Destination: Tanzania, Africa
Hometown: Greenbank, West Virginia
Major: Graduate Student in Environmental Studies
What were the primary factors that influenced your decision to study abroad?
I have always wanted to visit another country and learn about a different culture and their way of life from a perspective other than that of a tourist. I attended West Virginia University for my undergraduate and never had the opportunity to study abroad. It is something I have always wanted to do, and I felt it would be a great opportunity to study something completely out of my comfort zone and help others.
What program and destination did you choose and why?
The program I choose was through a service learning organization called Amizade. The program focused on sustainable development in rural Tanzania. More specifically it was in the Karagwe district of Tanzania. The reason I choose this organization was because my sister has been involved with them for a couple of years and has been on several of their trips and highly recommended it to me.
What classes did you take while abroad and how would you compare them to taking courses on campus at VCU?
I took two classes while studying abroad. Global Service Learning and Sustainable Development in Rural Tanzania. They were very different from the classes I have taken at VCU, for instance our classes were held in a variety of places since we were traveling a great deal and volunteering in remote villages. I have not had much exposure to development in third world countries so the material was very new to me. I learned so much in the month I was studying abroad.
What were your expectations before you went? How did those change once you arrived in your host country?
I think most people have a lot of the same expectations when studying abroad. To learn about a new culture and way of life, live outside of your comfort zone, experience new foods, and make a positive impact on people’s lives. My expectations for what I would experience changed greatly once I arrived in my host country. When you think of Africa you think about it being hot and humid, it was not like that at all. The weather was great, no humidity and only about low 80’s on a hot day. That was probably the biggest change I noticed from my pre trip expectations. As far as the normal expectations those didn’t change too much because I told myself to keep an open mind before and during the trip.
What was the biggest challenge you faced while adjusting to your host country?
One of the biggest challenges I faced adjusting to Tanzania was the time difference and the isolation from family and friends. There was a seven hour time difference and it took me over a week to get acclimated to that time schedule. Since we were in a remote village communication with family and friends back home was very difficult. Living in the US where someone is just a phone call or a text away was quit foreign where we were.
How has your experience changed your future academic and career goals?
I don’t really know if my experience has changed my academic and career goals in any way, but it has strengthened them. It has made me realize that our impact on the environment, especially here in the US, has great consequences on other countries like Tanzania. It has made me appreciate the opportunities I have to attend college and pursue my passions.
What contact did you have with students from the host country? Other international and American students?
I had a great deal of contact with both students from the host country as well as American students. While volunteering, we were working in conjunction with students from a University in Dar es Salaam. There were a total of five of us on the trip all from different universities. I also had a lot of contact with local students in secondary school because of extended presence in the community.
How did you integrate into the culture and meet members of the host community (community events, extracurricular activities, etc.)?
We met a majority of the community through our volunteer work which had to do with identifying disabilities in the host community as well as surrounding villages. We also attended a wedding of a local community member who was involved in the organization. I meet a lot of community members through activities such as church and visiting local schools in the region.
What were your most memorable experiences?
Some of my most memorable experiences were probably when we visited really remote villages and listened to the people with disabilities. They were so excited to see us and even gave us a rooster as a thank you for coming and visiting them. The safari and camping in the Serengeti was another memorable experience since I got to see lions, elephants, hippos and other animals.
If you could do it all over, would you choose the same study abroad program again?
I would absolutely choose the same study abroad program. I was a little hesitant at first because I knew nothing about Tanzania, or Africa for that matter. I think that is what made it such a great experience. I kept an open mind and learned so much in the month while I was over there.
For you, what are the benefits of studying abroad?
To me the benefits of studying abroad are endless. In the world we live in today it is very important to be a global citizen. I think that concept is hard to comprehend unless you visit people that live completely different lives than you. Studying abroad makes you more humble and less judgmental of other people and their beliefs. It gives you skills and lessons you could never learn from a classroom and gives you memories that will last a lifetime.
How has your study abroad experience helped your language skills?
The main language in Tanzania is Swahili, which I didn’t even know before attending this study abroad trip. I learned a great deal of Swahili while I was there even though all of the classes in school are taught in English, so a great deal of people knew English.
How has your study abroad experience changed your worldview?
I feel that we live in a bubble being in the US. You read about how people live in other countries but until you experience it firsthand, you don’t really appreciate what you have. Being in the environmental field I see how much we, as Americans consume and how much we waste. I also see just how many services we provide our citizens and how our way of life is completely different from the majority of the world.
How has your study abroad experience changed your perception of your own culture?
While I was studying abroad I was asked what the culture was like in America. This is a hard question to answer since America is a melting pot of cultures. It has made me analyze the good and bad that we have in our society. While volunteering I realized how many services our government provides our citizens and how in other countries these services are nonexistent.
What do you wish you had been told before you studied abroad?
I wish I would have been told a little more about funding opportunities for my trip. After getting back I realized how many scholarships there are out there for study abroad trips.
What would you say to a student who is not considering studying abroad?
I would tell them that they are missing out on an opportunity of a lifetime. You may never have the chance to go somewhere halfway around the world and live there for a month or three months. The experience and memories certainly outweigh the financial cost of the trip.