I was lucky enough to have volunteered on WAM July 24th-27th. That is the Make-A-Wish Wish-A-Mile where the bike riders raise money to ride 300 miles over the course of three days so we need to make sure the places we stayed had everything needed. Anyways, there was a photographer that was specifically for WAM and he was nice and funny and would joke around with us. I found out that he was a math teacher at a middle school. I was so excited and I told him that I was going to school to be a math teacher. He immediately got angry and said “DON’T DO IT. DO NOT BECOME A TEACHER”. I was so appalled and taken aback that he flipped a switch from joking around to being so forceful I didn’t know what to say. He said “If you want to be in debt for the rest of your life and have no retirement, then be my guest and be a teacher but you have time so change your mind.” This made me feel so crappy about myself and my decision to be a teacher and he made me second guess everything. I can’t even describe how bad I felt. After a couple days, I realized that I shouldn’t feel bad. First, I thought he shouldn’t be a teacher if he really hates it that much. Also,if you go into teaching to make a lot of money and get rich, they you’re an idiot. Everyone knows that teachers make like no money, so that was not news to me. I realized, though, that I loved teaching in Africa when I was there.  I love kids, I love math, and I want my passion for math to be passed to my students and that is why I am becoming a teacher. I want my students to learn and I want to help them. I am not going into teaching for the money aspect of it, but because I know this is my passion and this is what I want to do for the rest of my life and I’m going to love it.


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These kids helped me know that I want to be a teacher.  It was not easy to teach to them and I don’t expect it to ever be, but I loved it nonetheless.


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Lasting Impressions

Observing Student WorkI only arrived at home on Friday, and all I want right now is to go back. I’ve been sitting here for the last few days trying to decipher what I think are some of the lasting impressions that I have found to be most notable. I have a lot of lasting impressions about the trip, but they don’t all apply to the reason I was in Tanzania in the first place: teaching. I’ve decided I enjoy the way of life in Arusha better than in America, and I’d probably move there if the salary for teachers wasn’t so low; I have the lasting impression that people in Tanzania are far more likely than Americans to help those in need even if they have nothing themselves; etc, etc. However, I feel this post should be more about what impressions I’ve taken away about education in Tanzania.

One impression that I came to hold in Tanzania, and still believe, is that making families pay for an education isn’t such a bad thing. Now, hold up. Doesn’t this go against one of the core tenets of education here in America? Yes. It absolutely does because it is an American belief that education should be free and accessible for all persons. I also recognize that there are families that would struggle to come up with the necessary funds to put there children through school. However, the people in Tanzania come up with the money to put their kids through at least primary school, even if they have far less than a poor family in America, and it’s required by law that they at least put their children through primary school. Why in the world would I support the idea of making families pay for the children’s education? Because the kids care more about their education when their families have to pay for it. Obviously, this is not the case for every student. Many American students care a lot about their education, and many Tanzanian students don’t take their education as seriously as they should. On the whole though, I believe that the Tanzanian students that I worked with were much more dedicated to their education than most American students that I’ve come across, both those that I have known while I was in school and those that I have had the pleasure of working with. We see this with students who work hard in college who didn’t try in high school. If you ask them why they’ve changed their work ethic, you will almost always receive a variant of the response “because now I have to pay for school.” I think if students in America had to pay for their education as well, then they may be more inclined to try harder in school.

Another lasting impression that I took away from this trip is that what we as teachers think is the best way to instruct our students isn’t necessarily the actual best manner of instruction. Some of my colleagues found that when they tried to instruct students in a manner that was more interactive with the students, the students struggled to take the learning away from the lesson that the instructors wanted. It wasn’t that the teachers weren’t doing a very good job or the material was too difficult, but the issue was that students in Tanzania are used to being instructed in a manner that is a bit different than how we are taught to teach students in America. Teaching in Tanzania is mostly comprised of teachers lecturing their students and a great deal of note taking while the American system is mostly comprised of interaction between the teacher and students in a way that assumes both groups are able to teach each other and that learning can take on a variety of forms. Students generally learn best in a manner that makes sense to them, and a more lecture-based approach to instruction was what the students were used to, so this was better for a number of them. Does this mean students in Tanzania are incapable of learning from a more interactive method of education? Of course not. Just as American students can still learn in a lecture, Tanzanian students can learn in an interactive setting. Also, the Tanzanian students became better acquainted with the style of interacting and instruction of the American-style lessons the more they were exposed to it. Either way, students react well to methods that they understand and are well-acquainted with.

