78 days ago I left what has been the most impactful experience of my life. As I sit here staring at this computer screen, I struggle to write a review on my time volunteering in Tanzania. I have already written multiple journal entries and blogs, told numerous stories to friends and family, but how can I possibly find the words to suffice how important this trip was in a review. The truth is I can’t. I can’t convey such an experience into words, but I can try.
After four busy years getting my degree at Michigan State University, I decided I needed a mental break before I started medical school. I took the plunge and signed up for 3 months of volunteering alone in Tanzania, not knowing at all what I was really getting myself into. I remember standing at the door of the Twiga volunteer house, suitcase in hand, nervous to walk through the door. The current volunteers were nothing but warm and welcoming and I was even convinced to climb 19,341 feet to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro over New Years.
Not a day goes by where I do not think about Kilimanjaro and my time on that 7-day hike. Through the shivering nights, the laughs shared from the food tent, and the long, slow 8 hour summit hike through the snow during a whiteout, I became family with a group of strangers. Kilimanjaro is like nothing else. It pushed me until I cried, showed me the astounding beauty of 5 different climate zones ranging from jungle to tundra, and provided me with the best climbing guides I could imagine. Never have I felt such a liberating moment than when I stood on top of Uhuru peak, and I am always longing to be back.
My placement was at Hillcrest Nursery School, where I spent my time in a class of about twenty 5-6 year old kids. I remember the first day arriving to the school after a 20 minute walk through a nearby village. The kids instantly ran up to me and the other two volunteers showering us with hugs and hands to hold, screaming, “Teacha! Teacha!”. Over the 3 months I was overwhelmed with the students compassion, eagerness to learn, and curiosity for the world. The teachers at this school are some of the most wonderful, hard-working women I have ever met, and I am thankful for the time I had. I was able to see the progress of the students’ work and noticed how proud and happy I had become. Though some days could be tough, these children are the future and have overall provided me with the most pure happiness I have ever felt, while teaching me to become more patient and committed. These kids whom have much less than you and me, still have the biggest of hearts in the smallest of people.
Aside from my wonderful experiences with the students, Kilimanjaro, and Safari, I made friends that will last a lifetime. Living in the volunteer house allowed me to meet people from all over the world. I feel that there is something very special about befriending people from different countries. It was interesting to trade culture and language differences, but the friends I made also brought about parts of me I have never noticed before. It is amazing to have friends who have been a part of such a meaningful experience in your life and I feel lucky to have friends worth missing, whom I can now visit.
I think back on the person I was before Tanzania, and to the person I have now become. A more independent me: without that comfort person from home, I was forced to expand my comfort zones as I made friends and did things alone. In Tanzania I learned the concept of “African Time” and noticed things do not always happen on time, and sometimes things happen hours later. I became more easy going, as I realized I need to have the ability to adjust expectations in life and take things as they come. Whether it was drinking goat’s blood, taking the public transportation to town to meet a friend alone, or dancing in the rain, I learned the importance of “living in the moment”. Life is to precious to be occupied thinking about the future, or dwelling on the past. We should be focusing on the now, and since Tanzania I have made it my mission to say “yes” to as many safe opportunities that come my way, no matter how silly. Life has so much to offer if you let it.
78 days. It has been 78 days since I left Tanzania. Although the post-travel depression has come and gone and I am adjusted to life back at home, I am always thinking about Tanzania and its beautiful people and versatile landscape. I feel it is so important to experience a new culture in a country that is different from our own, and I recommend volunteering abroad to anyone, as you will find giving back provides you with a sense of purpose. This experience has only made me more competent and ready to take on the world, and I know that one day I will be back.