Like many other juniors at Lehigh, I will be studying abroad this spring semester. Unlike others, however, my accommodations will include a cabin with four bunk beds, no washer and dryer and I probably won’t be able to drink alcohol for the majority of the trip — not even to celebrate my 21st birthday.
This may sound like a college student’s worst nightmare, but for me it’s a dream come true. I will be in Northern Tanzania studying the incredible, diverse wildlife and learning about its relationship with the local tribes of Rhotia.
The focus of the trip is, of course, the wildlife I will be studying. I will have the opportunity to spend multiple days camping in the Serengeti and Tarangire National Parks studying small and large mammals in their natural environment, their interactions with the local people and tourists’ behavior in the parks.
Even though I will probably cry the first time I see an elephant cross my path on one of our safari trips, the thing I’m most excited for is not the work I will be doing there studying the animals. I am most excited to meet the local people and gain a new perspective.
As a Lehigh student, I am surrounded by an incredible amount of privilege every day. Many of us at Lehigh are completely unaware of how the lives of people in other parts of the world are so drastically different. And if we are, we regularly choose to ignore the problems that we do know about.
According to the United Nation’s Human Development Index, on which Tanzania ranked 151 on a list of 187 countries, the gross national income per capita is $2,411.50 and 43.5 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. There is an under-5 mortality rate of 51.8 percent and the expected years of schooling is 9.2, meaning that most children do not extend their education past primary school.
There are so many more statistics that could be added to this list that show the drastic differences between our two countries and so many other developing countries.
I will admit I am one of the many people on Lehigh’s campus who regularly ignore the problems in the world and rather focus only on my own problems. Because of this, experiencing the drastic difference between our two cultures will probably be a huge change.
Once I get past the initial shock, I’m hoping I gain an inside perspective into the Tanzanian people, giving me a love for different cultures and diverse ways of life.
Adjusting to a completely different lifestyle in Tanzania for four months will probably be one of the most challenging things I have ever done. I know I will miss everything that my life at Lehigh and in the United States offers me. I can only imagine how much my perspective of the world will change and how much better I will know myself after the experiences I will have.
From the moment I told my parents about my decision and every time I share it after, the reactions I receive range from excitement for me to complete confusion. Everyone asks me the same thing. Why Tanzania, over a European adventure, a semester Down Under or even a trip to the developed South Africa? Why would I choose to live in close quarters with three other girls and hand-wash my own clothing?
Despite all of the questioning, I have remained steadfast in my decision. I always respond with the same answer. Why not? When in my lifetime will I have the opportunity to have this experience again?
Lehigh has offered this program with the School for Field Studies for many years now, but it has been a long time since someone went on one of the semester programs, and I’m not yet sure that anyone from Lehigh will be joining me.
Yes, this scares me. I have no idea what to expect and I have no fellow Lehigh students to speak with about their experience, past or present. One of my professors called me a “guinea pig” for this program. But I’m choosing, for one of the first times in my life, to be spontaneous. I’m happy to be Lehigh’s guinea pig.
Danielle Bettermann, ’18, is an associate lifestyle editor for The Brown and White. She can be reached at email@example.com.