One final lasting impression that I took away from my time in Tanzania was that teaching must be considered a respectable profession for the benefit of both the teachers and the students. While students did respect their teachers very highly, teachers did not always respect their positions in the way that American teachers respect their positions. Teachers do not need to endure a great deal of intensive schooling in Tanzania in order to earn a certificate that allows them to teach. Some schools only require a year of university to acquire the necessary certification with no fieldwork. A number of the teachers that I encountered in Tanzania were only teaching until they could finish the university and get a job in a different field. Also, because teaching isn’t paid very highly and since it isn’t one of the positions that is currently being highly demanded, it isn’t being respected nearly as much as it should. There is a shortage of qualified teachers because not many people want to be in the schools. Because of this shortage, teachers in Tanzania can get away with a lot more than teachers in America can. They can not show up to their classes, and there is no consequence. Sometimes, teachers will randomly pull half of a class to teach them a different subject than they are supposed to be learning. A teacher may pull half of a history class to teach them accounting (I actually had this happen to me). This type of behavior would not fly in America. I think a great deal of why this is is because it is a far more respected position in the U.S. than in Tanzania. I think this respect is necessary for effective teaching.

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Last Post…

Here’s my last blog post… I probably wouldn’t have written it unless my professor hadn’t emailed me and said she noticed I hadn’t submitted it. Busted. It’s not like I forgot… Usually that’s what happens with homework. It’s more like I just didn’t want to write it. Even though I’m typing on my laptop back in Allendale, MI, USA, I don’t want to make it official. I don’t want to say goodbye.

The prompt was “lasting impressions.” Lasting impressions… How do I put that into words? How do you do that? I don’t think I can.

Well at least if you’re reading this, take some advice from a weary wanderer who has super intense jet lag and spontaneously bursts into tears for no reason… Go experience it for yourself. Go somewhere. Travel, but don’t be a tourist, greedy to take a piece of that place. Go as a learner. Go as a giver. Go and give something to the people you’re surrounded by. Don’t give them something stuff wise. Stuff is… well it’s just stuff. If you can give them time. Because time is the only thing that is truly priceless. Form a friendship, ask questions about where you are, who you’re taking to, care about the people that make up the place that you’re visiting.

Well shoot I think that is what’s impacted me the most. Realizing the value of time. I didn’t even realize it until just now.

Anybody can travel to Tanzania. Anybody can travel anywhere. People can go see great things, but so what? Yeah it’s cool, but so what? I think this trip was special because not only did we go somewhere amazing and saw incredible things, but we also had the chance to form relationships with the people there. We got to know them on a human to human basis.

They weren’t just part of the scenery…

They were Maluta, the stocky safari driver with a little girl Angel and boy, Alan, who’s three and loves to wake his dad up at 5 in the morning because he’s ready for breakfast. But Maluta doesn’t mind because every moment with his son is treasured since Maluta is gone on safari so often. He loves cars more than anything except his wife who he cherishes so much. They were Moses, who fell so hard for his wife that he knew he would marry her the minute he saw her, who showed us that love is universally awesome. Who is now happily married to her and has several children, including Bright and Muffin. They were Sala, the cute little man who made us omelets every day who has a giving heart, that is a vegetarian, and a hopeless romantic and giggled like a little kid. Who taught us Swahili every morning. They were Immaculate, a teacher at the school who loves her job. Who loves her students more than anything and tries to form relationships with them even though that’s not the norm in Tanzania. Whose father died in a village outside of Arusha and she was left alone with her mother. Who aspires to be so much in honor of her mother who worked so hard to help her become who she is now. They were Makala, whose deepest desire is to see his children succeed and love the Lord. Who wants to see the White House more than anything, and if he could only see that, he would just say thank you to God and be happy for the rest of his life. I could go on forever because people are awesome. Everyone has a story. Which you can hear for the very low price of a few minutes of your time!

