The fact that she is a published author has not yet sunk in for Daria Barwinska, a 2009 Anderson University graduate. Yet here she is, a native of Poland, holding a book she wrote in English based on a trip she took to Kenya, a trip she never would have taken had she not discovered Anderson University while researching colleges online.
For many incoming students at AU, there is a strong family or church connection, but for Barwinska, there was no prior connection. But in the course of her online research, she discovered a personal touch at Anderson University that led her to this campus.
"I was sending a lot of e-mails to Scott Martin, who was the director of international students at the time, probably at least one a day," she says. "I had a lot of questions, being an international student. And he was patient enough to respond every single day. I decided to come to AU thinking it would be a really good school, and it turned out to be."
From the moment she stepped off the plane at Indianapolis International Airport, Barwinska was greeted by fellow AU international students, forming connections that remain strong today.
And among those connections, her friendship with fellow 2009 graduate Emily Wasonga was key to Barwinska's decision to go to Africa in May 2007 and eventually to write her book, To Be ... in Africa.
A native of Kenya, Wasonga was familiar with the work of Frida and Paul Enane, who had established the Frepals Clinic in Kibera, Kenya, where they served the medical needs of some of Kenya's poorest citizens.
Wasonga felt a calling to do something to support the work at Frepals, and the idea that emerged was to hold a pageant that would focus not on the external beauty of the contestants, but on the beauty of their ideas for service in East Africa. This program is now known as the AU-East Africa Ambassador Initiative.
Although she was involved in the planning of the pageant, Barwinska had no plans to go on the trip ... until she was approached by Wasonga.
"One day, Emily came to me and said, 'I know the project is going to work out, and I'm going to go home, and I want you to come with me,'" Barwinska recalls. She began thinking about all the reasons why such a trip would be difficult to arrange. But that personal challenge from her good friend outweighed those concerns, and Barwinska agreed to go.
The main focus of the trip, coordinated through AU-East Africa, was to provide support and resources to the Frepals Clinic. However, an equally important aspect of the trip, according to Barwinska, was for the participants to simply "be" in Africa, to be present and form relationships with Kenyans.
Barwinska maintained a journal during her trip, and at times she would share some of her writings with Martin for feedback. She says, "I remember Scott telling me one day, 'You know, you should be more detailed, because when you go back to it and read it after a few years, it will all come back to you.'" So, she recorded as much detail as she could, details about the environment, the people she met, and the emotional impact the experience had on her.
After her return to campus, Barwinska referred back to her journal as she began sharing her experiences with family and friends. In the process, she began wondering if her writings could be turned into a book. So she consulted Martin once again.
"I thought maybe I could just write it and publish a copy for myself, maybe for a couple of friends," she recalls, "but Scott said, 'You could actually get this published.' And I thought it just sounded so impossible, so improbable. How do you even go about doing it? And Scott said, 'Just do it. We'll figure out a way.'"
When the manuscript was finished, Martin realized the book was a perfect fit for Global Student Solutions (GSS), an organization he had established to serve the needs of international students studying abroad in the United States.
"GSS has been planning to serve global students through publications, and we wanted to do books," he says, "so when Daria's book came along, it was a great fit. This blending and exploration of culture and life-changing experiences is what we are all about. Here is a Polish student who is studying in America and is further challenged to examine her life through another global student from Kenya. The book walks with her into Kenya, where she tries to be 'present' and really feel another culture.
"I can't overstate the significance of having a voice like Daria's in the public forum," he continues. "While this is still a 'western' voice on the developing world, I think it offers a different perspective that will be informative to people and help us as we engage cross culturally."
It has been two years since Barwinska's trip, but she continues to be active in addressing the needs in East Africa. She and Wasonga are currently working to collect shoes for East Africans, as well as books and toys for orphanages and schools. And she hopes one day to return to Kenya.
Although she graduated from AU this spring, Barwinska remains on campus, working in the Department of Student Life and considering options for her future. As a student at AU, she studied biology and worked for two years as an intern with a contract research organization in Greenfield. In the second year of her internship she conducted independent research, serving as a study director. Now she is looking toward graduate school, with the goal of earning a PhD in genetics and pursuing a career in research. With her experiences at AU, she feels up to the task.
"Just knowing that I could do my internship for the past two years, and that I got to do my own study last year, I think that really shows I was well prepared by the faculty here," she says.
For more information about Barwinska's book, or to purchase a copy, visit Global Student Solutions. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for information on book signings or other opportunities to hear Barwinska share her story.
Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,800 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson continues to be recognized as a top Christian college: in 2008, U.S. News and World Report ranked Anderson University among the best colleges and universities in the Midwest for the fourth consecutive year. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, education, music, nursing and theology.