As an intern for the U.S. embassy in Cameroon this summer, when Sasha Lansky heard about a particularly interesting part of Yaoundé, the large capital city, she went out to see it. Embassy staff members seemed puzzled by the young intern’s boldness. But Sasha had been to Cameroon in 2012, when she was a student with SIT Cameroon: Development and Social Pluralism. Learning by experience was her norm.
“On our first full day in Yaoundé, SIT put us into taxis in groups of two. They sent us to random parts of city with a list of 10 things to do and places to go, and said come back by 4 p.m.,” Sasha recalled. “I understand the constraints on embassy staff, but there’s so much less interaction and understanding of how Cameroonians live their lives. The SIT program encouraged being adventurous and eager to explore, and being comfortable with the city and the people. With SIT, you feel welcomed by your surroundings.”
When she went to Cameroon the first time, Sasha was a student at Macalester College in Minnesota, where she studied anthropology and international studies. She chose to study abroad with SIT in part because of its academic bent – an SIT semester usually ends with an Independent Study Project, or ISP, which involves direct, interview-based research. As an anthropology student, Sasha wanted to do just such up-close ethnographic work. She ended up researching humanitarian aid workers and organizations in eastern Cameroon.
After Macalester, Sasha continued studying and working in humanitarian organizations, including a three-year stint with Human Rights Watch in New York City. She is now a graduate student at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, pursuing an MA in law and diplomacy. When UNICEF, via the Fletcher School, offered internships around the world during summer 2018, Sasha saw that one of the positions was in Cameroon. That internship took her to the embassy, where she worked on environmental and human rights issues, including wildlife trafficking and political unrest.
SIT, she says, prepared her well for going back. “The experience would not nearly have been as rich if I didn’t have a familiarity and understanding of the country and culture. I still felt connected and aware of what was happening in Cameroon. I didn’t have to play catch-up.”
SIT’s focus on learning “on the ground” rather than in the classroom, Sasha says, meant she was able to do more than study facts and figures behind the embassy walls. “I was out and about, studying these issues up close.”
As she continues her studies and research, Sasha hopes to keep working in the same way. She is now pursuing an independent research project sponsored by the Feinstein Center at Tufts, focusing on the urban experiences of refugees in Cameroon.