Tag Archives: pre-departure

Hujambo! A first glance at preparing for, and living in Tanzania

The two weeks leading up to my study abroad program were a complete whirl of excitement and anxiety. Preparing to leave the country for four months was one thing, but preparing to spend a significant amount of time in the wilderness of was a completely different challenge. Thirty-three nights of camping in the African bush is a part of my upcoming program, and that’s not exactly something I could slack on preparing for. However, between balancing time with friends and family, and taking care of numerous pre-departure tasks (vaccines, banking business, and the like), I had almost no time leftover for all the other things I needed to prepare for. My last days in California were spent racing around town buying tents, compact sleeping bags and sleeping pads, water purification tablets, and malaria medication. I was up until 3:30 in the morning the day before my flight, as I struggled to cram all of my gear into one 55 Liter pack (I ended up being unsuccessful at fitting everything in one pack and was forced to check that bag and add a second backpack…not the most ideal setup). I spent the rest of my night being nervous about adjusting to a new culture – at this point the excitement had yet to sink in.

Two full days of travel later, I stepped off my plane and into the warm night air at the Kilimanjaro airport. I finally met my fellow wildlife conservation program students. After our group went through customs, we are all shuffled into Safari trucks for a two hour drive to our campsite at the Ndarikwai ranch. We scramble to set up our tents in the midnight darkness, but soon found ourselves drifting off to a chorus of frogs and the low snort-grumbles of impala.AA1

I awoke at sunrise filled with excitement (which was surprising considering the terrible jet lag I was feeling), and was amazed as the real beauty of this area came into full view. The silhouette of Kilimanjaro loomed over us in the distance to one side, and mount Meru towered on the other. A troop of baboons played in the trees as fiesty infants jumped on their mothers to alert them of morning, and the birds provided a soundtrack to the start of the day, with hundreds of species announcing their presence.



We were introduced to our program director Baba Jack and the rest of our Tanzanian staff before going on a long hike through the Ndarikwai area–a ranch turned conservation reserve, where Maasai herders live side by side with zebra, wildebeest, and many other wild animals. It is one of the few wildlife areas in the country where you are permitted to walk the area, instead of being forced to remain inside of your safari car. This made for a unique experience walking in the savannah under acacia trees and next to herds of grazing mammals.



Camping in a secluded natural environment for one week was one of the best ways to welcome our group into beautiful Tanzania. We had a chance to connect with fellow students, get to know our director and staff members, and even chat a little Swahili with our camp cooks. It was certainly a great way to ease into being orientated to a new country and culture.


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Filed under Africa, Ari in Tanzania

Dear Google: My Flight’s On The 24th, If You Don’t Already Know

By the end of December– a full month before my flight to Amman, Jordan– YouTube was suggesting that I watch “How to Dabke” (Arab folk dance) and a video walkthrough of making Knafeh (Levantine pastry).  An advertisement on Facebook prompted me to sign up for traveler’s insurance which, it assured me, works “great for the Middle East!”

Google Chrome had figured out my itinerary.  Of course, I hadn’t exactly made it difficult.  Facebook and Netflix were stubbornly lodged in the display of most-visited tabs shown whenever I open a new browser window, but the Jordan Times, BBC Arabic, and Google Maps had joined them.  My search history included such gems as “Culture of Jordan” and “Are harissa sauce and harissa cake related?” (but actually, one is hot chili pepper paste and the other sweet semolina cake… what in the world do they have in common?)  I had watched videos of Jordanian dancing, Jordanian pop stars, and Jordanian comedy.  I’d zoomed in on Google maps satellite view until I got the closest, grainiest view of Amman available, and read through every entry by previous Gilman scholars in Jordan (thanks for the advice, guys).

It’s easy to chalk up my mildly obsessive internet research to nerves, but I don’t think that’s quite it; after all, I didn’t feel nervous.  I was confident I would be in a good program, surrounded by wonderful people.  I was downright eager to improve my Arabic fluency (which, despite a few semester of previous study, falls somewhere between “mediocre” and “passable”).  So why was I looking up the total land area of Jordan (34,495 mi2)?  The average hours of sunlight per day (almost 10)?  The national flower (black iris)?

Do me a favor: tell me where you’re living next semester.  Go on.  Picture it.  Tell me, will you need warm clothing in March, or will it be sunny and mild?  What will you eat for breakfast?  How will you get to school– bus, taxi, drive, walk?  What will you do for fun, to fill your nights and weekends?

You probably know all of that.  I don’t.

I don’t know if I’ll be taking a taxi to school… if I will, I don’t know how much it will cost, or how I’ll hail one, or how to talk to the driver, or even what currency I’ll be paying in!  Well, okay, I do know the currency, but that’s only because I’ve visited the Wikipedia article for the Jordanian Dinar a time or two.  Or ten.