We also had the opportunity to teach, which in my biased opinion is the best way to spend my time. It’s such an intimate experience. As the teacher, you see students expose their flaws, their short comings, where the excel, where they fall short. Your job is to inspire them and encourage them. Help them grow. They tell you their dreams and their hopes which you are lucky enough to be a small part of them achieving them. It’s amazing. It’s the best profession in the world. My only wish for this trip is that I could have spent more time with them. But even spending every second with them wouldn’t have been enough.

So yeah next time you go to toss some change into a Sal Val bucket at Christmas time, keep it or toss it in, whatever. But then take some time and volunteer at their local location get to know the people there or maybe ask the guy who’s ringing the bell why he does it, or if he’s having a good day. Next time you go to give some money to a homeless person. Stop. Don’t do it. Sit down next to them. Talk to them. Ask them how their day has been. Invite them to get food with you. Why is that so hard? Next time you sit next to a stranger who looks like they’re having a bad day, say hi. Talk to that person at work who’s name you’re not sure about even though you’ve worked together for ages.

I’m super sad to be gone, obviously Arusha has changed my perspective a lot. But at the same time…

There’s a couple billion other people I haven’t met and a ton of opportunities for me here. I just found a piece of paper my roommate left me that’s titled “Emily Pentis- Job Offer.” It says they need somebody to help run a mentoring program in Hudsonville called Kids Hope USA… Well hot dog, that sounds pretty awesome. So yeah, like I said—a ton of opportunities.

So here’s to Arusha, Tanzania. Here’s to all the people we met. Here’s to coming home and having a million more God given minutes of time to give. I never thought I’d say this, but I’m glad to be back.

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Lasting Impressions

Looking back on my time in Tanzania, I realize that this place and my students there have left their impressions on me and the longer that I reflect on my experiences the more I realize what those impressions are and how they have changed me.
After teaching in Arusha Primary School for the month I have learned many things about myself as an educator, sixth graders, and the educational system in general. My school was considered well off compared to other schools in Tanzania, however, the lack of resources that I have always taken for granted from my time teaching in America presented me a challenge each and every day. I kept struggling to figure out how to teach geometry – in particular angles – to 100 students without a protractor for each student. Through this experience I have realized that while having enough resources for all of my students does in fact make lesson planning and implementation easier, it does not make or break a lesson plan; what does, in fact, is a teacher’s determination in making quality lessons and his or her ability to think outside the box and to be able to use what is around them. I witnessed some amazing lessons while in Tanzania and I kept circling back to this truth: while having resources readily available is undeniably beneficial it does not make or break teaching students the content. My friend Aric taught an amazing science lesson with just some construction paper, markers, post-its, and his imagination that got the students thoroughly engaged in his lesson.


While I was watching his lesson unfold, my views of teaching and students shifted and I was struck with my new impression. After seeing that it was possible to do something so remarkable with little resources I rose to the challenge of teaching my students geometry. With the help of my peers, I too was able to create engaging lesson plans for my students that allowed me to teach them how to draw and measure angles without having protractors for each one of my students.


I have learned so much from my students and my peers while on this trip. Another lasting impression that I am taking away from this trip is how universal students are. They all want to learn, to be liked, to be loved by their friends and teachers. I will forever miss my students and I will forever miss Tanzania.


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Lasting Impressions

Since arriving home I have had time to reflect on my experience. From when I arrived in Tanzania just 30 short days ago to when I arrived home, I experienced some amazing things. Now as I sit here on my couch reflecting on the amazing month that I just experienced, I can more clearly see what aspects of the trip have really left their mark on me. I have experienced some life-changing moments and I am positive that they will stick with me for the rest of my life.

