"A lot of the hominid research takes place in Africa. Now I would like to work there, but if I had never gone to Kenya, I never would have thought of that."
Heidi spent the summer at the Koobi Fora Field School in Kenya, studying paleoanthropology. Koobi Fora is famous for its anthropological value, and Heidi gained experience in field techniques and site management, while studying current research with Kenyan and US American professionals and graduate students.
Heidi chose to apply for the Koobi Fora Field School program after her adviser mentioned it in an email. She had planned to study at Easter Island, but the focus of Koobi Fora on paleoanthropology was more in tune with her interests and she changed her mind. Once she got to Kenya, Heidi discovered a new interest in bones and the information a researcher can get from studying them. Heidi also learned about the jobs of different people working at the site. “There’s a lot more to a site than just the people who are digging. You need people to carry away the dirt you’re picking up, and then have people sieve the dirt. We stuck to dry sieving—that requires being able to identify what are fossils and what aren’t. That’s why you need to have experts there too.”
Heidi developed a more focused direction for her career while she was in Kenya. “Because paleoanthropology is a more competitive field, it’s sometimes harder to make connections, and this is a perfect way to develop those connections. [These connections] will help you in the future when you decide you want to do research, or go to grad school, or even if you need help developing a career interest.” Heidi is now considering working in Africa after graduation, and she definitely wants to travel to Kenya again. “Kenya is just an amazing place. A lot of the hominid research takes place in Africa. Now I would like to work there, but if I had never gone to Kenya, I never would have thought of that.”
While working at Koobi Fora, Heidi’s class lived on a piece of territory occupied by the Dassanach tribe, which moves between Kenya and Ethiopia. The interactions she had with Dassanach workers at the dig site helped her understand more about the cultural aspects of anthropology and fieldwork. Heidi was challenged to communicate without the benefit of a common language. She also saw members of different tribes working side by side. “At first I was nervous about having both Dassanach and Turkana workers, because they are traditionally enemies. But there were two guys from the tribes who were best friends. You couldn’t tell there was any difference.”
Heidi made friends with many of the workers and their families, and this helped her understand more of the subtle cultural differences within Kenya. “Study abroad is important for anthropologists because, quite obviously, they deal with peoples and cultures. Whether those are past or present peoples and cultures, you should have the opportunity to experience that in real life.”
Check out programs available in Kenya.