This is Africa. My First Week Here.

This Summer?  How about Tanzania?  You could  Study Abroad,  Intern or Volunteer with Global Service Corps ~ You’ll learn a lot, contribute a lot, be welcomed a lot in a service-learning experience immersed in local culture.

Students and Tanzanian Lecturers Begin their Spring Semester Abroad

This is Africa.  The three words that are constantly said among the group of girls I have become friends with here in Tanzania as we begin our semester abroad.   I went from hot showers and being just another citizen on the street in the U.S. to being dropped into a world where I am the main attraction and a bucket bath is my way of bathing.   I have been immersed into a world I only saw through my HD television and air conditioned home.  Cultural differences between the streets of Arusha and my home back in New York can never be explained enough into detail for a reader to really see what is happening in my everyday life, but I will try my best.

My first reaction when arriving in Arusha, Tanzania was that the weather is beautiful compared to the New York winter that is in store for my friends.  I felt very comfortable and safe when I was greeted at the airport by GSC staff.  After being dropped off at the hostel, it hit.  I am in Tanzania; this is my new home, and I won’t be back on U.S. soil for four months.  This is Africa.

On my first day in this foreign place I realized the language barrier is going to be much more difficult than I expected.  I could barely say hello in their native language.  As soon as breakfast was over, I hit the books.  I needed to learn how to have a basic conversation in Swahili.  Only hours later did I realize jet leg was kicking in and I was about to take a 12-hour nap.  I woke up around midnight to a knock at my door.  Jess, my new roommate and partner in African adventures, had arrived.

The next day we went into town and explored our new home.  Little did I know, we were the elephant in the room and bombarded by people.  Whether they were trying to sell something, take a photo with us, hold our hand or just practice their English skills on us we really became the main attraction.  The only way I can explain this to someone at home is the way celebrities are treated and can’t just get from one spot to the next without getting stopped.

During orientation we were taught more about the culture and how to react in certain situations.  I feel the most important thing I have learned during orientation on culture is that you don’t show anger and frustration here.  We don’t yell and swear at someone who has invaded our personal space.  This is such important advice because I tend to get annoyed by people getting in my space.  This advice I continuously tell myself, so I keep my cool and avoid conflict.  Due to the way many live, time is not a priority.  I also learned more about the African culture and its slow way of life (pole pole, which means slow in Swahili).  Therefore, when people show up late for something, it is completely acceptable.

Before arriving in Tanzania I did plenty of research.  However, no matter how much research is done, you really cannot fully prepare yourself to this type of environment.  I knew that Tanzania was the fifth poorest country in the world, I knew paved roads were only a luxury, and I knew that HIV/AIDS was an epidemic.  But I didn’t realize all of this and much more were going to hit me all at once.  The way people live continuously makes me cry for them.  Yet, many of these people don’t know any other way of life.

Academically, I feel I was a bit more prepared.  This is because we were provided the syllabus in advance so I was able to see that we had class from 9am-5pm each day with a short lunch break.  This is much different from America, because in a University there we would have more personal time between classes.  Although Africa is known for being pole pole, I have realized time management is needed in order to succeed for the semester.   After class, as much as we would love to explore, we know that it is more important to get home before dark and began our homework and studying.

I have been here for eleven days, and I am still trying to adapt to this new environment.  However, it takes time and a lot of support from the staff around us.  At this point, I am not sure how I feel about this journey I have ahead of me.  But, I do know that at the end of this, I am going to look back and see how much I have grown and learned from this experience.  For now, I will leave you with the three very common words that I use: This is Africa.

– Vanessa C.,  Semester Abroad Tanzania

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