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The University of Dar es Salaam

University, during the time you spend there, seems like such an important part of a student’s life. Not only do we spend at least four years of our lives calling this place home but before we even arrive, many stressful, worrying yet exciting hours are spent figuring out which university may best fit our specific needs. Lets just hope that once we find that place and finally form the perfect admissions essay, that our feeling of love for them is then mutually reciprocated.

I have so far been enrolled at two separate universities (colleges to be exact but I will continue to call them university for comparison benefits) and after spending these past two weeks at the University of Dar es Salaam, I have now gotten a taste of a third. My first university was Earlham College where I spent my freshman year. Now, I attend Skidmore College and after this current semester I only have to complete my senior year before I am able to graduate. Being a college student myself, it was particularly interesting to visit another university. Especially in such a comparatively different country, with such new and I have to admit somewhat peculiar ways of doing things (in my own personally opinion).

First off, the University of Dar es Salaam is obviously in the HUGE city of, you guessed it, Dar es Salaam. Dar es Salaam is the largest urban city in all of Tanzania and holds a total population of around five million. This fact alone I am unused to. Skidmore is located in Saratoga Springs, a town well known for their famous horse race track with a surprisingly great deal of fun activities for people of all ages to partake in. However, compared to Dar, Saratoga seems like a side street. With my unfamiliarity of going to university in a huge city, I significantly appreciated the campus being a part from the city center, having its own space belonging solely to the students.

The dorms are separated by gender. The girl’s dorm is about a ten-minute walk from the guy’s dorm. This was largely unfortunate for the one male student in our group, as he was not allowed by campus rules to share a space with any of us girls, even if we wouldn’t personally mind having a male roommate. With eight students total (an oddly small group for an SIT program that is used to at least sixteen), once the one male was assigned to his dorm, the group was left with the uneven number of seven girls. We stayed together in pairs of two with one student left to stay with another foreign exchange student from Austria who thankfully turned out to be quite friendly and welcoming. The rooms (at least the girl’s, I did not get the chance to see the guy’s) were pretty normal compared to the dorms I have seen in the US. Two beds, two desks, two closets, two pillows, no pillow cases (I put one of my “inappropriate” T-shirts on mine), one balcony, one clothes line, two bug nets, two buckets for bucket showers, one cut water bottle scoop.

Oh yea, the water situation provided me with another beneficial learning experience. Have I talked about bucket showers before? Well actually I have gotten used to them by this point and admittedly have leaned to enjoy them. Instead of having the luxury of turning on the shower and stepping slowly under the spouting stream, bucket showers force the “go big or go home” kind of attitude. You have to take the scoop, fill it up, and pour it directly onto your head because the bucket only holds so much and there just is not room to ease into it slowly. The water will be cold and you will probably shiver at first. The resulting level of cleanliness is not ideal but it is a great improvement from the sweat-covered monster you were prior to your bucket experience. The amount of water you save is remarkable. This little fact was especially helpful regarding water conservation as we only had running water about once a week. The taps were left on and every time someone heard the water flowing out and hitting the bottom of the sink, everyone ran to the faucets with their buckets and large empty water jugs in an attempt to horde as much water as possible for the following waterless days. Large water jugs were available in abundance as the tap water was unsafe to drink so all the students needed to pay extra to purchase their own clean, bottled water.

I suppose at this time I should begin to discuss the University’s academics. I will talk about them in the best of my ability but I have to clearly state that I am sure the experience we received differed greatly from the experience actually students of the university receive. I hear it is actually a highly respected university with interesting, engaging professors, and challenging classes. However, this was not my experience. The eight of us did not attend classes with the rest of the full time students but we instead had small lectures on a number of different topics where we were the only students making up the class. The lecture topics included:

*Aquatic Resource Management

*Land Based Pollution in Dar es Salaam

*History of Nature Conservation in Africa/Tanzania

*Research Ethics, Environmental Law and Policymaking

*Social Science Research Methodology; Coastal People, Social Organization and Production Systems

*Background of Biodiversity in Tanzania

*Impact of Economic Development and Tourism on Natural Environment and Human Settlements

*Alternative Energy Technologies in Tanzania

As you can see, we attempted to cover a wide range of topics in a short period of time, just about a week. Each lecture lasted approximately two hours and each was given by a different professor who was supposedly an expert in the particular topic. Part of the problem could have potentially been the language barrier between us American students and the professors who obviously had to teach in English otherwise we would understand nothing. However, I am not sure this is true because I am told the majority of classes at the university are already often taught in English. Because of this, I am going to blame the apparent difference in teaching styles and purposes of education.

They teach in monotone. Rote memorization is key. They promote learning what is taught but not necessarily learning how to think about what is taught and then turning that information into something new and inspired.

I am so happy to say Skidmore’s motto is “Creative Thought Matters”!

Coolest looking building on campus.


Intensely loved “wifi tree”. I think trees here in Africa have magical powers.


I come home in less than four weeks!

See you all soon!

xxoxox ~Fatma

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