If you had told me four years ago that I’d be spending my last undergraduate semester in Tanzania, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. I knew that I was going to do everything in my power to study abroad, but given that my minor is Spanish, I aspired to study in a Spanish-speaking country to improve my language skills. Thus, when the time came to pick a study abroad program, I decided to spend the second semester of my sophomore year in Bilbao, Spain. However, because I came into college with a lot of AP credits, I was able to finish my undergraduate degree requirements this past December. With one more semester of scholarship left, I decided to study abroad again.
So why Tanzania, you ask? Well, I hope to pursue a PhD in economics in the future, after which I want to teach and produce economic development research. Due to the prevalence of extreme poverty in many African nations, I decided that I could receive great exposure to the development issues and initiatives I hope to study and trial in the future if I were to study in Africa.
For about a year, I was pretty set on going to Ghana because many leading economists are working on randomized controlled trials in Ghana, and one of my good friends, Laura, spent a semester in Ghana and had a fantastic experience. Unfortunately, the Ghanaian universities don’t finish their spring semesters until the end of May and I am walking at Alabama’s graduation on May 5, so Ghana was out of the question. After looking into numerous other study abroad programs in Africa, I came across a program called CIEE Iringa: Community Development, Language + Culture in Iringa, Tanzania that sparked my interest. It is the perfect program for me in every aspect: it incorporates coursework on poverty, inequality, and development, all of which I hope to research in the future; includes a language-intensive aspect, in which students are required to enroll in Swahili during the entirety of their semester (I absolutely love learning languages); and requires that all participants live in a remote village for a month while completing a field research assignment on a development topic of their choice. The only downfall was that it was multiple thousand dollars more expensive than what my full-tuition scholarship was worth. After much thought, I decided that I would apply to as many study abroad scholarships as I could find to try to cover the cost difference, and in the end, I was awarded three scholarships that paid the difference. I was set to go to Tanzania! Or so I thought…
This trip was by far the most intense trip I’ve had to prepare for. From trying to find a doctor who would give me the yellow fever shot (the U.S.-manufactured yellow fever vaccine is unavailable until mid-2018, so it’s both extremely expensive and extremely difficult to get the yellow fever vaccine in the US right now) to working with my insurance for hours-on-end to get approval to purchase four months of medication at once to buying hiking boots and a money belt and the many other recommended items that I didn’t have, I spent many hours and a lot of money getting ready for the semester.
I would be lying if I said I was not a little anxious for the trip before leaving Chicago. I was mainly anxious to travel to Tanzania – I tend to get some travel anxiety when I fly – but I was also a little anxious for the cultural change. I know that no matter how open-minded and prepared I am, there are probably going to be times when I just want to take a nice, hot shower rather than a bucket shower (I’ve only been here for ten days and I already miss Western showers), or when I feel homesick and miss my family and friends. But my overwhelming feeling before leaving the US was excitement. I’ve wanted to spend a semester in Africa since the beginning of my sophomore year of college, so it’s hard to believe that I’m finally here. I can’t wait to experience the culture and learn Swahili and learn about development issues/topics through field work, volunteer work, and classwork while living in a developing country, rather than learning from a book in the U.S. I’m incredibly excited to make friends with the locals and live with a host family for a month and experience the daily life of a rural Tanzanian family, from collecting water to farming to basket weaving. I can’t believe that I’ll be going on a safari with my classmates in the largest national park in Tanzania. And these are only a few of the things I’m excited for!
As of right now, my goals for this semester are as follows:
- Become friends with Tanzanians
- Develop an intermediate proficiency in Kiswahili
- Be fully present inside and outside of my classes so that I learn as much as possible in my four months abroad
- Leave with a stronger sense of and connection to the issues/topics I hope to research in graduate school and in my long-term career
- Push myself out of my comfort zone
- See as much of Tanzania as I can!
I’ve only been in Tanzania for 10 days and I’ve already made immense progress in Kiswahili, and have made many Tanzanian friends. I’m looking forward to what the rest of the semester will bring!
Kwa heri (goodbye in Kiswahili) from Tanzania,