As I Wait For Lunch

Let me start off by saying that I love food. I don’t consider myself a picky eater. If I did, then I would not have been able to survive in Eastern Africa for more than two days. Since I arrived more than two weeks ago, I have tried food that I’ve never heard of before. I looked at my study abroad as an opportunity to expand my horizons and try as much local Tanzanian food as I could. I ate a fish with eyes in it for the first time (I still don’t know what type of fish it was) and loved it. Indian cuisine was also a first for me. The spices made my eyes water, but it was delicious. I have already developed a few new favorite foods.
While we were still in Dar es Salaam, we visited this restaurant next to the mall. I wanted to try something new, so I ordered a side dish called ugali. I had heard my professor talking about how much he liked it earlier. The waitress set down the ugali and some shredded chicken with greens in front of me. At that moment, I discovered one of my favorite foods. Ugali has the look of mashed potatoes, but it is has much more texture and character. It was absolutely amazing with the chicken. The only problem was how heavy it was. As I kept stuffing my face, the ugali expanded in my stomach. I thought my fellow students would have to roll me onto the bus. I still don’t know how I stayed awake through the afternoon lecture about Tanzania’s rich biodiversity.


Shredded chicken and ugali

Shredded chicken and ugali.


My absolute favorite food would have to be samosas. They are little balls of heaven that I get occasionally for breakfast. Beef is cooked with onions then wrapped in a type of dough and fried in oil. They taste like African tacos, if that makes sense. And I love tacos. I’m so addicted to somasas that I’m trying to find a way to bring some with me to Pennsylvania.
The best thing about the food in Tanzania is its natural taste. There is no extra processed sugar or salt in any of the dishes I’ve had. Everything is grown organically and made fresh. I think I was having sugar withdrawal for the first week of my program, but now I have more energy than I have in a long time. I still can’t get over how much better the fruit is here than in the States. And there’s some type of hot sauce with every meal. These sauces make Frank’s Red Hot taste like water, but they have so much flavor after you get over the heat. I could probably eat hot sauce as a meal.
Now that I’m in the Udzungwa National Park Ecological Monitoring Center, all of my meals are eaten onsite right across from the dormitory style housing. The only thing I like more than the food are the ladies who prepare it. They check up on the students if one of us isn’t feeling well. They teach us a few words in Kiswahili every day. And I could listen to them sing all day.

Breakfast is at 7:30 every morning. It usually consists of bread with jam or Nutella and coffee. Sometimes we get a hard boiled egg for some extra protein. There is usually some papaya, watermelon, or avocado to go with the bread and a smoothie to wash it down with. We have a vegetarian lunch at 1 pm consisting of rice or pasta, lentils, and greens. I find that I’m filled without meat, which I never thought would happen. Dinner is at 6:30 pm, and it is the highlight of my day. We eat fish or chicken, a starch, and more greens. I think I’ve had about 60 different types of greens at this point, but they’re all good. In fact, the greens remind me of the collards that my grandma occasionally makes. I sometimes think about how amazing is that some of African culture still exists in the black community of the United States today. I’m sure my grandma would like these greens too.


Grilled fish and chips at arestaurant on the coast of Dar es Salaam

Grilled fish and chips at a restaurant on the coast of Dar es Salaam.

The best part about all the food is that all the students and our two faculty members eat together at every meal. We make jokes, we have serious discussions, and sometimes we just enjoy each other’s company in silence. As a busy college student, most of my meals are junk food that I eat in a rush before I get to class. Very rarely will I sit down with someone else to share a healthy meal. It’s so nice to be able to sit with students that share the same experiences and interests as I do and just relax. With 9 credits in 6 weeks, the days can get pretty stressful at times.

This experience has inspired me to start making time to eat better when I get to school in the fall. I’m already thinking about making my boyfriend and friends eat with me more often. Food is an essential part of Tanzanian culture, and now it is a central part of mine.



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Filed under Africa, Janelle in Tanzania

Jeff Reflects on His Year in South Korea

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Filed under East Asia, Jeff in South Korea

