The Perks of Living in the Middle East

  1. History

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No matter where you are, there is history on every corner. Not just “oh this happened 200 years ago…” more like “back in the days of the first major civilizations in history over a few thousand years ago…”

Amazing architecture surrounds you, wherever you go.

  1. Scenery:

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Camping trips in the desert are amazing, and oasis cities are very relaxing. Sand boarding is amazing and riding a jeep up and down sand tunes is probably one of the best thrills anyone will experience.

  1. Food:

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Great coffee can be found anywhere you go! Also, shwarma is a staple and can be found at any restaurant or street vendor.

  1. Activities:

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Huka is inexpensive and better than anything you can find in the U.S.

Inshallah and Ma3lish is a life philosophy. So if something doesn’t happen immediately, that’s OK. Take your time and enjoy life each day, stuff will get done in its own time.

  1. Weather:

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It is always warm, you only need clothing for nice sunny weather and don’t have to worry about packing winter clothes.

  1. Friendship:

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Everyone is very friendly and social. Also, when someone calls you a friend, they mean it! Friendships are important in the Middle East.

– Eric Boscan, Study Abroad Assistant


Coping with Returning Home

After three months of living in Alexandria, Egypt, I remember the flood of emotions that overcame me when I returned home. I was filled with an overwhelming mixture of relief, excitement, and nostalgia. The expectation of reverse culture shock was looming over me and I remember prepping myself for the readjustment of my old daily routines.

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The symptoms of retuning home were subtler then I expected. I was more critical of the way people dressed in the United States than back in Egypt. I craved certain foods due to a lack of nutrients from my diet abroad, and felt sick sometimes. I noticed that I had moments of severe nostalgia and longed to be back with people that I had met while I was abroad. However as time progressed, there were a few steps that helped me cope with the symptoms of returning home:

  1. Stay in contact with the people in your host country. Adding my old program guides and host country friends to my social media helped me feel more connected to Egypt and the events that were happening there after I had left. I was able to keeps those bonds and feel connected to the people that I had met abroad.
  1. Reconnect with your friends from your study abroad program. Going out with friends who went on my program helped me cope with adjusting socially back home. We would go out to middle eastern restaurants and enjoy hookah and Arabic coffee on late nights and recollect stories from our experiences in Egypt and discuss how we felt similar experiences coming back home.
  1. Enjoy your surroundings and live in the moment. Going out with friends and enjoying activities helps you get reacquainted with your hometown and life after studying abroad. This can present the silver linings of being home and new adventures that await you in you own backyard.
  1. Keep traveling, and satisfy the feeling of wanderlust by going on small trips with friends.
  1. Seek advice from your study abroad advisor or professor. Talk about the experience of being back home and ask how you can use this experience in your academics and career opportunities.

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Studying abroad was an amazing experience, but coming back home was a challenge. If you ever feel that reverse culture shock is getting the best of you, just take a moment, take a deep breath and know that others have been in your shoes before.

-Eric Boscan, Study Abroad Assistant

Completely Unprepared

So you want to climb the Roof of Africa…

This is the true story of how a group of six extremely unprepared wanafunzi (students) managed to *spoiler alert* summit Mt. Kilimanjaro.

A step-by-step guide

  1. Go to a full moon party on a sandbank off the coast of Stone Town, Zanzibar the night before you are supposed to head to Moshi.  Trust me, you’ll feel great the next morning!

    And go SCUBA diving before the party!
  2. Actually wake up on time to catch your 7:00am ferry
  3. Realize that you still need to pack before you leave for the ferry terminal
  4. Get to the ferry in just enough time, thankful you bought your ticket yesterday
  5. After arriving in Dar es Salaam, talk your way into reducing the cost of a taxi to 20,000/= (Tanzanian shillings) to the bus station, arguing that it’s only a few miles away and that you could walk there
  6. Ride in the taxi for a half hour, realize you could NOT have walked there
  7. Arrive at the “bus terminal”, a sandlot with a bunch of buses and find one that is heading to Moshi, Tanzania
  8. Realize the bus you will be on for the next 12 hours has no bathroom and no air conditioning
  9. Listen to 12 hours of loud Tanzanian music videos and violent movies
  10. Text the Kilimanjaro climbing company you are trekking with that you will arrive in Moshi within the next hour
  11. Get a text back telling you that you weren’t supposed to go to Moshi, the office is in Arusha
  12. Thank your respective god that your bus is also going to Arusha
  13. Arrive in Arusha at 11pm and meet a guy with a sign and a bus with your name on it
  14. Get chipsy mayai (fries and eggs) at the one restaurant in Arusha since you haven’t eaten all day.  Apparently, it’s “the place to be!”

