It is hard to judge just exactly how I have grown from my time in Tanzania, though I can feel something different inside me. Perhaps when I return to the States, the ways in which I have changed will become evident. I know my perspectives have been altered, my mind widened, and my tolerance for stuffy uncomfortable bus rides has grown more than I ever would have hoped. I know that I have learned more in Tanzania about life, the world, and the environment than any traditional classroom could have taught me. This experience both led me to have a greater understanding of Tanzanian life and culture, and yet also humble me in realizing how very little I really know in the world. I have witnessed beauty and suffering. I have experienced joy as well as pain.
I don’t really know what could prepare a person for cultural immersion coming from the States to the heart of a developing country. I’m actually quite good at adapting and acclimating to new cultures and situations, so that aspect wasn’t too hard for me. What was hard though, was comprehending how differently people on this side of the world lived. It was easy for me to deal with living in a mud and stick hut with the Maasai for a week because I knew it wasn’t permanent. It wasn’t an overly big hassle for me to cook over a fire or wash my laundry by hand for three months, because I knew soon enough I would have access to a gas stove and a washing machine. But what of them? Tanzanians live what many Americans would consider to be “rough lives.” Very few people have homes that include appliances (or even electricity for that matter), a large majority of people cook over fires in outdoor kitchens, and showers are done with buckets of cold water. Yet, most Tanzanians live these lives humbly and with grace. Our program director for study abroad said something that really struck me: “There is a difference between simply being involved, and being committed.” During my time in Tanzania, I only had a chance to be involved. Even though I didn’t have the time to commit to any one issue, that did not detract from my incredible learning experience about both the people and the environment of Tanzania.
What these people have taught me by allowing me to enter their lives and experience their culture not as a tourist, but as a student eager to learn, is that the United States really is just one small part of the world. Despite our tremendous influence, it is important to remember that not everyone has the privilege of living the way we do. I learned the importance of getting out of our western bubble and seeing the rawness of life in a developing country and I am so thankful for this opportunity. Looking beyond the fancy tourist safari lodges, Tanzania is made up of a lot of good people just trying to live their lives and provide for their families. It can be hard, but it is
also beautiful. I have been filled with a greater appreciation for my home in America and the endless opportunities I have the ability to access as a student. These are things I will never take for granted again.
I hope to return to Tanzania, or anywhere in Africa one day in the hopes of spending more time experiencing and understanding culture, providing outreach in the realm of education and conservation, and most importantly, moving away from simply being “involved” to instead becoming “committed”.