Final Impressions of SFS Tanzania

Posted: May 17, 2016

What did you like most about the SFS experience?
I really love the fact that we got a chance to see such an incredible place, and that we got to have such an in-depth look at it. There are a lot of tourists who visit Northern Tanzania, but I can guarantee that none of them had as well-rounded of an experience as we did. Not only did we get to see Tanzania, but we got to study and learn about it too and were better able to appreciate the things we got to experience instead of just rushing off to see something else. I think the coolest thing though was that we were shown the area from people who have a crazy amount of love and appreciation for it, and getting to experience Tanzania alongside all that enthusiasm, understanding, and genuine love was really special.

You’ve been in the country for a full semester – tell us your impressions of it now.
My love for Tanzania has only grown stronger after being here for a full semester. This is an incredibly beautiful place overall, but the sky is insanely gorgeous and has easily become my favorite thing about Tanzania. Coupled with an indescribable landscape, wild animals, and incredibly warm and welcoming people, it’s just mind-blowing how incredible Tanzania is, and a shame that more people don’t have the opportunity to visit.

What is life at the field station really like? What are the best and the most challenging parts of living at a remote field station?
Living at a camp with all of your professors and classmates is a really unique experience. One of the best things about it is how close you get to everyone here and how comfortable you get around each other. With forty-one students here, there’s absolutely no way that you’re going to talk to everyone every day, but you still get close to pretty much everyone and the moments where you can see that are incredibly awesome. We recently had an open mic night on the porch and almost everyone came out to either watch or participate, even though it was right in the middle of when we were writing our big directed research papers. And it was really special to sit on that porch listening to people talk about deeply personal things, just knowing that it was a safe place and that we are all comfortable enough and trust each other enough to share those feelings openly with everyone.

One of the biggest challenges though is definitely the fact that you do live in an isolated camp and that there are a lot of rules in place that can make it feel really restricted a lot of the time. For example, one of the rules I’ve struggled with a lot is the fact that we’re not allowed to be outside the gates of camp at night due to safety reasons. I go to school in DC and frequently walk down to the National Mall at night, both alone and with friends. So not being able to just wander around at night has been a really big change, and was something that took some major adjusting to. Another rule, again for our safety, is that we always have to operate by the buddy system, and can’t just walk around town by ourselves. Sometimes it can be really tedious to try and find someone who wants to walk into town with you just to run a quick errand.

What ended up being your biggest challenge this semester both academically and culturally?
Academically, my biggest challenge has been finding motivation to work on assignments. It’s really hard to work on a paper or some other assignment when it’s incredibly sunny and warm out, and all you want to do is just sit outside and enjoy it. But it’s also hard to work at night because there’s usually a group or two playing board games or watching a movie, and you want to join in. So forcing yourself to just sit down and work has been tough. Another challenge has just been the lack of study space. The places where you can work outside of your banda almost always have a lot of people in them, and it can get noisy and hard to concentrate a fair amount of the time.

Culturally, the biggest challenge has been that you are very much in the minority here, and you’re always on the receiving end of attention because of it. Whenever you drive into a new town, there’s always at least a couple people who come up to the car, either trying to sell you things or just striking up a conversation, and it can get really exhausting after a while.

What is the best memory you have from the semester? Give some highlights.
It’s difficult to choose just one memory from a semester filled with good ones, but our expedition to the Serengeti is definitely a standout. We got the chance to camp in the park for four days and it was such an awesome experience all around. I got sick in the middle of the night, and even that was incredible. While getting escorted to the bathroom I got to see a hyena and two dik diks just chilling in the middle of our camp, and the stars and the moon (again, the sky here is INSANE) at that time of night were astoundingly spectacular!!

Another standout memory was getting to do our Directed Research (DR) with the Hadzabe people. Every morning we got up before six and drove three hours each way out to where they live in the Lake Eyasi valley, and even though it was tiring, it was also really cool to work with one of the last hunter-gatherer tribes in the world and to see another part of Tanzania. And the fact that I got to experience that with a small group of really good friends only made it more special.

Give three adjectives that best describe how you are feeling right now.
Three adjectives doesn’t really begin to cover everything I’m feeling right now, but sad, excited, and grateful are a good start. I’m very sad that the semester is coming to an end, sad that it went by so quickly, and sad to know that when I come back to Tanzania in the future it won’t come close to having the same experience that I had this semester. I am excited to go home and get to eat all my favorite foods again (I’ve really missed cheese and burritos), but I’m most excited for the last week because I get to spend it with all the friends I’ve made and to make some more incredible memories here. Above all else though, I am really grateful that I had the opportunity to come to Tanzania, and that I had such an amazing experience.

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