat while on a semester abroad in Botswana. Brown said she the international experience was invaluable.


Below, Gwen Brown (center, back) and her fellow students have a mud fight after getting lessons in steering a Mokoro in the Okavango Delta.



“Studying abroad is a great experience that anyone would be lucky to take part in,” Brown said via email from Botswana. “You get a new perspective on life by experiencing new customs and learning how to communicate with different kinds of people.”

“Your perspective of home changes by appreciating knowing how things work and the safety you feel with familiarity,” she wrote. “Being abroad also highlights who you are because you will find the activities that bring you joy and comfort abroad are the same as those at home.”

Sharon Spurgeon, the director of international programs, said exchange programs provide Tech students with invaluable experiences.

“The biggest reason for doing an exchange program is that Tech’s specialties – science and engineering – are all international,” she said. “Science and research aren’t locked into this tiny area. The experience students get from going abroad and living in a different culture is a great advantage.”

Tech has several options for students interested in an exchange program. Tech has official agreements with universities in China, Colombia, Norway, Egypt and Sweden. Tech also has cooperative agreements with UNM and NMSU that offer connections to a wide array of universities in many countries. Spurgeon said she is trying to reinvigorate Tech’s exchange program and get more students involved in international studies.

Spurgeon’s office has many resources available to students interested in studying abroad, including catalogs, brochures and other information about finding the right university. Students must be degree-seeking, full-time students with at least 30 credit hours, and a minimum GPA of 2.5. The International and Exchange Program office has a check list for students interested in pursuing an international experience.

Brown connected with the NMSU Study Abroad Program to arrange her stay in Botswana. She considered Finland and Scotland, but she wanted to have an experience completely different from America. She selected Botswana because she wanted to study in English, but not in a European country.

“Plus I thought later in life I might never make it to Africa, but I have been to Europe and will again,” she wrote. “Africa has always been on my list of places to see in the world. Growing up I went through a phase were my room was African themed and my favorite animal was the giraffe.”

Her class work was much less rigorous and less structured than at New Mexico Tech.


Gwen Brown poses with an elephant skull while on a field trip in Chobe National Park.

                                    Photos courtesy of Gwen Brown


“Basically, my days here are less full than my days back home,” she wrote. “Simple tasks take longer and relationships are valued more. Therefore I spend more time with friends. Plus teachers do not give homework here, so I have more time to devote to friends.”

In most of Brown’s classes, the final exam was worth more than 50 percent of the grade. She had very few assignments throughout the semester and only two tests in each class. She learned a lot from her experience in another culture – from the food and the people and patience – or what she called “African time.”

“There is only one thing that still shocks me: African time,” she wrote. “African time is step beyond fashionably late. If a taxi says 20 minutes, expect them in 40. When a friends says see you in 10, wait at least 30 minutes. And when class starts at 9 a.m., wait until 9:30 a.m. for the teacher.”

Brown said that Africa has charms that she will miss.

“I will always remember the first elephant I saw in the wild and the first African sunset I watched on top of the roof,” she wrote. “The feeling of calm when I hand wash my clothes as if I have all the time in the world and the night the dorms had no power so we played silly camp games and all the great people I grew close to in such a short time! I am coming home with some amazing stories that still feel surreal to me.

She and fellow students went on a game drive at Chobe National Park in Northern Botswana where they saw a baby buffalo following a large elephant.

“This was obviously irritating the elephant because the elephant kept turning around lightly pushing the buffalo away. But every time the elephant tried to walk away the baby buffalo would follow, thinking it was all a game. Finally the elephant turned a round and trumpeted loudly right in the baby buffalo’s face; I could even see the air cloud exiting the elephant’s trunk. After that the baby buffalo ran back to its mommy, never to play with elephants again.”

Those are the sorts of memories that last a lifetime.

– NMT –

By Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech