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Educator Always Learns Something New on Annual Africa Trip

For Professor Cheryl Kirchner, every trip to Africa is another study in diversity.

Back Page: Never the Same

Cheryl and Philip Kirschner.

(Photo: Photographs: Cheryl Kirschner)

When Cheryl Kirschner’s middle son, Philip, left for a Peace Corps mission in Botswana last year, she booked a trip the next day to visit him with her husband, Philip. When her youngest son, Adam, decided to study abroad in South Africa a few years ago, the whole family of five, including her eldest son, Michael, traveled with him as a send-off.

Kirschner, a professor of law at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass., spends a few weeks in Tanzania each year with graduate students and previously traveled to South Africa yearly with Babson undergraduates.

You might say that Kirschner, of Newton, Mass., knows a lot about Africa. But if you do, she will correct you.

“My knowledge about Africa is really very limited. The continent is so huge and so diverse,” she said. Africa, the second-largest continent, has 54 nations and about 2,000 spoken languages.

“We know that going to Germany is different than going to Spain,” Kirschner said. “People don’t seem to think of the fact that going to South Africa is different than going to Botswana – even within Botswana.”

Back Page: Never the Same

On last year’s trip, she found Botswana’s remote Kalahari Desert region, where her son Philip is stationed, to be much like he had described. “My son said, ‘you know how when you’re parked really far from the beach, and you’re carrying a lot of stuff over sand dunes? It’s like that, only you never get to the water.’”

To find water, they headed north to the Okavango Delta and a three-night walking safari. “I have been on safari a lot but never walking. In South Africa and in Tanzania, we were in a jeep. In South Africa they carried a gun for protection. In Botswana, they don’t. You have to be quiet. You have to listen. You learn about standing downwind not upwind … That’s how we saw the female lion.”

Farther north, water is plentiful as witnessed at massive Victoria Falls. In nearby Livingstone, Zambia, British-colonial-style buildings were another notable contrast to the brightly painted metal shacks in Cape Town, South Africa, and the drab storefronts in Arusha, Tanzania, with random names like “Michelle Obama’s Coffee Shop” painted or scrawled on handmade signs.

Arusha businesses have far deeper challenges than storefront signage, as Babson’s entrepreneurial leadership students learn. Inadequate infrastructure, no access to capital and a customer base with little money are just some factors.

Some things are the same everywhere. Even amid profound economic or social struggles, as in Cape Town, “there are the joys of watching their children grow or sharing a funny story and laughing with friends,” Kirschner said.

Kirschner has made some true lifelong friends on her travels.

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