One thing that I will certainly not forget is the love and the warmth that the students and people of Tanzania shared with us. Every day as we walked to school we were greeted with warm smiles and friendly hellos and we were trampled by students as soon as we hit the driveway. I will never forget the love that the students showed us, even after only knowing us for a few short weeks. What we experienced at those schools, we would never experience here in the classroom. We will not walk into the school building every morning just to be bombarded by children, most you have never even met, giving you big hugs and asking how you are. We will not receive the thanks and appreciation for teaching them as we did in those classrooms. I was overwhelmed by the love and appreciation that we received in those schools and that will always stick with me. Every day that I walked in that classroom and was greeted by those students, I was reminded why I wanted to become a teacher, and that is something that will stick with me forever.

I certainly will remember the students and the people we met in Tanzania forever and will forever be grateful for the impact that they had on my life. Most importantly, I have gained a new appreciation for everyday life and the many blessings that I have. Throughout this month I have met many different people, some who had very little and some who were just like me, but whatever the case may be they all were grateful for the things that they did had. It was so refreshing to be away from the constant complaining that is ever present in America. Never once did I hear someone in Tanzania complain about not having the newest Nikes or even about having any shoes at all. I have been blessed by so much, yet I always find myself wanting more. This month has reminded me of how blessed I truly am and has shown me that even when you have nothing it is still possible to live life to the fullest. I am forever grateful to the people of Tanzania for reminding me that life itself is a precious gift and is not something that we should allow to slip between our fingers as we work towards getting everything we want. Every day is a gift from God and should be cherished no matter how much or how little we have.

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Lasting Impressions

The number of things that I am going to take away from this trip is immense. It would take pages for me to explain everything that I have gained, so I will only mention a few things that stick out the most to me. The first thing is how lucky for all the opportunities that I have had in my life. After spending a month in schools here I feel very fortunate to have been able to go to the schools in my community and to have gone through type of educational system I did. It saddens me to see students that are as intelligent as myself, or more so, that might not be able to go to college because of money or because of Tanzania’s system of national examinations. My education also consisted of schools filled with passionate teachers and tons of resources. If I had grown up in Tanzania I do not believe I would have been as successful academically, and in life, as I am currently. 

The other thing that will stay with me for the rest of my life is Tanzania’s culture. The people here are amazing. I have never felt as welcomed as I do here. Walking down the street is a wonderful experience because of all the people that say hello. While many of the people that I have met on the street tried to sell me things, there were also many who simply wanted to welcome me to Tanzania and hear about my trip. It is hard not to fall in love with a country filled with such kind and welcoming people.

The last things that I will take away from this trip are related to teaching. I have learned so much about myself as a teacher as well as education in general. I cannot wait to get back into the classroom once I begin my assistant teaching. I was surprised by my ability to come up with effective lessons without many resources and I am excited to see what I can do with all the available resources in America. Teaching in Tanzania has provided me with so much hands on experience that will be invaluable as I begin my teaching career. 

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This Isn’t Goodbye

It is hard to pinpoint one thing or even a couple of things that will stick with me for the rest of my life. This whole experience has been bigger than I ever thought it could be. I have met some amazing teachers who have shown me a different side to teaching, one that I never imagined I would see. It has been a very different experience teaching in Tanzania, however it has helped me to understand more about how students learn. I will never forget my teacher who showed her kindness not only to her students, but also to me. I am forever grateful for the love and respect she has shown me while being in her classroom.

My students will be with me forever, even though I barely know all of their names, I will never forget their smiling faces. Every morning, regardless of how I was feeling, their smiling faces would instantly brighten my day. They were my first class, and they loved me instantly even though they didn’t even know who I was, that kind of love can never be forgotten. 