And that, I think is the reason for learning about the history of Queen Rania, looking at articles about Jordan’s decision to recently reinstate the death penalty, and learning how kadaif noodles are made.  Everything– from my daily commute to their judicial system– is new and completely unknown.  I still don’t know where my residence will be; I’m going to get on a plane in a little over a week, and fly to a country I’ve never seen on a continent I’ve never visited, and show up without a clue where I’ll be sleeping that night.  Or how I’ll get coffee the next morning, which, let’s face it, is probably higher priority.

I am so incredibly-indescribably-amazingly-exorbitantly excited.  Incredidescribablamazibitantly excited.  See?  I had to make a new adverb, because I didn’t have one to sufficiently convey how excited I am.  I can’t wait to meet other students, to learn about the city, to have terribly awkward attempts at conversation in Arabic (scratch “passable,” my Arabic skills are definitely more “mediocre”), to try knafeh in real life.  I’m incredidescribablamazibitantly excited for the whole semester, even though I have no idea what’s waiting for me beyond the airport.

What I do know: the national bird is the Sinai Rosefinch; the national football team (soccer, my American friends) is called Al-Nashaamaa (“the Chivalrous”); a qirsh and piastre are equal and both 1/100 of a dinar.  And I know that this semester is going to be amazing beyond belief.

And so, armed with these facts, these few small certainties, I feel better facing all of the grand uncertainties awaiting me… except for not knowing how harissa sauce and harissa cake are related; that one’s really annoying me.  Seriously, anybody have a clue?  Even Google didn’t know.

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Filed under Charlotte in Jordan, middle east

Meet Teejay! – Pre-Departure to Malta

Hey guys! I guess I’ll start with introductions: TJ1My names Teejay Hughes and I’m from St. Louis, MO. The University of Missouri-Kansas City is the college I attend in America, but currently I’m studying abroad in a country named Malta—a tiny island smack dab in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. You’re probably wondering why you’ve never heard of this country. It’s most likely because there are only 400,000 people that live on the island and declared independence from the UK less then 100 years ago; but don’t underestimate this little country! It’s packed with natural & cultural beauties, and they even have their own language called Maltese (and no it’s not barking).

For the 2014-2015 academic year, I was selected as a recipient of the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship, and thus far it’s been an experience of a lifetime. The official degree I’m pursuing in America is Business Administration with an emphasis in Marketing and Finance. I’ve always had a passion for anything international, and it’s one of the main reasons I’ve chose to study aboard. That’s why if you asked me what I study, I’d shorten my degree and tell you “International Finance and Marketing.” I like to think studying aboard for a year lets me play around with the degree name. For the next few months I’ll be making a series of video blogs and written prompts. I’m going to be telling you about my ups, downs, and everything in between!

Let’s start out with a simple question: Did you feel anxious before leaving for your program? If so, what were you nervous about?

Pre-departure anxieties would seem to be a massive thought, but oddly I was cool and collected until I arrived in Europe. The University of Malta didn’t start till October 1st, so I had plenty of time to pack and prepare myself for my upcoming year. My school year ended all the way back in May, so there has really been no rush at all. The most stressful aspect to me was getting my financials in order (figures, I’m a finance major). Dealing with credit cards, scholarships, and debt cards take day to weeks to months to get tasks completed, so I made sure I started early.

Besides finances, the only other forms of pre-departure stress was fitting one years worth of clothing into two luggages and two carry-ons. There’s something you have to know about me: I love clothes. My clothes are me. So trying to fit my entire being into four bags was very complicated… The process I used to packing lasted about one week. It goes as followed:

Step 1: Wash everything

Step 2: Sort clothes into season (Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer)

Step 3: Research which season will be in the country

Step 4: One-by-one go through each season making a Yes, No, and Maybe pile

Step 5: Pack up No pile, and repeat step 4 for other seasons

Step 6: Grab a friend and go through the Yes pile. (A friend that cares about clothes as much as you do)

Step 7: Together go through your maybe pile being very critical with each Yes and No.

Step 8: Try to pack all the Yes items.

Step 9: Understand you’re going to buy clothes there. So don’t cry when you have to take out the heaviest items.

Well guys, that’s the end of Blog post 1. I’ll leave you with some of the amazing views in Malta that I’ve captured.

Golden bay

Dingli cliffs


Blue window

Cheers, Teejay Hughes.


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Filed under Teejay in Malta, Western Europe

Large Strides

Many an adventurer finds their way by first becoming lost. This is the art of travel, to be an interloper and know it. But no one ever became lost through epic estrangement, like in high tales from fiction; one must place themselves into the unknown in our world. If one is traveling according to a plan, how can they be lost? By taking large strides forward to where one’s eyes no longer see.
As I prepared for my flight from Boston to Beijing in early September, I felt surreal. Not anxious with the butterflies everyone talks about, rather a heightened sense of self. Such existential lenses are blurred by travel, and when I knew that come the next day I would be on the other side of the planet – unable to call my family, unable to kiss my girlfriend – I felt the world dissipate until there was only me. No longer manacled by the life I had created, I felt an almost eerie sense of being lost. The feeling only amplified when I was transplanted into the airport, then the aircraft itself.

