Biology 498A Tanzania study abroad
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Sophia Yang

Major: African Studies and General Science
Hometown: McLean, Virginia

How did you learn about this opportunity?

I heard about this study abroad course from my academic advisor Dr. Jensen as we were discussing my dual major in General Science and African Studies.

Tell us a little bit about your experience.

The study abroad experience was more than I imagined it to be. I was simply amazed by the richness of the environment around me. I thought I had some understanding of ecology but through the experience I realized my knowledge is such a small percentage of what this course had to offer. The intricacy of the animals and their specific behaviors, the types of trees and plants that vary from ecosystem to another, and the vast ecological issues that arise between humans and nature was something that I could not have fully understood if I had not set foot and experienced and saw myself. Also, looking back on my stay when I was alone, I haven't realized the amount of people I've grown attached to and the environment that I've just gotten used to. Speaking “asante"(thank you) and replying "poa"(cool) or "nzuri"(good) has become second nature to me. It was such a treat to hear different tongues in chatter, smell the unique blend of spices wafting out from snack shops, shake hands every morning with the bus conductor, taste the jaw-clenching sweet tea, and exchange greetings with people on the street. As I tried to connect and develop a relationship with the locals, I regret not learning the language and going without knowing any Swahili. Through it all, even though it sounds cliche, I've learned a lot and experienced things that I would not have been able to if I hadn't left the United States.

How did this experience impact you academically?

This opportunity allowed me to grow academically in the field of ecology; it also expanded my knowledge of the rich culture and the beliefs of the people in Tanzania. Through this study abroad, I learned so much about different wildlife and plants in a special way. For example, I got to see and hear the different animals and right on the spot, the instructors spoke and taught us about the behaviors and distinctions that make each animal unique. This dynamic learning method allowed me to better grasp and fully comprehend the differences between animals. Furthermore, this experience expanded my understanding of the indigenous Maasai in Tanzania. This experience was amazing because I’ve read many papers and articles about the Maasai but being able to speak with them and be invited to their village was just absolutely special. Meeting and immersing in their culture and traditional norms, I felt the culture is something that needs to be felt and experienced.

What are your career goals and plans?  How did this experience impact them?

The experience abroad not only solidified my aspirations and hopes but also gifted me with another passion for education.

My career goals and plans are involved with the dual major of General Science and African Studies. I hope to become a physician's assistant and get to serve in Africa whenever given the opportunity. My desire to serve in Africa crystallized when I got to see the local hospitals, the condition of the small clinics and shortage of staff during my stay in Tanzania. Also, my aspirations to work in the health care field became so much more pressing after conversing and being with the local people.

My time in Tanzania sparked an interest in the importance of quality education, which is a field that I have not even considered myself delving into. Seeing the schools and the stark contrast between different schools - international schools, private schools and public schools - I found a great appreciation of education as it equips future generations with the knowledge set that will be further tested, developed and improved by themselves and/or with their peers. Volunteering at a small school allowed me to see the sparkling eyes of the students as they eagerly wanted to learn and the joy they got out of attaining new information. The experience abroad not only solidified my aspirations and hopes but also gifted me with another passion for education.

Would you recommend this experience to other Liberal Arts students?

I would definitely recommend this course to another Liberal Arts student. The course is something that I could make a presentation and give a talk about full of embellishments and appreciations of the experience, but if it’s not felt by actually being there, I cannot attempt to describe the greatness. It is an intensive ecology course; however, through the experience abroad, ecology is shown in such a different light that even someone that was weary of the subject would find enjoyable. Furthermore, the study abroad is something that has many different facets, as you not only learn about ecology in the great diverse land of Tanzania but also gain so many wonderful experiences. Honestly, this experience is something that one can only gain from.

For more information on global experiences for Liberal Arts students, visit our website.

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