iSTEP Tanzania

We’re halfway there…

Posted on: June 29, 2009

Our team marked the halfway point of our experience this past week. As a result, we wanted to share some of the things we have learnt over the past five weeks.

Language barriers: Anytime you enter a country with an unfamiliar language, there will be times of misunderstandings and difficulties. Learning basic phrases in another language shows respect of a new culture.

What we’ve learned: The most important word to learn in any new language is thank you—in Swahili thank you is asante. It’s the word our team found itself using the most often, and as a result, the Swahili word they heard the most was karibu (Swahili for you’re welcome).

-Delays and plans: Delays are inevitable, and expect plans to fall apart in the field, as not much is predictable.

What we’ve learned: Don’t get unnecessarily frustrated. Always step back and put any delays in perspective, reflecting on how this will change your plan, but also how you can work around it–there’s always a way!

-Charity vs. partnership: The differences in nomenclature mean something.

What we’ve learned: Charities offer help more directly, whereas partnerships work to help build skills and then later help themselves. We have found that charity work may be more rewarding in the short term, and at times, possibly easier, but partnerships really do push communities toward growth and meeting the needs of a sustainable project, which (hopefully) have significant long-term effects.

-Paperwork—it’s an inevitable part of field work! There’s a lot, it’s tough to get the appropriate approval needed for research, and there are often unexpected requirements and signatures needed.

What we’ve learned: Luckily this is where teamwork and advance preparation come in handy. Planning accordingly for the bureaucratic delays in the beginning, as well as getting an early start on completing any paperwork can really help to save time down the road.

-Assumptions: Assumptions about the way things work are easy to make.

What we’ve learned: cultures are different, so don’t assume anything. Our team assumed that you needed an appointment to see city government officers, but really you just need to keep showing up and knocking on their door until they answer.

In summation, as our team member Bea wrote, “Field work is tough; field work involving human participants is even more challenging!” but we imagine the results are well worth it.

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