ISTEP 10 Project in Tanzania – It is strange to me that I am not long back in Halifax after working at and visiting the Vocational Training Centre (VTC) in Mikumi, Tanzania as part of one of NSCC’s international technical assistance projects. This project was part of the Improving Skills Training for Employment Program (ISTEP) and was funded through Global Affairs Canada and Colleges and Institutes Canada (CICan).
Upon arrival, at about 9:00pm, I was neither expecting to see the lush, green landscape nor feel the 29˚C heat (that temperature does not reflect the humidity, by the way!). I also wasn’t expecting the level of customer service I received throughout the visit. As someone who typically travels in coach, hauls her own bags around, and fetches her own bottles of water when thirsty, having individuals vying to help me was a new and slightly awkward experience!
Like most travelers to a new place, I took my physical and prior-learning luggage with me. While I tried not to have many pre-conceived ideas, as educators we know the role that prior knowledge and learning plays in making new meaning. I would be remiss if I didn’t admit that there were times that my prior knowledge got in the way. For example, my prior experience in language learning and teaching got in the way of me fully immersing myself in the opportunity to learn Swahili, the official language. I kept wanting to see the written language, ask grammar questions, and understand the linguistic conventions before attempting to participate in and produce the language myself. I got in my own way as far as being willing to take the learning risks I know are important in language acquisition.
While at VCT, I had the opportunity to work with both faculty and students. I was excited to share my enthusiasm with VCT faculty about Writing Centres, English as an Additional Language, and Educational Psychology – my passions. I spent a lot of time before the trip trying to prepare for every possible learning scenario and faculty/programming need, despite being warned that I may not get to cover everything. “I’m cool with that”, I thought. As it turns out, I got to work with VCT students more than expected. This required me to adapt quickly. While I hadn’t planned for the types of student workshops requested upon arrival, I did what all educators do and hunkered down to create and deliver new workshops. Let me tell you – I am so glad the unexpected happened! Working with the VCT faculty was already a wonderful experience and working with the students was an added delight. Despite being accustomed to a more (seemingly) traditional learning environment, the students and I enjoyed our interactive time together. While I had to rely on using only a small white board for visual emphasis and to convey additional information, harkening back to my initial teaching days with chalk and boards, we worked on resume-writing, skills portfolios, report-writing, and English language development.
I always learn so much from students. It is one of my favourite things about being an educator. The students at VCT reminded me of the value of education and learning. Working with such invested and committed learners was lovely. Hearing their perspectives, answering their professional and personal questions, however awkward, and working together was delightful and it challenged me to think about my assumptions as an educator and as a learner myself. It also reminded me of just how powerful being open and communicative in my educational practice is. These reflections are invaluable, and I feel they are reflections educators should be doing regularly. I will carry this reminder with me as I plan and prep for the academic year ahead.
Typically, the rainy season would have started in Tanzania by the time we arrived, but the rains were delayed this year. Even to our hosts, the heat was a force to be reckoned with. It turns out…Amanda doesn’t heat well. Despite looking like a marshmallow warming and expanding in a microwave, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Tanzania. I learned about and experienced a country rich in natural resources and wildlife. I saw my first giraffes, baboons, hippos, storks, elephants, lions, impala, warthogs, zebra, praying mantis, jackals, and heard my first hyenas. I learned from faculty and librarians who were so passionate about their areas of expertise that it bubbled over into their stories and conversations. We also shared a profound love of curiosity and education. I learned from students, experienced different world views, questioned my own world view, and learned more about the vast and dynamic environment(s) we live in. I returned reflective, humbled, thankful, changed, excited, and a wee bit sunburned and I wouldn’t trade any of it.
Who would have thought that a Writing Centre Coordinator from Halifax would have the opportunity to travel over 11,000 kilometers to work with educators and students on writing centre programming, professional writing skills, language training, and pedagogy? I may need to pinch myself again.