“Tanzania is the land of The Lion King and if you have seen the movie you remember the opening scene with all the animals: elephants, lions, ostriches, gazelles, storks, leopards, buffalo, cheetah, giraffes, hippos … that was my life for three months.”
Devon Thorsell ’13 (Lake Forest Park, Wash.), an international affairs major, spent the fall semester studying wildlife conservation and political ecology in Tanzania.
“I chose to study in Tanzania because I knew I wanted to go to Africa and I thought that going with a group of other U.S. students would give me the support system that I thought I would need in a third-world country,” says Thorsell. “I wanted to be in a place where I might not have electricity, running water, or hot showers all the time. It was definitely not a program for the indoor kids.”
She was a part of a study abroad organization called the School for International Training. Her program focused on East African wildlife ecology, national parks, human and wildlife interactions, Tanzanian culture, and Swahili language instruction. As part of the program, she spent 33 nights camping in world-renowned national parks like the Serengeti.
“We visited all of the major national parks in Northern Tanzania including Tarangire, Lake Manyara, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and the Serengeti,” she says. “We also had two homestays, one outside the city of Arusha in Bangata on the slopes of Mt. Meru, and one in the Lake Natron area with the Maasai. We spent a considerable amount of time in Arusha, a city of 1.3 million.”
For Thorsell, one of her favorite things about Tanzania was the breathtaking beauty of the hills abruptly rising up from an otherwise flat landscape. She also found the people very welcoming.
“In Swahili, the word for ‘you are welcome’ is karibu, but it can also be used to say ‘be free,’ ‘feel free,’ ‘come in,’ and ‘you’re welcome,’” says Thorsell. “Tanzanians say karibu all the time and they mean it.”
The biggest lesson that Thorsell learned was that people are the same everywhere.
“People are trying to lead the best life they can with what they have, whether that’s a successful safari company owner with three kids in international school, or a single-mom, fruit and vegetable vendor with two adult children,” she explains. “Although people have different customs, traditions, and eat different foods, I think people all over the world are essentially concerned with the same things. I definitely would encourage students to step outside their comfort zone and study in a place as different as Tanzania.”
Thorsell’s experience affirmed her interest in international affairs. She plans studying the field in graduate school.