Touchdown in Tanzania

Mumbo! My name is Janelle Thompson and I am going into my third year at Pennsylvania State University. I am currently pursuing a major in BioRenewable Systems and a minor in Economics. When I found out I was studying abroad in Tanzania for the summer, I couldn’t believe it. The experience seemed like such a long way into the future. I had finals and projects to keep me distracted from thinking about leaving the United States for the first time. But as soon as I was back home in Pittsburgh, the reality of what I had committed to began to sink in. I started to download the intensive readings and projects syllabi for my time abroad. I put whatever music I could find on the school’s loaner laptop. I even went to a REI co-op to buy hiking boots, a sleeping bag, and plenty of hats. The packing list my professors gave to me was filled with things I had never heard of or used before. I hadn’t been camping outside, I never hiked up a mountain, and I had never been more than 10 minutes away from a working cell phone tower.
My mom and grandparents decided to make the trip to Washington D.C. with me to send me off. They made my arrival to Washington D.C. feel like a vacation until we passed Dulles Airport on the way to the hotel. I was fortunate enough to see the Natural History Museum and some very famous buildings, but I had a nagging feeling in the back of my mind while looking at the giant whale bones and mammoth display. “This is actually happening” was on repeat in my head the whole weekend.
On the Monday morning of my departure, I was too tired to be nervous. I prayed with my family and said good bye after an early breakfast. The first flight to Dubai was over thirteen hours long, the longest airplane trip I’ve ever been on. From Dubai to Dar es Salaam was another five hours. By the time I got off the second airplane, I wanted nothing more than to sleep the time difference off. But we had two hours of the worst traffic I had ever seen before reaching the hostel our group was staying at. It was a new language, lifestyle, and culture to get used to.


KODAK Digital Still Camera

The view from our hotel is Dar es Salaam.


As the weeks have gone by, I am becoming more comfortable with my surroundings. The Ecological Monitoring Center in Udzungwa Mountains National Park is now my home for the next month. I will be focusing on improving energy efficiency for the local villages. I’ve seen monkeys, zebras, giraffes, and a few elephants. I’ve visited the surrounding villages filled with life and music. Yes, not having constant access to my phone (and therefore my friends, family, and boyfriend) is harder than I thought it would be. But I am reading more than I ever have, I am having more conversations, and I am learning about a new culture.

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Native Foreigner

“We shall not cease from exploration and at the end of all our exploration we shall arrive where we started and see the place for the first time” –T.S. Eliot

Upon my return to the U.S. I felt the results of reverse culture shock almost instantaneously. I was warned about this prior to my journey back home, but at the time I didn’t grasp how much it would actually affect me.

Everything feels unusual to me now. Just when I felt I had adjusted to a new environment, my whole world was reversed. At first, I was extremely happy to be back. Some things felt so familiar and natural to me. Soon after though, I found some situations and places uncomfortable. I felt changed, and everything else felt the same.



This was my last visit to the international house. Unfortunately a friend and I had to say goodbye to our beautiful program director, Abigail, who has become a dear friend to us all.


The first thing that stunned me was the food choices. In Ghana, I was used to a diet with not much of a selection. In the States, I had almost the opposite problem. My first day back, I went to a breakfast buffet and was completely overwhelmed with the overabundance of food options available. From then, it was a gradual tuning out of the common courtesy I had known in Ghana, to the ones required in the U.S. I was used to saying please before every question, and having thorough conversations with complete strangers. I suppose the main dissimilarity that I continue to notice is the dramatic change from a collectivist society to an individualistic one. I had a difficult time adjusting to this when I first arrived in Ghana, and now it is the hardest to shake. People at home are not willing to have a drawn-out conversation with you if get lost, they don’t invite you to eat with them if you don’t have food, and they don’t typically think in terms that would give every person in a scenario the best outcome.



This was our group all together one last time at the airport before we had to go our separate ways.


I am now approaching the completion of my first week back to the U.S. Although sometimes I still feel strange in particular situations, I feel like I am home. I do consider myself to have undergone a subtle transformation while I was gone. Now, certain circumstances and individuals don’t seem so black and white to me. Going on this journey was a blessing to my development as an individual, and I will always hold it as irreplaceable and valuable to me.

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Filed under Africa, Coryl in Ghana

Then and Now

Before traveling abroad, many people take on an overly confident tone that they can handle anything that life throws at them. After all, this is nature’s fight or flight mode kicking in. When faced with a challenge, you can either decline it and run away, or face it head on and do your best. Of course, when faced with the challenge of study abroad, I decided to tackle it headfirst through applications, purchasing a plane ticket, and researching the culture I hoped to become immersed in. It wasn’t until now, the end of my experience, that I can take note of my hubris in my abilities to bear certain stressful situations. It is not simply “fight or flight,” but a long process of determining what you can and can’t do and how to enjoy the process along the way. Additionally, no one likes to see themselves as a villain, so it was difficult to admit that I’d struggled with prejudice against those who didn’t share similar moral and/or political beliefs – something that is all too clear to me after my experience at a school where I seemingly held most of the population in contempt.



Taken four days before departure, this photo shows how excited I was for the season and for my upcoming adventure!


Before departure, I considered myself someone who could lead, handle difficult situations, and was as tolerant as anyone could be. I was a confident beacon of multi-culturalism among friends and my community members back home, so I thought an exchange in a developed country I’ve already been to would be easy. I found afterward that I was overly confident – I was not as prone to adaptations or functioning under high ambiguity as I thought. I’ve discovered in myself a person more rigid than I thought I was, adamant in my own personal beliefs and politics, unwilling to bend. However I did also find that I am not nearly as disheveled as I thought I was. I am someone who truly can live independently – managing my time well, conducting research, managing small crises, and resolving problems efficiently.