I feel very blessed to be returning to the United States, because without God’s grace and blessings I would not be where I am today. People don’t choose the life they have before them, these people did not choose to be born in a developing country and yet they are so happy with everything that they have. I will be taking home with me the gratitude that they have for life and even though they are dealing with more than I could ever imagine, they still put a smile on their face everyday. They never forget that this life is a gift from God, and that the love God has for everybody can help them get through any challenge they may face. I am leaving with a heart full of love, because in Africa Love Has No Boundaries. 


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Lasting Impressions

I honestly don’t know where the time has gone.  Before we got to Tanzania I had a dream that we were on the plane ride back home and I had some how slept through the whole trip, it was already over and I didn’t remember a single thing.  Although I have a million memories from my time spent in Tanzania I truly cannot believe it’s over.  How on earth has a month already flown by?  It feels like just yesterday we were walking through the town for our first time to go exchange money.  I was asked to write a post about the lasting impressions I will have from my time here.  I honestly have no idea where to begin.  This trip has been a life time of incredible experiences and so many incredible blessings all wrapped up into a month! I have been in a constant state of sensory overload along with a constant mix of emotions.  I will try to narrow it down to just a few of the over arching lasting impressions I will keep with me.


Although there is struggle everywhere in the world, we have things extremely easy in the US compared to others.  I am sure if I were a local of Tanzania I would see many things differently but there are so many things that we constantly take for granted and never appreciate in the US.  The people in this country are so genuine, welcoming and full of joy that it goes to show, you don’t need the best of the best to be happy.  Back home we are so caught up in having the latest technology and the newest and coolest things that we lose sight of what is truly meaningful.  The people in Tanzania deal with things that we as Americans would find extremely difficult to live with everyday.  Having to work hard is something I feel Americans are losing sight of and here in Tanzania, hard work is the only thing that will get you anywhere.  In Tanzania the students have to work double time in school to not only learn their content but to try to understand the language it is being spoken in.  The fact that our national language is the medium used for their local schools goes to show how other countries value the english language.  The Tanzanians think that learning english is a way to show your intelligence, social status, etc.  Back home we learn in our national language and students still struggle to just learn the content.  The pressure the students have in the school system is so crazy to think about.  Back home so many students do not realize the value of their education and do not take it very seriously at a young age.  Here in Tanzania the students say the phrase, “Education for a better life” at least 5 times a day.  The students are taught at such a young age that their education is going to be essential for them to be successful.  The students are constantly having to take examinations that will determine if they can continue with their education or if they are forced to quit.  In addition to the school situation, our job market (no matter how poor it may seem in these last 5 years) provides so many more opportunities for people to work for a living.  Here in TZ a majority of the people must walk the streets everyday trying to sell things to others in order to make any money.  There are not nearly as many job opportunities to seek out as their are in the US.  Although there are many similarities to the US and TZ the life we live in the US is so much easier.  Back home I would consider my car a piece of junk, however here in Tanzania having any sort of car is incredible.  Anything that moves and gets you from one place to another is a luxury to own.  Many people walk many miles to get to their jobs, school, to go to the market, etc.  While I on the other hand get into my car, complete with air conditioning/heat, and listen to music as I drive anywhere I want to.  Knowing that I will always have hot, clean water, electricity, a warm place to sleep, a well balanced meal on my table are all things that I take for granted everyday.  The fact that I do not have to worry about contracting Malaria or other diseases on a daily basis just shows me how lucky we have it back home. It’s so crazy to think that we are not responsible for choosing what family we are born into or what kind of situation our family is in.  I am so blessed to have been born into the family I have and that is something I take for granted everyday.  After being apart of this life for just a month I have had my eyes open to so many different things that we as Americans take for granted every single day.  On top of that, so many Americans walk around unhappy and wanting more for their lives.  Always wanting to be better or make more money or have the newest things, these are such silly things we focus on everyday instead of realizing the true value of our lives.  The people in Tanzania are always saying Hamna Shida, this means “no worries”.  In a country with so much poverty and a lack of resources, the people are so happy, caring, trusting, reliable, and just overall wonderful it makes me wonder why all Americans are not walking around with this same positive outlook and personalities.  I know that these are all generalizations but they are conclusions that I have come to through out my time here.  


