Brittany Santos

Getting Hands On Experience While Serving the Tanzanian Community

I studied abroad in Africa during the summer of 2014. My program took place in Arusha, Tanzania for nine weeks and was a community service based program through the Global Service Corps, which was offered at SUNY Albany for nine credits, and consisted of HIV/AIDS prevention and nutrition education along with agricultural sustainability education. My decision to do a study abroad program became definite after I spoke with a friend who was also doing a study abroad program in Brazil for the summer as well. I knew this program fit me well being that it wasn’t a typical study abroad where you would learn material in a classroom, like we do here in America, but rather a more hands on experience where you would actually help people in the community while at the same time be able to experience the culture first hand. After committing to the program, I already knew that my only regret was not deciding to do it sooner so that I could have done it for a full semester rather than nine weeks, which is still my only regret to this day.

The one word that I can use to describe Tanzanian culture at its best is welcoming. In Swahili, “welcome” means “karibu”, which is said all throughout the day from everyone you encounter, whether you’re walking through the city or even through the villages. People consistently welcome you to their homes, businesses and even their food. In addition to being welcomed, conversation is also a huge aspect of the culture. Instead of saying “good morning,” like we do here in America, they say “habari za asubuhi?” which translate into “how is your morning?” They enjoy talking to their friends and family and getting information on how their lives are going rather than just saying good morning to them. Another phrase that is very common is “mambo” or “vipi” which means “what’s up?” This is a phrase that people will easily say to you as you walk down the street and it can even be said to you from a complete stranger. The response to this is “poa” or “safi” which means “cool.” Having a phrase like this made it very easy to converse with a stranger and shows just how friendly Tanzanians are.

Living with a home stay definitely helped me to see many aspects of the culture that wouldn’t be seen by tourists. Being able to live with them, eat with them and do the daily activities that they do, such as washing clothes by hand or taking a bucket bath, really helped me to get the round sense of being a part of their family and their community. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were eaten everyday with our families or our coworkers, which left room for conversation at the dinner table along with sharing of the differences between our cultural norms. While teaching at the secondary school, we were also able to give the students insight to just how different American culture is from Tanzanian culture. One major point that I left the kids with is that though a majority of their dreams were to come to America, our culture here isn’t any better than theirs. Tanzanians are very loving and happy people and take pride in having close relationships with their families and friends, which is something Americans have forgotten about. Our culture here is strongly grounded in monetary needs, which Tanzanians don’t care about. Though we might have a lot of “things” here in the US, Tanzanians are much happier than we are. The more you have the more you want, and they are fully content with their love and appreciation for one another.

Having the right attitude before going into this program is a must. Your personality has to be very flexible and you have to be willing to allow yourself to mold to Tanzanian culture, not the other way around. A common phrase used is “hamna shida” which means “no worries.” Tanzanians never stress if they’re late or if plans change or if people don’t show up when they said they were going to. They go with the flow of things, which is a necessity to adapting with the culture.

I’m grateful I was able to experience a laid back culture such as this one and meet so many amazing people throughout the process. I highly recommend everyone gets involved in studying abroad or traveling. Experiencing different cultures is such a beautiful thing and a very humbling journey, which is something we’ve lost touch with here in the states. Love is love and we should be able to share the love with others across the world.

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