Name: Jessie Gibson
Type of Project: Study Abroad
- I was a part of the Sustainable and Resilient Tanzanian Community study abroad program. As a participatory community development program, my project group focused on meeting with the women and children of Marwa and the surrounding villages in the Same District of Tanzania. As we engaged the community, we were able to better understand how the main “Maji Marwa” project of installing rain water harvesting systems and a filtered water piping system from the Pangoni River would benefit the local villages.
- While completing my STEP Signature Project, I realized how welcoming and kind individuals can be. My view of the world being so big and distant, was changed as soon as the people of Tanzania made my visit feel so personal. Also, I have always been a social individual and would consider myself an extrovert. Although this is the case, I was extremely nervous and shy about traveling so far with people I hardly knew. I surprised myself be being so open and curious. I wanted to learn more about the language of Swahili and about the people’s everyday culture and lives. While learning Swahili in the U.S., I felt unsure of my ability to properly execute the language while in country. It surprised me how impressed the locals were that I was even attempting to greet them in their language. Overall, I learned that pushing myself out of my comfort zone proved to be an extremely positive experience.
- During my STEP Signature Project, I was involved with the Women’s Enterprise groups in Marwa and the surrounding villages. My team held meetings with the women to discuss future ways of possibly gaining funding. Our goal was to better understand what kind of funding they prefer (grant or loan) and how they would prefer to manage it. At times, it became difficult to communicate in an efficient matter when asking these important questions. The official language of Tanzania is Swahili. Partnered with our team were two students from the University of Dodoma, a college in Tanzania. They are required to learn English while attending university, which made them essential in interpreting our questions from English to Swahili and back again. After interpreting to Swahili, we then had to involve the leader of the tribe to help us interpret from Swahili to Kimassai. Kimassai is the tribal language of the women we were engaging.
After watching and waiting for one question to travel through three separate languages, I became more aware of the difference in culture as well as the similarities. I was surprised by how many facial expressions and nonverbal communication I could pick up on. My assumption that I would be lost without having a complete understanding of the language proved to be false. Also, with the help of the students from the University of Dodoma, I was able to learn more Swahili then what I thought I could pick up on.
During these meetings with the women, I also had the amazing opportunity to witness their love for music and dance. After each meeting, the women would ask us to stand with them, and they would sing us beautiful songs. It was during this time that I saw myself open up and become more curious of their culture and way of life. Their singing and dancing is quite different than what is done in the U.S. I thoroughly enjoyed partaking in their dancing and clapping during these times. Each tribe had a different way of singing and dancing, which made it interesting and fun for me to learn each style. It was during these times of enjoyment together that I felt a personal connection with the people I was working with. The way that they welcomed us and invited us into their cultural practices made my entire experience that more amazing and special.
- The development I have experience in Tanzania can be incorporated into many aspects of my life. Being able to work and communicate with multiple different people with different backgrounds and cultures will be vital when working in a team or collaborating in a project. The ability to adapt to unexpected changes is a great skill for me to possess as I finish college and find a career. Although it is important to plan ahead and give yourself goals to achieve, it is also important to be flexible and ‘flow like the Pangani’ (a saying that one of the resident directors would say).
At a more personal level, this study abroad has helped me in becoming willing to try new things and step out of my comfort zone. Experiencing a new culture and learning about their way of life was eye opening. After traveling to Tanzania, I now have a want to travel and experience more places and cultures. I can’t wait to see where I’ll be off to next!