Nikhil Ghorpade;  UG IN CAS; School of Communications, majoring in Public Relations.
Spent the Spring 2013 semester in Tanzania.

A Semester in Tanzania, An Experience of a Lifetime

"My semester in Tanzania was life changing. Literally. Most of my life I had wanted to travel to Tanzania, see the N’gorongoro crater and experience the last great migration in the Serengeti. I finally got the opportunity to spend 4 months in Northern Tanzania, studying wildlife management and conservation. Little did I know how important the time before the trip would be to my experience there. Though I went to Tanzania for the spring semester of my junior year, I started taking Swahili through the DILS program exactly a year before that. Though those 2 semesters of studying saw different students come and go through the program, my “language partner” remained the same. With Muchiri’s help, I was able to embark on my African journey with a working knowledge of spoken Swahili, and enough reading and writing comprehension to boot. At the time, I had no idea how important my Swahili skills would be to my overall study abroad experience, both socially and academically. From day one, I started practicing my Swahili with everyone I encountered, both professors and locals alike. Though my peers were able to learn some Swahili throughout the course of our study, I was the only one able to really speak with the Tanzanians, and because of this I made fast friends with whomever we encountered. Although everyone we met was very friendly to non-speakers, I was able to experience, and understand, a whole different side of Tanzania than my peers. Even when you live in a country long enough, there are so many things one can never understand if they don’t speak the language. I didn’t have this problem.

My knowledge of the language benefitted me beyond social interactions. During my one-month independent research, my partner and I were tasked with doing 150 interviews with people who experienced conflict with wildlife, both in towns and rural villages. At first, people were always very sceptical at foreigners who came around asking questions, yet once we started to converse in Swahili, these people became veritable chatter boxes. People immediately felt at ease when they heard their native language, and we were able to get much more information from our queries than if our translator had done the entire interview. Because of my previous study, and my real world experience of the language in Tanzania, I became confident enough to give our final presentation in Swahili. Many local leaders, village heads and government officials who were present who did not understand much English, so my use of Swahili allowed them to really grasp the importance of the research we had done, and take it into serious consideration during policymaking.

Even though I speak another language at home, it was only until that month of research did I realize how important language is. Though I never got any class credit from the DILS program, my Swahili skills I developed there was worth more than any “A” I could have received in class. I even named my blog after the Swahili word for environment, “Mazingira.” However, my time in Tanzania was life changing because of what happened after. The day after I left the country, I was overcome with a burning desire to return to Tanzania and work, whichever way I could. The past semester back at Miami has seen me scrambling around to apply to every fellowship, scholarship and job that I could find where I could continue my work with human-wildlife conflicts in Tanzania, or East Africa. My knowledge of Swahili, and my in-country experience, has given me an edge in my post-graduation career aspirations. DILS has had a huge impact on my academic career and will continue to help me in the future. In fact, at the end of this semester during my DILS evaluation, my Swahili evaluator offered to put me in touch with one of his students who is working in Africa right now. Had a program such as DILS not existed, students like myself would not have had the opportunity to pursue a non-typical language that could help us in our future professional or academic aspirations. Hopefully, I will soon be back in Africa, using my Swahili and working with the environment."