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Far too often, people speak of a single, homogenous Africa. This is likely a result of the fact that, in the wake of the European colonial enterprise on the African continent, the constituent countries have suffered as much loss and privation as any in the entire world. Therefore, it has become commonplace for people to refer to Africa in terms more appropriate of a country rather than a continent with "11,700,000 square miles, including adjacent islands, [and that] covers 5.9% of the Earth's total surface area, and 20.3% of the total land area. With more than 840,000,000 people (as of 2005) in 61 territories, it accounts for more than 12% of the world's human population."
The history of this continent, which is bordered by the Atlantic and Indian Oceans and the Mediterranean Sea, is simply astounding. It "is the oldest inhabited territory on earth, with the human species originating [there]. During the middle of the 20th century, anthropologists discovered many fossils and evidence of human occupation perhaps as early as 7 million years ago. Fossil remains of several species of early apelike humans thought to have evolved into modern man, such as Australopithecus afarensis," have also benn discovered; these remains have been dated to between 3.9 and 3.0 million years B.C.E. Of course, the importance of the African continent did not end with the dawn of recorded civilization: Some of the most important civilizations the world has ever seen have been based on this continent, including the ancient Egyptians.
Today, there are more than 61 territories on the continent, and each of these is often home to many smaller groups of people. There are also an amazing one-thousand-plus languages spoken by Africans. Therefore, it is understandable that modern-day state divisions are, to a great extent, arbitrary remnants of colonialism, whose borders do not necessarily reflect demographic realities on the ground. So when we hear about the suffering of Africans, about the authoritarian regimes, the lack of food and adequate medical care, and the near-constant threat of war in some countries, it must be understood in the proper context.
That having been said, however, it is also crucial to recognize that Africa is a continent whose natural beauty is unrivaled and whose landscape and geography are some of the most exciting and varied in the world. From the deserts of North Africa to the lush jungles of the interior, the possibilities for exploration and adventure are greater here than they possible are anywhere else in the world.
It is impossible to narrow down the choices for four-year study on the African continent. From the more western-looking universities of South Africa to the Islamic schools of Tunisia, the possibilities are limitless. You only have to decide what you'd like to focus on, and there are sure to be innumerable programs from which to choose. There are, however, two areas of study that people tend to find most rewarding in Africa: Archaeology and political science. The reasons for the former are likely quite obvious. The reasons for the latter, perhaps, are less so: As the developed world realizes how important a healthy and functioning Africa is to the success of the human endeavor in the rest of the world, more attention than ever is being focused on this continent. Therefore, these days, it seems to exist at the nexus of many multinational relief efforts. Studying there is sure to benefit the caring and curious student in ways he or she had never thought possible.
So despite what you may have heard or imagined about Africa, the possibilities for fantastic college experiences are unlimited. So are the kinds of places in which you may choose to study. The bottom line is this: If you are curious about the world, about our past as human beings and our future as members of the human race, then you will have a difficult time finding a better place for a four-year college experience than Africa.
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