From American to Tanzanian schools

Study abroad trip highlights differences

By Carly Simpson | 5/30/14 5:19pm


GVL / Courtesy - Josh Greene

After a 12 hour flight from Detroit to Amsterdam, a 4 hour layover, an 8 hour flight to Tanzania and an hour drive from the airport, 24 education majors from Grand Valley State University arrived in Arusha on May 4. For the next 25 days the group taught at local schools in the city, located in northern Tanzania.

The study abroad trip offered the students a chance to earn college credits while also experiencing life in another country. Instead of listening to lectures about how to teach, these students were able to stand at the front of a classroom as the teachers.

“I thought teaching in Tanzania would be so much more beneficial to me rather than sitting in a classroom for 16 weeks,” said Josh Greene, a senior at GVSU. “There are not too many study abroad programs that allow you to actually teach, and teach quite a bit.”

Greene and the other GVSU students worked with various age groups, ranging from children in primary school to teenagers in secondary schools. They taught Monday through Friday and were in charge of creating the lesson plans. They also attended their own classes in the evenings to earn college credit. In addition to the 24 GVSU students, there were also three GVSU mathematic education professors and two students from the University of Missouri.

On the weekends, the group went on several expeditions, including a safari at Ngorongoro Crater, a hike to the first hut of Mount Kilimanjaro and camping at a village near Mount Meru. The group also visited the Serengeti and Arusha National Parks.

“Although the safari was incredible and a once in a lifetime opportunity, I think my most favorite part was teaching,” said Dawn Glefke, another member of the trip. “That was the reason I came on this trip and I have never taught a class before, so it was a blast to create my own lessons and actually teach.”

During the study abroad trip, the GVSU students were required to keep a blog to document the differences they noticed between schools in Tanzania compared to those in America. One difference, Greene said, is that the students stay in the same classroom all day and the teachers travel between the rooms. Green and Glefke both noticed that some teachers would not show up to their classes.

“Teachers are nowhere near as motivated here in Tanzania (compared to America),” Green said. “If a teacher does not show up for class, there is no substitute; the kids go without class and there’s no adult supervision.”

Most students don’t have textbooks for their classes and many schools in Arusha don’t have libraries, Glefke said. A lot of time is spent copying notes from the board so the students have something to reference later on.

“The school I was at was nicer compared to most in Arusha because there was a small library with a few copies of the textbooks,” Glefke said. “Overall, they are missing a lot of resources that we take for granted in America. Also, Arusha Meru International School is one of only a few schools in Tanzania that does not discipline by corporal punishment. Other students’ placements actually have corporal punishment in their schools.”

Despite the differences and difficulties, Greene and Glefke both recommend the trip to other education majors. To read students’ full blogs about the trip visit 

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