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    Posted March 17, 2014 by
    Hyattsville, Maryland
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Why study abroad? Ask Michelle Obama


    Think back to the last time you felt really uncomfortable. Did you remove yourself from the situation, or did you stay and realize that you were growing? In 2011, I studied abroad in Tanzania for six months in the summer and fall of my junior year in college. I studied Kiswahili in Arusha through Fulbright-Hays Projects Abroad, and in Zanzibar through the Boren Scholarship’s African Languages Initiative. Although both my parents emigrated to the U.S. from Tanzania, my first time there was June 2011. Growing up, I knew I was Tanzanian in some way. I could understand the language and I ate the food, but it was always my parent’s country—something familiar yet foreign.
    I was unprepared for all that I was to see. Seven and eight year-olds trying to sell me plastic bags in the market. Older ones lighting matches to seal the refilled water bottles they would soon try to sell. People pulling children out of a bus after a collision where the police were nowhere to be found. I learned that all of this is my heritage, and that I needed to be the change I wanted to see. I was constantly learning and appreciating, whether through negotiating the prices of everything from food to bus fare, or walking all the way to the Western Union only to be told for the third time that week that he system was down, or meeting my grandmother for the first time and thinking, what did I do to deserve all this love?
    As an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, I spent a lot of time working to help young people explore their own histories, strengths, and passions. My proudest moment at Penn was completing my senior thesis, which focused on how first- and second-generation African immigrant youth form their identities and how that relates to their educational goals. I loved hearing the voices of the ten female adolescents I interviewed, and being able to apply all of the concepts I had learned in school to something I truly cared about. I also couldn’t stay away from the continent and ended up participating in Penn’s International Development Summer Institute in Ghana, where I had to learn how to teach a computer class without a computer. My time at Penn served as a catalyst for the rest of my trajectory, and now I’m learning how to use my dual identity to affect a positive change in the world.
    I currently work for an organization called Higher Achievement, which aims to provide more opportunities to low-income middle-school students through our Afterschool academy, Summer Academy, and High School Placement Process. I am an AmeriCorps Fellow at our Ward 4 Center, which has a high population of African and Latino immigrant students. Every day, whether explaining the DCPS application process to a parent, or calling an aunt to inform her that her scholar had a great week in my study hall, I am reminded of how important opportunities and resources are. Ultimately, I hope to build an elementary school in Tanzania that would have an exchange program for low-income students from the U.S.
    Throughout everything, I was reminded of how big the world is, and that my time at Penn or in Ghana or even here in D.C. is leading to something even bigger. I also see how the streets of Dar Es Salaam closely resemble 40th and Market or Georgia Ave. and that as humans, we share more and more problems than we care to admit. I eventually learned to find comfort in my discomfort. Now I am learning how to translate that discomfort into the fuel to make a change.
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