Other short and sweet lasting impressions:


There is beauty everywhere you look, you just have to look for it.  While we can get so caught up in complaining about the poor, the weak, the ugly, the dirty, we need to learn to look past these things and find the real beauty in a situation.  There is always good.


God is so good.  In any situation it is so important to stop and look for a greater meaning.  While things may be tough there are always lessons to learn.  There is always something God has planned for you.  It is up to you and your attitude to find it.  


The children of Tanzania love having teachers that they can build relationships with.  I never thought I would be able to build such awesome relationships with students in just a month.  I had so many of my students reach out to me and tell me very personal things and come to me for support because of our close relationship.  When you value a students as a person, you really get to see their true self.  


Walking the streets of Tanzania on the first day was nothing like walking the streets on the last day.  Tanzania can quickly feel like home.  


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Lasting Impressions

This trip has been incredible. I don’t think I will ever forget my students. They are all such incredible people. They have made a lasting impact on my life, and I hope I have done the same for them. It has been incredible being able to come here and teach. I feel like it has really prepared me to make decisions in the classroom when teaching. I have learned that you do not need all the technology in the world to be able to teach a class; although, it has been tough to teach with out so many resources. It is almost more impacting when you talk to the students one on one, throwing too much technology in your lessons could take away this opportunity of getting to know your students. I have formed so many personal relationships because of this. I have gained so much more respect for these hard working students.

            I will also never forget the teachers I have worked with here. There are some really incredible teachers that care for their students; however, there are others who do not care as much. The students have so much respect for their teachers because they are giving the students an education. No matter how good or bad the teacher is it is the students’ responsibility to learn the material. I have learned about how it is difficult to be a teacher here because of how low the pay is. Some teachers work at a couple of schools to make enough money to live on.

            Lastly, I will never forget how much fun I have had on this trip. I am so glad to have been given this opportunity to come on this trip. I have made some really good friends. We have shared some amazing memories that will be hard to describe to others. Lisa, Dave and Feles are all great and such caring professors. We have been very lucky to have all three of them on this trip. I am going to miss all my friends I have made on this trip, including my students, and teachers I worked with. It is crazy to think we only have one more day left here in Africa.

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Lasting Impressions

Joy. There’s something to be said for the overall atmosphere in Tanzania. Everyone is friendly and welcoming, happy and relaxed. It makes me wonder if we take things too seriously sometimes at home. I think this experience will be a reminder to stop worrying about the little things, because that’s all they are, little things. This trip will also serve as a reminder to find joy in everyday situations and to go with the flow. The students in class were so happy everyday, and just a sticker could make them excited. Their smiles were so bright and their laughter so often, it would make anyone crack a smile themselves. I also think of the joy people have when in the company of others. Whether it’s at school or in the dala-dala, people are happy to talk to one another. People are happy to share with friends and family. This is something I would like to start appreciating more back at home.

Take risks. If you mess up, no big deal! Sometimes it’s nice to do something and not know what is going to happen as a result of that. This trip has shown me that it’s really okay to step out of my comfort zone and just see what happens. So far, nothing terrible has happened by doing so, and I doubt it ever will. From climbing a mountain to trying something different in the classroom, I will always remember the excitement and reward of taking risks.

Hamna shida. Last, but certainly not least, the hamna shida attitude will be coming home with me. Everything always seems to work out in the end, so what’s the point of getting upset or making a big deal? A problem only becomes a problem when you make it one. I want to remember to relax and enjoy life’s situations. Life will be less stressful when keeping this in mind.

I will miss the friendships we formed here, the students we had for such a short time, and the teachers that were so welcoming to us. I will miss laughing crazily about a bumpy car ride and meeting friends on the streets. Tanzania has been such a great experience, and very eye-opening to how lucky we are back home. While leaving is bittersweet, I know Africa will hold a very special place in my heart for the rest of my life.

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