In August this year (2015) I participated in the Swahili Summer School in Butiama, Tanzania with the University of Edinburgh. Quite simply, it was one of the most amazing, challenging and exciting experiences I have ever had, and I would love the opportunity to go back and do it all again. I left for Tanzania vaguely knowing how to greet someone in Swahili and returned with a strong grounding in the language which I can now build on in the future. However, not only do you come back knowing a surprising amount of Swahili, but you also return with a group of new friends. During your time in Tanzania you will really get to know the other students you are there with, and you share so many experiences with each other that friendships lasting long after the trip has finished are formed.
Tanzania is a diverse country, with beautiful scenery, a rich culture and most importantly warm and welcoming people: "Karibu Tanzania" ("Welcome to Tanzania") is heard almost daily. It is also much, much larger than the UK, so be prepared for long bus journeys!
The Swahili language course is challenging, and the lessons and tutorials progress at a fast pace. However you are supported along the way by excellent teaching, led by Steve who is helped by other teachers who live in Tanzania. The teachers ("Walimu") are always around to answer any questions you have. Lessons are delivered in small groups, are interactive, and encourage you to speak Swahili as much as possible. The relaxed environment means you aren't afraid to make mistakes, and this only aids further progression. Homework exercises are issued 2-3 times a week, and there is a relatively large workload, but knowing that the more your Swahili progresses the better your experience of being in Tanzania will be is a great encouragement for getting through the required study outside of class. The more you put into the course, the more you get out of it, and the teachers will support you with this all the way. Personally I was amazed at how far the group progressed in such a short space of time - credit I am sure to the excellent teaching we received. Additionally, living in a Swahili-speaking community is without doubt the best way to learn the language, and throughout your time in Tanzania there is ample opportunity to practice your skills, whether this be shopping at the weekly market, chatting to local people, or visiting a school.
Outside of lessons, there are equally important opportunities to learn about and experience Tanzanian culture. During the week you will have the chance to participate in a huge variety of activities, including African dancing and drumming, traditional clay pot making, school visits, and walks to climb some of the hills surrounding Butiama, where the stunning views reach as far a Lake Victoria! At the weekends, you will go on excursions further afield. For us this included visiting The Sukuma Museum (near Mwanza), camping on Rubondo Island (a national park in the middle of Lake Victoria), and a Serengeti Safari! There are too many stories from all of these experiences to share here, but each trip was unique and I have formed some amazing memories from them which will last a lifetime.
So in summary, if you are feeling adventurous and want to try learning something completely different in your summer, then I really have no doubt this would be a great programme for you! I hope you have as much fun as I did!