A lot of the things I thought would be a breeze, like meeting new people and working with different kinds of folks turned out to be my biggest challenge. Affluence made me uncomfortable in this elite environment, and I felt myself as an outsider among organizers and communities in need, like the refugees I got the chance to meet and work with. Having come from a community of need myself, I felt in an awkward position that I belonged to neither group – something I realize might be social culture shock. I was not able to look past certain viewpoints in people I met. In these ways, I disappointed myself. But for me, study abroad represented a prime opportunity to confront some of these weaknesses and move past them in my character. Through this work, I’ve discovered that I can handle mediating arguments and I’ve learned when to walk away from certain topics. I use my time wisely in accordance to what I need and I’ve grown stronger as an independent woman.

I feel as though I’ve improved in several ways that I wanted to before I left – I’ve become more patient, a better listener and observer, and challenged my survival skills. I’ve become even better at asking for and receiving help, and am more willing to confront my problems and look for alternative solutions.

Overall, I see major improvements in my way of living and my personality. This experience has really taught me the need to enjoy situations in which I do not have control and may not necessarily feel constantly comfortable.



Taken on the last day of class I had in Reims, even my friends noticed that my smile is a bit strained, as I was anxious to be done with the semester and return to Germany to see my family before returning home to NY.

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Filed under Tammie in France, Western Europe

Same Place, But a New Adventure

I have been to the Baltic nation of Latvia before, but this time feels different. Before leaving I didn’t know if this feeling was of adventure or of fear. Two summers prior I had done a language study in Riga, Latvia where I studied Russian language and culture. I fell in love with its vibrancy. The city is so rich with its historic landmarks and nouveau architecture. The river, which cuts through the heart of the city, always appears so calm as the local steamboat captains offer discounted rides and sometimes even meals aboard their ships. Riga was calling me back since I had left, so once I found that I had been accepted as an intern at the U.S. Embassy, I jumped on my chance. Yet, as the days approached I realized that I was going to Riga under different circumstances with new responsibilities and new challenges. Pushing these thoughts aside, I packed my things (which happened to be, of course, 10lbs over the airline weight limit) and headed on to my new journey.

Arriving at the airport, I was not greeted by my host family as I had been two summers ago. Instead, I was there as an adult, no longer dependent on others to guide me through my first stumbles. Getting to my apartment was no easy task. Having hailed a taxi, I was unable to thoroughly communicate with the driver. Knowing only English and Russian (Latvia speaks both Russian and Latvian, yet many know English) I feel prepared to tackle most all social interactions. Yet I may have gotten in the car with the only taxi driver in the city that didn’t speak either Russian or English. I am familiar with language barriers and respect the circumstances, yet trying to find an apartment in an area that I had never been before by pointing and waving only goes so far. But, eventually, I made it.



The “House of Black Heads” was a guild for merchant and craftsmen who shared in a brotherhood. Destroyed during a bombing raid in WWII, it was rebuilt in 1999.


My first few days at my internship were marvelous, I assimilated rather quickly and they continue to teach me things that both interest me and confuse me. Yet there is value in this confusion. After my supervisor overheard me talking about the crowded bus I ride to work that often violently throws its passengers across the platform, he surprised me in the parking lot with his old bicycle. The transportation roadway system has proven to be the biggest challenge for me to date in Latvia. In my home state of West Virginia, the mountains often prevent us from riding bikes outside of recreational activities. To be frank: I am not very great at riding a bike, often issuing brake checks that result in me slinging myself above the handle bars. Bikes are normal vessels of transportation here, and this was my new challenge that I was going to win. So far, I can proudly say that I am taking on this new challenge, and fitting in with the other morning commuters with only a few scrapes and bruises.



Freedom Monument. The monument guarded by the Latvian military servicemen honors those who perished during their fight for independence in 1918-1920.


I have found that the second time around in a country, you are more apt to notice the smaller things. I pass average street vendors and notice the differences in the produce they sell compared to the average markets back home. I have noticed the difference in style, music taste, and social interactions between the people that I previously did not catch. I have also noticed more and more similarities between the United States and Latvia. Specifically, I have noticed the similarities in politeness that I have only seen in my small town that I call home in West Virginia. Strangers giving up seats, holding doors, and smiling as they walk past you on the street, all of which are no guarantee in any city. Sometimes these faint gestures remind me of what awaits back home and pull my mind elsewhere. But one glance around at my surroundings and the opportunities that I have been afforded anchors me back into this new adventure.



The gardens outside of the Opera House offer great views when walking through the central city.


