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Learning without boundaries

Katie Cowart

From the city to the Serengeti Plain, the UGA Tanzania Study Abroad program packs an educational punch into a month in the heart of Africa where the spectacular meets the enlightening.

Beginning in the city of Moshi near the northern border with Kenya, students on the trip spend 3-4 weeks learning about the culture, economy and environment of the East African country known for its vast wilderness areas. In 2019, a group of 24 students, whose majors ranged from business to physics to education, visited three cities, the Serengeti and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro to culminate their trip. 

The program originated after Ambassador Gertrude Mongella from Tanzania connected with UGA professor emerita of comparative literature Lioba Moshi, also from Tanzania, while attending a conference at the University of Georgia in 1996. The ambassador suggested UGA should visit his home in return and the Tanzania Study Abroad trip was established just two years later. Now housed in the African Studies Institute in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, the program allows students to gain credit towards a certificate in African Studies offered by the institute.  

The program includes opportunities to interact with people in a variety of settings, a range of engagement and learning about life, economics and culture in Tanzania. In the city of Moshi, for example, the students visit the Upendo Orphanage and take a trip to Bonite Bottlers, a leading manufacturer of Coca Cola beverages that opened in 1987. 

The group then travels to the island of Zanzibar where they get a chance to snorkel and learn about the marine ecology of the coastal region. They spend time with a group of women learning about their development project growing seaweed. The women string seaweed in the shallow water at low tide and leave them to grow for six to eight weeks. They harvest the seaweed and dry it on the shore. In the past, the women would have to sell the dry seaweed to a manufacturer for processing. The ground seaweed would then be sold to other corporations or back to the women at a high markup. The women received a grant to buy the machine to grind the seaweed themselves, but still required access to electricity to run the machines. 

“The 2018 class donated the $250 needed to get electricity to the building where they had the machines to grind the dried seaweed. When we went back this year, they had the machines up and running,” said adjunct professor of anthropology and geology Sandra Whitney. “The women can now make soaps, lotions, local spices, and oils from the seaweed.”

The group traveled from Zanzibar across the Menai Bay to Dar es Salaam, the largest city in Tanzania, by ferry. Dar es Salaam is located on the coast with a population of 4.5 million, about the size at Atlanta, Georgia. 

“This leg and our earlier trip to Bonite Bottlers shows the students the industrial parts of the country,” said Whitney. “Many are surprised to see the same things they would see at home like factories, apartment buildings and skyscrapers.”

The group then traveled to the Serengeti Plain in North-Central Tanzania to learn about ecotourism and ecology of the area. The park and wildlife refuge cover a vast region of 5,700 square miles, the only location in Africa where vast land-animal migrations still take place. Students then return to Moshi and have the option of ending their trip or making the trek up Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa.  

“I've been loosely pursuing different careers in the arts for years now, never fully feeling like I found where I truly wanted to be. After being in Tanzania and meeting the people, I've realized how important human communication is to me and how valuable a human story can be,” said Nathaniel Byrd, a recent graduate with a bachelor of arts in theatre. “I've decided to continue working in the creative field, but in a way that focuses on connecting people and giving voices to those who don't have an outlet. I would not be who I am or have the same outlook on life if I hadn't gone on this trip.”

Josh Woodruff, UGA’s first Marshall Scholar, and Alexandra Wright, currently working for the Gates Foundation, are two alumni of the Tanzania program that were also profoundly affected by their time there. Woodruff returned to Tanzania a year after graduation to work in a medical clinic and now studies tropical medicine. Wright works on improving laboratories to detect mosquitoes infested with malaria. Her work is concentrated in Tanzania. 

“It changes lives,” Whitney said. “We are teaching the students how to connect with other parts of the world, and the people there connect with us in return. Seeing the change and watching the students grow is what makes it worth it.”

Image: UGA students learning about the women's development project growing seaweed on the coast of Zanzibar.

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