I have learned so much in the little time I have spent in Tanzania. From the food, to education, to just everyday life, there are many things similar and quite different when comparing it to the United States.
We spend most of our time in a school so that is where I will start. Something quite different that I did not know was the fact that in the secondary level, students stay in the classroom all day and the teachers come to them. This has many positives and negatives to it, while I have my personal opinions to this idea that I will keep to myself. I have also learned that when teachers do not show up for class, the students go without that class for the day. This is where I have done a lot of subbing in for teachers and I have thus taught subjects including Kiswahili and History classes. This was great experience since my minor is History and I have never actually taught a History class before. Some teachers actually double dip and have two teaching jobs which does not happen in a secondary school in America. The class sizes range so much from as little as 12 students in one form to about 40 students in another form. Also, the classes are like college classes. They do not have a set schedule every day. They may have math only three days a week with every form averaging about five to six class periods a week. Also, I have learned that the topics covered for every age is much different compared to America. It seems like they cover many topics in the latter years that are normally covered in a middle school American classroom. An example of this is mean, median, and mode. I have taught this to middle scholars and now I have also taught it to form III in Tanzania. There are some challenging topics covered in Tanzania that we do not really see in America. Finally, one of the biggest changes for me was getting use to the grade level. They do not have grades 9, 10, 11, and 12. They instead have forms I, II, III, IV. Even some secondary schools have forms V and VI which act sort of like a community college in a way. Finally, I have learned that the schools are laid out so much different compared to an American school. An American school usually consists of a building where classes were held inside. After talking to many of the staff employees at my placement, I learned that pretty much every school in Tanzania is set up the same way in which rooms are laid out in a rectangle where you walk outside to get to the next class. There is a courtyard that the school takes great pride in which takes up the interior of the rectangle.
I was a little surprised at the reaction of the residents of Tanzania were to us. I was warned that many people would come up to talk to you and try to sell something, but I was not prepared in the amount of people that actually do this. Someone is constantly walking down the street with one of us holding a conversation. Towards the end, they would then attempt to sell something. I was not ready for the amount of people that try to do this. I also learned that Tanzanian people are crazy drivers. I have seen so many times where in America we would call it an “almost accident” but here it is everyday life. People cross the streets without concern and nearly get hit. Towards the end of this trip, I am starting to get a little use to the craziness and not freak out when I see this “almost accident” since it happens so much every day. I took a little while to get use to negotiating a fair price for items. People always say “I am giving you the rafika (friend) price”. I have learned from my students that this is not a very good price most times. They usually try to get foreigners to overpay for their stuff which happened to me a few times at the beginning of this trip, but after talking to my students, I have learned what good prices are and what are not.
When someone thinks of African buildings, many stereotypes are that they are shanties, huts, or rundown buildings. I know that is what I thought a lot of African countries have. I was not expecting holes for toilets in the bathrooms of schools. Even though there are a lot unpleasant buildings and accessories, there are many beautiful buildings. There is some architecture I have seen here that is just beautiful that I have never seen anything duplicated in American. The school I am in holds a breathtaking courtyard that American schools would love to have. I also learned that Tanzanians take their National Parks for granitite. The beautiful National Parks of the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, among others are never visited by many Tanzanians. After discussing this with a resident, I learned many do not have the interest or money to visit these places. After visiting these parks, I wonder how someone can think that, but it is a different culture than where I come from. Something in America that I may take for granitite, someone from Tanzania may wonder how I could think like that.
Some people may think a Tanzanian education is not as valuable and an American education is more superior. I have learned that there are so many students in the schools that really work hard for their education. They come up with advanced questions for their age that American teachers would love to have in their classroom. Most of the students do their work to their best ability even though they are not fortunate enough to own a calculator or computer. They find different ways of solving problems that many American students rely on an outside source to help them figure out a problem. Of course there are the “troublemaker” kids in the school, but it is just like America. I was surprised at how similar the students in Tanzania resembled students in America, but have much fewer resources.
After staying in Tanzania over the last couple of weeks, I have learned how privileged being an American is. Even though we do have our own economic problems, it is nowhere near what people of African countries deal with on an everyday basis. However, Tanzania is a beautiful place to come and learn more about African culture.