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.
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.