My Service-Learning Semester Abroad: becoming a leader

“…preparing to carry water like the locals…”

Whenever I find myself feeling frustrated by the way I (a young female mzungu — white person) am treated by the minority of Tanzanian men in Arusha, I remind myself why I am here in the first place and what brought me back to Tanzania to begin with.  Our conversations and lectures with Rick always help me realize why I am here and what I want to accomplish this semester.  I have thoroughly enjoyed all of the lectures on service learning.  All have resonated with my personal goals and thoughts of purpose for my time here in Tanzania. One lecture that really hit home for me is the servant-leadership lecture. From this lecture/conversation I learned that the best leaders do not begin as leaders, but as servers. By making sure others’ needs and wants are your first priority and by seeing that you consistently have the conscious desire to serve others, you can gain respect as well as a deeper understanding of your peers and the people you ultimately will be leading.  If you are a “servant” of others, people will feel more inclined to follow your leadership. The arrogance associated with leaders who lead for their own personal gain and do not have empathy for their followers is what contributes to the downfall and unpopularity of many leaders. The best way to gain this empathetic feeling as a leader is to first serve your community and really learn the needs and wants of those you will be leading. It is also important to know the difference between empathy and sympathy; properly distinguishing between the two can differentiate a poor leader from a great leader.  Sympathy means to know what others are feeling, where as empathy means to truly understand others’ feelings and consequently feel them yourself.  An empathetic leader will feel immensely more motivated to support and work for his followers more so than just a sympathetic leader would, and the more motivation the leader has, the more positive results and changes will come.

The conversations we had around servant-leadership put in perspective why so much of my experience with GSC will be based upon living and working beside the Tanzanians on a daily basis.  The local villagers I will help will feel more inclined to listen to the techniques and lifestyles I wish to impress upon them because I will be acting equally as their counterpart as well as teacher or leader.  They will trust what I have to say because I will be physically joining them in instilling the practices I train them on.  By working together with them, I will also learn their individual needs and feelings, which will help me understand why I am leading them on new practices in the first place.  I am so excited for next week when we will be beginning our time spent in the villages, as I cannot wait to begin to learn about the real needs of my Tanzanian friends and do my best to serve them…

…This past week, our second of the semester’s 15, my assimilation into Tanzanian culture has been a much smoother process than I expected.  Although I have already been to Tanzania, I still expected there to be a certain level of culture shock that would make my adaptation to my temporary life here somewhat an obstacle.  There are certain aspects of life in Arusha in which I am still trying to get used to, but since I expected there would be hurdles in which I would have to jump over, my integration itself has not come as a shock.  As mentioned, my biggest adaptation in Arusha is dealing with the constant attention you get from the locals. Through advice from Tanzanian friends at GSC, useful Swahili lessons, and two weeks of digesting all the attention, I am already getting used to what I thought would be an issue. I am learning how to ignore, politely respond or resiliently stand up for myself when bothersome Tanzanian men pester me and my wazungu peers on the streets.

– Jessica S., Semester Abroad Tanzania

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