GVSU alumna takes passion for teaching to Tanzania

GVL / Courtesy - Samantha Wint
Samantha Wint and her family

GVL / Courtesy – Samantha Wint Samantha Wint and her family

Tylee Bush

Grand Valley State University alumna Samantha Wint credits her study abroad experience with changing the course of her entire life. Now, living and teaching in Tanzania, married to a Tanzanian man and mothering their son, Wint traces it all back to her experience at GVSU, the professors and faculty members she met here, and the time she wandered into a study abroad fair on campus.

“The moment I set foot on GVSU’s campus, I had an unexplainable feeling that I belonged there,” said Wint, who studied at GVSU from 2009 to 2013, via email. “GVSU always felt like home.” 

Wint originally chose to pursue a biomedical science major in the hopes of becoming a physicians assistant, but she soon discovered her passion for teaching. By the end of her sophomore year, she had switched her degree to teaching.

“I choose to be a teacher because at GVSU I witnessed the importance of having a good, passionate teacher in science and math classes,” she said. “That inspired me (to) become one myself.”

One day at the Pew Campus, Wint was killing time in between classes and stumbled upon a study abroad fair. Curiosity led Wint through the maze of tables advertising different study abroad trips, but fate led Wint to one table in particular: the Tanzania teaching experience. 

Lisa Kasmer, a professor of mathematics at GVSU and the director of the Tanzania study abroad program, said this four-week trip offers education students a chance to study educational issues in Tanzania, plan and teach 45 hours in primary and secondary schools, and even volunteer at a local orphanage. 

In addition, students are immersed in the culture of Tanzania. They even participate in Swahili lessons given by a local Swahili instructor. Kasmer said in these short four weeks, students “learn from and interact with teachers and students in a culture much different than their own.”

“I liked to think that just as much as I choose the program, the program chose me,” Wint said.

Immediately after leaving the fair, Wint emailed the professor in charge, Kasmer, and later found herself sitting in Kasmer’s office pleading her case as to why she, a pre-service science teacher, should join pre-service math teachers on a study abroad trip to Tanzania.

Being the first non-math educational student to ever take this trip, Wint recalls being overjoyed when she received the email from Kasmer granting her acceptance into the program. Little did she know that this would be so much more than a one-time trip.

Wint left for Tanzania in May of 2012 and spent the month teaching biology at a Tanzanian secondary school in a town called Arusha. 

“Many things surprised me,” she said. “I was shocked at how developed Tanzania was. I thought it would be like what I saw in commercials—starving children and volunteers—but Arusha was nothing at all like that. There are roads, large buildings, shops, huge markets, toilets and people from all over the world. 

Arusha did lack some American comforts I was greatly accustomed to, but the people’s outlook on life made up for it. The culture was so relaxed, beyond anything I experienced in the U.S.”

On weekends, Wint was able to take adventurous excursions to national parks and African safaris. 

“As you can imagine, when I got home, everyone wanted to hear about the safari and see the pictures of the animals,” Wint said. “However, that was not what I wanted to talk about. I wanted to talk about the people and the students that stole my heart.”

Deeply influenced by the trip, Wint came to Kasmer in 2014 and begged her to let her go back to Tanzania, so Kasmer agreed to let Wint join her for another trip as her assistant.

When Wint returned in 2014, her time was spent visiting different schools for an education research project. One of these schools was run by an American expatriate and GVSU alumna. After talking with her about life in Arusha, Wint was offered a job to teach science at her school.

“It was an easy decision to make,” Wint said. “Everything was just falling into place, almost as if it was orchestrated by a force beyond our control.” 

In December of 2014, she returned and began teaching. This trip to Tanzania was the most pivotal for Wint.

“Before I studied abroad, I was terrified of leaving the U.S.” she said. “I never thought that in a million years I would be living a country in Africa with a Tanzania husband and a beautiful son.”

Wint is now a chemistry teacher at St. Constantine’s International School in Arusha living with her husband and their son. Still highly involved in GVSU’s Tanzania study abroad program, Wint is now a contact person for Kasmer. 

“I am so grateful that Samantha is in Tanzania,” Kasmer said. “She is incredibly helpful taking care of program needs that are difficult for me to do from the U.S. She is a dedicated teacher and is looked upon as a leader in her school. Even though this is her third year teaching, her skills are those of an experienced teacher. 

Living and working in Arusha, Tanzania, is not easy, but she has learned to navigate the complicated systems in Tanzania with positivity, open-mindedness and maturity.”

Tanzania has taught Wint many things, including that people are people, no matter their outlook or lifestyle. Wint continues to advocate for the study abroad program and encourages students to leave their comfort zones and see what happens. 

“Life is unpredictable: The more you try to control it to fit a path, the more you close yourself off to amazing opportunities and adventures,” she said.