I am looking forward to learning about the history of Riga in greater depth (I believe I have exhausted the food circles for me to try). This weekend is the free museum weekend in Old Town Riga. While wandering the city, and exploring the various museums, I also aim to find what makes the people of Riga tick. My goal is to interact, in some fashion, with a new person every day. Whether that be a smile, a quick conversation, or scheduled luncheon, I want to explore this place through the conversations and memories of its people.

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Filed under Eastern Europe, Garrett in Latvia

Adjusting to Life Abroad

Hi, my name is McKinley. This summer abroad is my last semester of undergraduate studies. I study cultural and medical anthropology as well as sociology at Utah State University. This is my first experience leaving the United States, and I’m spending it in an ethnographic field school in Huanchaco, Peru.

A little more about me: I am a painter, photographer, classical singer, and I have a lot of rare medical conditions causing a physical disability. Many of my experiences and observations in Peru are influenced by my health. Hopefully I’ll be able to give some suggestions to make your study abroad with health challenges a bit easier.

I was incredibly excited to study abroad, and had very few reservations about my trip. My biggest worries were about my health. I wasn’t sure if my medications would be allowed in Peru (they were). I checked with the U.S. embassy in Peru to see if my prescriptions were legal. I called my airline as well to check their restrictions for how to package my medications and how best to stow my cane during the flight. (It is also possible to board early and get assistance if traveling with a wheelchair or other health concerns). I also worried that I would be too sick to participate in classes or activities. So I made preparations with my doctors and with my professors so if I felt subpar, I could still complete my work. I’ve already fallen ill, and was well taken care of. I have even been greeted with traditional Peruvian healing remedies. I was also concerned about exposure to water-borne illnesses from recent flooding in the area. I bought a water filter to screw on top of my water bottle when I drink. Some of my classmates purchased steripens to filter their water. Our professor likewise provided large water filters for us to fill water bottles with. I was pleasantly surprised to find that water sanitation is a priority in my hostel and in many of the shops I’ve visited. 


spread of traditional healing herbs

spread of traditional healing herbs2

Spread of traditional healing herbs. A local woman who is a traditional healer showed my class her collection of plants and herbs which she uses to treat and cure everything from joint inflammation, respiratory issues, and stomach/digestion problems, to helping stroke patients recover from paralysis. When I fell ill, I used some of her medicinal herbs!


I’ve been in Peru for one week now and have noticed a few differences from the U.S. As an an anthropologist, it’s very important not to generalize. Therefore, these observations are specific to my interactions in La Libertad region of Peru in June 2017.  First, there are few, if any, accessibility ramps for people with disabilities. Second, two lanes of traffic often become five, and cars definitely have the right-of-way before pedestrians. The traffic laws are barely enforced by police, but there is a social norm in driving that helps people be slightly more safe. Third, smiling at strangers of the opposite sex can potentially be interpreted as romantic interest (my friend learned this the hard way). Fourth, the women (and sometimes men) greet and say goodbye with a kiss to the right cheek. Fifth, most of the food is locally produced, making meals clean and healthy. Sixth, some Peruvians run on “la hora Peruana,” or “Peruvian time.” This is a habit of running late (by a few hours). Finally, there seems to be a multi-generational commitment to the central family unit. Grandparents, patents, and children are frequently seen together enjoying family time. Likewise, there is a genuine concern about close friends. 

I’m quite smitten with Huanchaco. It’s a quiet city right on the beach. The crime rate is very low, so I feel safer here than in the bigger cities (Lima, Trujillo). Everyone I’ve met has been really kind and helpful. Still, I had to adjust to speaking and listening in Spanish full-time (talk about a brain workout). It made me anxious the first two or three days, worrying that I wouldn’t understand or wouldn’t know what to say. But it has already become easier, and I expect my language abilities will only continue to increase (so don’t give up hope). I haven’t felt terribly homesick yet, likely because I’ve become good friends with my classmates. My best tip is to make a friend and stick close together until you both become more comfortable. 


Huanchaco coat of arms

The crest of the city of Huanchaco. This one is located in the Plaza de Armas in Huanchaco, which is located right outside my hostel. The four images are la Iglesia de Huanchaco (top left), Chimu culture (top right), Moche culture (bottom left), and caballitos de totora or reed wave riders (bottom right).


I’ve set some goals for my study abroad experience in Peru. I want to track my personal, educational, and professional progress. These goals include completing original research and producing an ethnography, surfing, trying Peruvian foods, learning about traditional ethnomedical beliefs, and helping provide humanitarian aid to a town destroyed by flooding. It’s important to me to keep my sights set high, but within the limits of what my health will allow. This week, I’m working on my writing skills as I work on my ethnography. I’m particularly inspired by Benjamin Franklin’s words:

“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”

I wish you all the best from Huanchaco. Keep dreaming, keep achieving, keep reaching. There are so many good things ahead. Happy and healthy journeys to you all!

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Filed under McKinley in Peru, south america