I met others in my program headed off to China, the land of dead empires and gold horizons, but new people only made me realize the bones of my life, the important things I wished to speak of, and the gluttony, that which I told no one. No matter how many people I met, I always knew – and still do know – that this was my journey, my path to carve. I took a large stride coming from a small rural town in Maine to Beijing, a mega-metropolis and capital city, and as time sets into me I become more and more at home. But when I think about it, I am a wanderer, a 外国人wàiguó rén, a foreigner. Even though the Chinese writing on buildings and the sounds of people speaking Chinese all about me becomes normal, I know I am still an interloper.

China is as radically different from my home as it gets. No amount of preparation truly prepares you for the scope of another culture. The moment you think you know, you do not. The most enlightening part of travel for me is knowing just how much my life depends upon me. The world does not revolve around me, but my life, my ability and my success, does. It seems simple, yet this simple fact is never more evident than when you take a great stride. I had to leave my home and travel to the other end of the world to fathom the gift of travel: awareness of myself.

This awareness lets me understand China better than if I kept to the comfort of American things, than if I had come to China without the focus on myself and what I can do while here. I needed to first unfurl myself to begin unfurling another culture. Now I can explore with an open mind the alleys of Beijing, fearlessly bike among other 同学tóngxué (schoolmates), and fully soak myself in the experience of living in China中国zhōngguó, the middle kingdom. Being lost is the best way to learn, so I have embraced the experience of travel in Beijing. I hope that my introspection fuels my exploration of this new world and increases my sensitivity to Chinese culture as I struggle to learn the Chinese language and create a different life for myself in Beijing.

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Filed under Aaron in China, East Asia

A Foreigner of a Different Color

If I could describe what I felt in the week leading up to my journey to India in one word, it would simply be terror. I had so many questions about the life I would be leading in the next 8 weeks, but it seemed that none of the answers I was given could satisfy me or calm my anxieties.

I am working in India under a the Global Engagement Studies Institute, a program through Northwestern University that allows students to gain first-hand experience doing development work in one of eight countries. In the week leading up to the departure, students undergo an intensive pre-departure program during which they complete courses in the fields of International Studies and Communications, as well as country-specific language and history lessons. Even with extensive preparation, I realized that no one had addressed the main source of my anxiety. Yes, people had talked about the problems they had faced when visiting India – sexism, assumptions about wealth, etc. – but I also knew that their experiences wouldn’t necessarily apply to me. People in India were used to white tourists and volunteers, but most of the people I would be interacting with had never even seen an African-American person before. I couldn’t help but fear the reactions I would receive in contrast to my white counterparts.

After a two-day journey that included 3 flights and about 20 hours in layovers, our group of nine stepped out of the airport in Udaipur and were greeted by our contacts at Foundation for Sustainable Development, an umbrella organization that supports NGOs on the ground in various countries. One by one, we were each given a flower garland to welcome us to India. As I waited patiently for mine, a little girl of about nine walked past with her family. When she saw me she tapped a relative and pointed excitedly at me. Her relative turned and stared also. Though I knew that this incident was out of innocent curiosity, I couldn’t help but feel singled out from the group, and I began feeling hypersensitive about how those around me would perceive me.

For the past weeks, I’ve paid close attention to the reactions of those around me wherever I went. In country, we were split up into groups of three and placed at different NGOs. As the only female and person of color in our trio, I noticed the distinct differences between the way I was treated and the way my group mates were treated by our colleagues at the office and by people in general. People automatically assume that I am subordinate and therefore I do not receive the same level of respect. Our male coworkers direct questions and conversation only to them, and often do not even acknowledge my presence. While in public, I incur silent glares, while people often approach them to start friendly conversation and ask them questions about who they are and where they’re from.

Here in India, as well as most places around the world, most of the people who show up to do development work are white, and the people here have come to expect that. Therefore when faced with my presence, people aren’t sure what to think. When someone does ask where I’m from, they’re surprised to hear that I’m from America and instead insist that I must be from Africa or the West Indies – as if I don’t know where I came from. There is a complete lack of knowledge about the history and experience of black people all over the world which makes it much more frustrating for me to try to adjust and connect with the local people and communities.

While the staring, unequal treatment, and assumptions about my heritage are frustrating and sometimes even infuriating, I try to remind myself daily not to take it personally. I instead try to study and observe cultural differences from an objective place. Even so, I can’t help but have a newfound appreciation for the level of respect and anonymity I receive while in the U.S., and a hope that because of me, other black interns will have an easier time in Udaipur in the future.

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Filed under Aliyah in India, South & Central Asia