Student teaching is a part of every education student’s time at Grand Valley, but not every future teacher gets to hone their skills in the classroom a continent away. This year, Julia Zemmol and twenty six other students traveled across the globe to Tanzania, an East African country where Grand Valley has been sending students for almost ten years. The Tanzanian study abroad program, directed by Grand Valley professor Lisa Kasmer, consists of four weeks spent teaching in local schools and volunteering at an orphanage.
“I love the people,” said Zemmol, who took the trip for the second time this past May. “Those in Tanzania and those you get to travel with. Interacting with the locals, learning Swahili from them, and learning their stories is a huge part of this trip, and immersing yourself in Tanzanian culture. Spending the month with other GVSU students, getting to know them, and growing with them is one of the best parts of studying abroad.”
When they’re not working, the education students visit natural wonders like Mt. Kilimanjaro, watch monkeys strategize how to sneak past the innkeeper’s German Shepard and steal bananas from the breakfast buffet table, and go on a four day safari.
“Nothing can compare to the feeling we had when a lion was right next to our Jeeps, while also being five feet away from a giraffe,” said Zemmol. “Seeing these animals in their natural habitat is indescribable. The Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater are breathtaking – two places that I’m so lucky to have been able to witness.”
Students also get the opportunity to visit with the Maasai tribe, tour a thousand acre coffee plantation and shop at “Shanga,” where disabled workers make clothes, jewelry, glasswork and more from recycled materials. Professor John Golden, first-time faculty chaperone of the program, enjoyed experiencing the artistry with the students on the trip. But upon returning to the states, much of his favorite memories to share are of their accomplishments in the classroom.
“The trip is an immersion in a totally different culture,” Golden said. “We have small cultural differences between classrooms here, but these schools are completely different than anything they’ve ever experienced. Lisa does a really good job getting them to just give it a go. If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out, but they’re completely free to try. The result is that they develop this confidence that they can handle anything – eighty third graders, three students to a desk, in a room with peeling paint, a small chalkboard, and one piece of chalk. But they were still able to teach.”
“One of the biggest aspects of teaching that I learned from this experience is how important it is to go with the flow,” said Zemmol. “There were many times that I had planned a math lesson, only to come to school the next day and find out that I’m asked to teach a science or English lesson. When something doesn’t go as planned in my own classroom” – which she hopes to have soon – “I’ll be able to adjust accordingly with ease, knowing that I’ve done it before in much different circumstances.
The students spent a total sixty hours teaching in Tanzanian classrooms, the sizes of which range from 50-100 students. In addition, they took 3-6 credits in GVSU courses and learned basic Swahili from a local instructor.
“I love that we’re all education majors and are experiencing teaching in Tanzania together,” said Zemmol. “We learn, make mistakes, and try again with the incredible support from everyone. I believe that relationships, shared experiences, and telling others about those experiences are some of the most valuable and powerful things in the world. We don’t learn unless we share our own stories with the world – while also listening to others.”