Hanna Lafferty ’19, left, is spending her summer in Tanzania learning Swahili as a U.S. Department of State Critical Language Scholar.Hanna Lafferty ‘19, left, is spending her summer in Tanzania learning Swahili as a U.S. Department of State Critical Language Scholar.

Mixing intensive language instruction and structured cultural enrichment experiences amid the stunning natural beauty of East Africa, Competitive Language Scholars (CLS) Swahili gives students opportunities to gain footholds in the region and to network with people from across the economic and cultural spectrum. Swahili, spoken by nearly 150 million people in Central and East Africa, is the national language of Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Lafferty, who has been studying abroad in Kenya this year, is excited for the possibilities presented by greater fluency in Africa’s most widespread language.

Mt. Meru looms behind the city of Arusha, Tanzania.Mt. Meru looms behind the city of Arusha, Tanzania.“After living in Kenya and seeing the value of Swahili, and learning what I have about the language in the time that I have been here, I realized how valuable it would be to gain a solid understanding of it,” she said. “I have been fascinated with the region for a while and I think it’s both entitled and ingenuine to be somewhere and not learn the language spoken there. So after my time now in Kenya, I will go right onto Tanzania for a couple of months to study language exclusively.”

Lafferty has focused her studies on international development and public health while abroad. She’s taken classes at the University of Nairobi and worked with the International Center for Reproductive Health in Mombasa, where she did field work studying pre-exposure prophylaxis for HIV and AIDs among active sex workers, which entailed both analyzing data and helping with organized outreach activities.

“So much of the access to healthcare that we have, even the chances to an equally healthy life, are influenced by privilege. So much of it depends on where we are born,” Lafferty said. “Much of the global disease burden can be found in sub-Saharan Africa and post-colonial countries, which do not have the health care structures to support it. I am interested in finding out why things are this way.”

The Arusha Market, in Arusha, Tanzania.The Arusha Market, in Arusha, Tanzania.Lafferty is as passionate about languages as she is about public health, as has been so from a young age, she said.

“In addition to English, I currently speak Spanish and French. First learning Spanish, I freaked out! I realized that there is a whole new world, with access completely dictated by language,” she said. “So much of culture and individual values are tied to the languages of our places. I think language is so important.”

The Center for Reproductive Health is also the venue for Lafferty’s independent research, which is focused on perception and management of postpartum depression in Mombasa. She has been interviewing doctors and community leaders about local perception and institutional management of the condition, with the aim of highlighting common misconceptions.

Postpartum depression is supposed to be a lot more prevalent in low-income countries than high-income ones; however, there is no concrete research about this because everyone is focused on the ‘obvious’ killers,” she said. “Hence, I am now doing this perception study. It has definitely been really challenging, but, nonetheless, really interesting!”

Lafferty’s study will be published by Amref, an African health organization aiming to increase sustainable health access to communities in Africa through solutions in human resources, health services delivery, and financial investment. She hopes it will serve as a practical tool to hospitals and health professionals in Kenya by highlighting intervention methods addressing postpartum depression.

Hanna Lafferty ’19, middle row, left of center, spent a year studying abroad in Kenya, and will spend her summer in an language immersion program.Hanna Lafferty ‘19, middle row, left of center, spent a year studying abroad in Kenya, and will spend her summer in an language immersion program.

Lafferty’s experiences with healthcare, international development, and now language immersion are creating a strong base for completing her human ecological course of study back at COA, and, looking forward, in medical school, she said.

The Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) Program is an intensive overseas language and cultural immersion program for American students enrolled at U.S. colleges and universities. The program includes intensive language instruction and structured cultural enrichment experiences designed to promote rapid language gains. 

The CLS Program covers most of the costs of participating in its overseas institutes, including: International and domestic travel between the student’s U.S. home city, Washington, D.C., and the CLS Program site, visa fees, language instruction, room, board, program-sponsored travel within the host country, and all entrance fees for program activities