Disclaimer: I’m speaking specifically of my experience in Tanzania, but I’m sure that many African countries would provide the same amazing experience.
1. It’ll shatter every stereotype you’ve ever had about this amazing continent.
Ok so this one seems like a huge generalization, and it is. Mostly because it’s impossible to make a comment like this about any continent, especially one as big as Africa. But quite honestly, it’s true. Regardless of how informed you are, or how open minded you are, how many African Studies courses you’ve taken, you’re coming into this experience with stereotypes. They might not be negative, and it’s not really your fault, but you have them. Spending a couple months living in an African country will shatter everything you thought you knew about yourself, Africa, and what it means to live in a developing nation (i.e. Tanzania)
2. It’s a magical place.
A very wise man once told me that it’s a continent you either fall in love with or you don’t. You might visit it once and feel satisfied. You will leave and tell your friends you had a nice time. But you never plan on going back. Then there are people who are drawn to it. To the red dirt and the cactus trees and the colorful fabrics and the crowded winding streets of a city in the developing world. To the monkeys on the side of the road and the fruit sellers with hand woven baskets. To some, this place is magnetic. And if you’re one of these people, you’ll spend the rest of your life looking for ways to get back there.
3. You’ll learn so much about yourself.
Before setting off to spend four months in Tanzania, I wasn’t super nervous. I had been there before with a school trip in 2010. My mother spent several years of her childhood in Kenya and Uganda and I had grown up hearing stories about her former homes there. In several ways, I was more prepared than my peers for this four-month experience. But I never could have predicted that several weeks in, I would learn that I was capable of living by myself in a developing country. I’m not kidding. If you told me I had to move to Nairobi tomorrow and survive by myself, I could do it. I’m 100% confident in that. You’ll realize you can navigate public transportation and barter for groceries in a local market in Swahili (it’s a relatively easy language and many Tanzanians love to help you practice it). I’m not going to lie: when my friends tell me about their study abroad experience, traveling around Europe and staying in hostels, I feel a little bit proud that I did the same thing — except in Africa.
4. It has everything you could possible want in a study abroad experience.
White sand beaches and the sparkling blue Indian ocean (if you’re in East Africa), the mountains ready and eager for you to climb them, the rainforest, the savannah, the cities, the nightclubs, the African beer (tusker, Kilimanjaro, and Safari, to name a few. But don’t forget konyagi, the self-proclaimed “spirit of the nation”), the culture, the museums, the fancy restaurants, and the not-so-fancy ones made of cardboard, dirt, and tarps. The locals and the tourists and everything in between (you. You’re in between. You’ll feel superior to a tourist but not quite local). Lets be honest: you’ll learn so much more outside the classroom than inside it while you’re abroad. So take advantage of ALL that this continent and these countries have to offer.
5. If you’re white, Asian, or anything but black, you’ll learn what it feels like to be a minority.
Not necessarily in privilege. Based on my personal experience, being white in Tanzania makes you a target but also acts as a status symbol. The stereotype “You’re white, therefore you’re rich, and you’re more than likely not from here” makes you an easy target for pickpockets. Interestingly, my friend who is mixed race and absolutely gorgeous was considered the ultimate beauty to almost everyone we met. Her textured hair yet lighter skin caused locals to stop and stare. Men asked to marry her, mothers asked her to marry their sons, and girls asked to be her friend. So I don’t want to say I now know the reverse of what it means to be of a minority race in America, but being white in Africa has made me think more about racial diversity in all senses.
6. You never thought you’d actually fear for your life from a lion attack.
Ok this likely won’t happen to you — and by mentioning this, I’m probably perpetuating stereotypes about Africa — but to be honest, if you’re lucky enough to go on safari and stay in a lodge that’s in the middle of the park, listen closely at night. My classmates and I could hear lions, hyenas, and elephants outside the windows of our hostel and were told that the week before we stayed there, four people had been killed by lions. I don’t think I’ve ever run faster than trying to get from the bunk room to the bathroom in the middle of the night. I’m serious guys, this was a very real thing that happened.