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Penn Abroad in Tanzania Is Educational, Enlightening and Thrilling

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Waking up and seeing a two-ton elephant at your door sounds like it could be a scene from a movie, b...

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Penn Abroad in Tanzania Is Educational, Enlightening and Thrilling

  1. 1. Penn Abroad in Tanzania Is Educational, Enlightening and Thrilling Waking up and seeing a two-ton elephant at your door sounds like it could be a scene from a movie, but that's exactly what University of Pennsylvania student Hannah Watene experienced while studying abroad in Tanzania. Watene, a junior in the College, is spending the semester at the University of Iringa. Along with 10 other students from universities across the United States, she is participating in a program to study community development, culture and the local language, Swahili. The language isn't new to Watene, of Louisville. An international relations and African studies major, she has taken Swahili for four semesters at Penn, and her parents, originally from Kenya, speak the language. But understanding conversational Swahili spoken by local Tanzanians is a bit of a challenge for her. "I've definitely had some difficulty adjusting to the rapid pace and the different vocal inflections and cadences," says Watene. Her classmates in Tanzania include students from Cornell University, Seattle University, the University of Pittsburgh, Elon University and California Lutheran University. As the only African-American in their group, local residents often think she's not really an American student. Some people have pulled her away from the group to ask her questions, such as where she's from and what the group is doing in the country. "It's definitely motivated me to work even harder on my conversational Swahili," says Watene. "That way I can maybe get a glimpse of what it might be like to be an 'incognito' tourist in the area." When the students aren't in class, they usually go to the center of Iringa. There's a large open-air market where they eat or hang out at a local craft and coffee shop. "We've encountered quite a lot of fried foods, so much so that a lot of us joke that it's like constantly being at a state fair," says Watene. "We've seen fried boiled eggs, fried meat skewers and 'maandazi,' fried dough pastries."
  2. 2. The group has joined in on local activities such as jewelry making and hiking the nearby mountains. In the most exciting expedition so far, the group visited Ruaha National Park, about 80 miles from campus, for a weekend safari. "For most of us, it was our first time on safari," says Watene. "So, being right in the midst of elephants, giraffes, lions and hippos was completely breath- taking." The group stayed in huts located in the middle of the park, while the animals roamed through the grounds. "I was definitely scared of the thought of a hippo charging our hut in the middle of the night," says Watene. "Those things are incredibly huge in person!" To ensure the students' safety, a gun-carrying guard watched over their hut, and, if anyone needed to use the restroom at night, the guard would escort them to the bathhouse. During the time overseas, Watene has learned about the region's culture, hospitality and social interactions. As a Lutheran school, the University of Iringa requires female students to wear skirts that are no shorter than knee-length. Watene says everyone is very polite and considerate. "Every time you are eating food, it is customary to invite people around you to take some of your food, even if they're strangers on the bus," says Watene. "Some of the little things that we don't even think about on our campuses back home have become so apparent to us during our on- campus stay at University of Iringa. Nobody walks around with headphones in and head down. There's always a group of people socializing, and people will stop for entire conversations even if they're on their way to class or a meeting." Watene was surprised to learn that the concept of time is flexible there.
  3. 3. "You're never really late for class or a meeting, you just arrive whenever you get there." Watene says the study abroad experience in Tanzania has included "balanced academic immersion, local interaction and incredible weekend excursions for a very fulfilling" experience so far. When Watene returns from Tanzania in May, she'll continue to pursue her interest in international cultures. She hopes to work abroad in the future. http://www.upenn.edu/pennnews/news/penn-abroad-tanzania-educational-enlightening-and-thrilling

Waking up and seeing a two-ton elephant at your door sounds like it could be a scene from a movie, b...

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