The Beginning - Week 1
Before beginning my first year at Michigan State University I expected to have a hard time transitioning to college life. By college life, I mean hours of studying, balancing a social life, homesickness, and trying to make my parents proud. I think to every adolescent entering a lifestyle they’ve never lived before it is nerve-wracking and simultaneously exciting. Moving off on my own with a roommate and freedom was such an odd feeling at 17, but so exhilarating. I was granted many opportunities at MSU throughout my first year. Each opportunity I received opened a new door which enabled me to find myself and what I want to do.
I declared my major, Global and International Studies (with a focus in African Studies), early on. I was so in love with the idea of traveling and learning about many cultures. I ended up taking an International Relations course during my first semester and actually fell in love with the world and how it ebbs and flows. That’s when I decided to declare my second major, World Politics. Of course, my advisor and parents were worried about me overloading my plate with classes, but I knew what I wanted. After I saw how heavy the overlap was in the majors and that I would still graduate in 3 years, I decided to add my minor LGBT and Sexuality Studies! All of these things are very important to me and studying them are feasible so why not?
I aspire to work with organizations in Africa to help LGBT adolescents find safe spaces and opportunities. In Africa, homosexuality is outlawed in 43 of the 56 nations. It is sometimes even punishable by death. As a queer, black woman in America with so much potential to do good for others, how could I not pursue this career? My only problem was never being on the continent and empathizing, learning, and developing. It is infuriating when people declare their intentions of changing a place without learning anything about the people, culture, language, and governmental system. I refuse to be one of those people, especially if I have a way to communicate directly with the community.
This is where the shit that actually explains what I’m doing comes in! So, I decided to study Swahili for the language credits that are attached to my major. I have to take two years of Swahili to complete my requirements. My first year was amazing and eye-opening! I met wonderful professors, students, foreign exchange students, and teaching assistants. I was actually introduced to the study abroad program by my Swahili professor! He explained to me that he normally takes students with at least two years of language knowledge abroad to East Africa and that he’d love for me to consider it for summer 2019. I was so surprised and appreciative that he considered me for the amazing trip! A couple of weeks later, he pulled me aside and said, “Sarah, there are many open spots for the Tanzania trip this summer, you should apply.”
I had never been so surprised in my life because it was March and we were to leave in May or June. I wanted to go, but how was I going to fund the housing, credits, plane ticket, and food money? I still said yes before even telling my parents about it, of course!
After about a week I was informed that I was eligible to apply for a grant to get funding for the study abroad. I immediately applied, I had never wanted anything as much as I wanted this. I got my letters of recommendation, called my parents, and begged the universe to make this happen. Only three weeks later I discovered that I got the grant and that I was going to Arusha, Tanzania for eight weeks! Studying Swahili in East Africa, experiencing the culture, and learning about the systems in place is exactly what I’d been hoping for!
There were many meetings that lead up to the trip including how the funding worked, what immunizations were necessary, what to pack, how things would work, and so much more! The trip was completely covered, except for the $2,500 plane ticket. After finally finishing paying tuition from the previous school year, this price was so discouraging. I was making this trip happen, and I knew how I was going to do it. I have generous parents, friends, and family. I also had a summer job lined up for the month before the trip! I decided to raise half of the money and finance the other.
I started a GoFundMe on Facebook and asked people if they needed odd jobs done before my summer job started. Out of the blue, my mom called, I knew she had been so worried about making this trip happen, and immediately told me not to worry about the plane ticket anymore. I looked at my phone and saw that Tamlyn donated the rest of my ticket price on behalf of GAEA. I have never felt so relaxed or thankful in my life. I didn’t even know what to do or how to respond other than dancing around my dorm room like an idiot because I only had about two weeks left to buy a plane ticket before they started to seriously skyrocket.
I talked to Tamlyn and Kurt for the first time in May and they were so amazing to me, wanting to send me water bottles, hoodies, shirts, and so much more. My only task from them was to document my time in East Africa and wear GAEA gear. I literally could not have asked for a better opportunity to write about what I love, culture, the environment, people, and my studies. These simple things helped me be able to keep an amazing opportunity. It also granted me another opportunity and internship. Not only am I receiving Swahili credits for my major, but I’m also receiving internship credits!
Now that it was 100% confirmed that I would be in East Africa for eight weeks, I could finally organize my thoughts about packing, immunizations, and more. I had to go to the universities travel health clinic for my yellow fever immunization and my anti-malaria medicine. Of course, I got to read the very long, very intimidating warnings about the medications and other things that I wouldn’t be protected against. At that point, nothing could stop me from going on the trip, I was so excited.
The next step, which should’ve been the first step, was reading about appropriate clothing attire, the weather, and the people. I quickly discovered that modesty would be my best option and that I had to go shopping. By this time, there was only a month before I left. I was so anxious but excited about the new learning opportunities. During the month of May, I worked, slept, ate, and traveled some. I wanted to spend as much time as possible with my family and close friends because I would not be seeing them for two months. I prepared throughout the month for my early June departure.
The days got closer and closer, and I continuously got antsier. I wanted it so bad, but there’s something so scary about the unknown. I knew how great this all was, and pushed my fears aside to pack and prepare my notes and work. If anything, I would be properly prepared for 8 weeks away from home (Kinda. I only brought 3 pairs of pants, but I remembered toothpaste this time!)
The day I left was so odd. I felt so lonely and childish because I was sad that my mom wouldn’t be holding my hand on takeoff, and my dad wouldn’t be there to joke about movie references. Simultaneously, I had never been so ready to get somewhere in my life. The ride to the airport was so quiet but peaceful. When we arrived my mom fussed over everything and my dad was being funny, and it was noticeable that I was making the next big step in my life. Although I have been to Europe for 10 days during my senior year of high school, this was so much more.
I have never been so independent in my life, and it felt liberating. I was so ready for my two nine-hour plane rides. Detroit to Amsterdam and Amsterdam to Nairobi.
It was a LONG 19 hours, but I was finally in East Africa.
My plan for these six weeks is to learn and grow as much as possible. I will immerse myself in the language, culture, and so much more. While Swahili is the reason I am in Tanzania, this trip is so much more for me.
GAEA has given me the opportunity to produce writing content covering my trip, the before, and the after. I plan to write about myself, education, language, culture, sexuality, economy, environmental problems, public health and mental health.
Thank you all so much for sticking with me through this process and believing in me!
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