    No really, it says so right on the building
  15. Pass out upon arriving at the company’s office, luckily they have some beds you can sleep on for free!
  16. Wake up the next day, hang out at the office, then grab a daladala (public transport) to a local rental place because you have no hiking gear.  You’ve been living in Zanzibar for four months, what use would you have for warm clothes?

    The warmest thing I needed before was my black rash guard for swimming
  17. Realize that Arusha is a lot colder than Zanzibar and that you are extremely unprepared for this climb since you are cold before you even start
  18. Head back to the office for lunch, accidentally eat all the food that was prepared for the whole staff because you thought it was just for the six of you.  Zanzibari portions all around!
  19. Notice a large group of people outside the office
  20. Ask who they are
  21. Be told that those 21 people are your porters up the mountain.  They’re going to carry all of your stuff.  Why 21 porters are needed is still a mystery to me.
  22. Next day: leave at 8am to head to Kilimanjaro National Park.  It takes over three hours since you need to stop and let all the porters grab breakfast
  23. Arrive at the mountain, woo!  All the stress is over with!
  24. Haha, NOPE.
  25. Be told that your residence permits aren’t valid in the park since they’re stamped into your passport and you could easily forge a stamp (okay?).  You owe at least another $1300 in park fees
  26. Argue with park employees for an hour about how you ARE a resident
  27. Call your study abroad program’s academic director (who is supposed to be free of you by now – the program ended days ago) and ask for a HUGE favor – to have a different copy of your residence permit sent to Kilimanjaro.  Now.
  28. She tells you that today is a public holiday and that the immigration office that has the permits is closed
  29. Luckily, the park will let you start the climb, and informs you that you need to be willing to pay that extra money when you get back down the mountain if your permit doesn’t come through
  30. Start the climb, three hours later than scheduled

    Our “before” picture at the base of Kili
  31. Make it through a beautiful forest hike and emerge at the first hut of your stay: Mandara
  32. Sign in with your name and occupation…

    I am a tryer of new things, traveling with two explorers, an aspiring witch doctor, a pirate, and a prophet
  33. Pass out on your bed still kinda stressing over the last few days, but no worry, you’re on the mountain now, everything else can wait for five days!
  34. Wake up early the next morning (Day 2 of the climb) for tea and to start hiking.  You come out of the forest and into smaller shrubbery, but still very green.  The second hut, and your home for the next two days: Horombo

    The view from Horombo – beautiful above the clouds!
  35. Wake up even earlier the next morning (Day 3) to watch the sun rise while sitting above the clouds.  Absolutely breathtaking!
  36. Take a small hike, but ascend 1,000 feet, to Zebra Rock to help with acclimatization.  Come back to Horombo for the night to watch the sunset, equally as breathtaking

    Zebra Rock – aptly named. The colors are this way from a lot of mineral deposits that drip down the rock
  37. Start hiking early (Day 4) to reach Kibo Hut by the early afternoon.  Not as homey as the other two huts, but you’re not allowed to stay the night there.  Unpack your sleeping bag and try to get as much rest as possible before wake up at 11:30pm.
  38. Yeah, PM
  39. Have a very light “breakfast” and don all the clothes you brought, including your “If you can’t climb it, drink it” Kilimanjaro beer shirt
  40. Start your summit attempt at 12:30am, totally in the dark
  41. Cry a little bit at how beautiful the stars are up this high (about 16,000 feet above sea level, take that Colorado!)
  42. Are told that the hike to the summit will take 4-5 hours
  43. Take 8 hours to reach the summit, barely breathing
  44. Get severe altitude sickness (headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness), but stay up there long enough for the whole group to take a picture

    I take your ’14er and raise you 5,000 feet to 19,341 feet above sea level
  46. Go get a Kilimanjaro beer to celebrate.
  47. And have your residence permits work, so you didn’t have to pay more

Asante sana kwa kusoma!

Kim, DUSA Blogger

The Post You’ve Been Waiting For: Foodies in Zanzibar


So if you know me, you know I love everything about food: the smell, restaurants, cooking, and especially eating.  I know that once I come back from Zanzibar, after friends and family tell me how tan I’m getting (which is pretty tan if I must say so myself), they’ll ask me about what I learned to cook.  Meals in Zanzibar are different than anywhere else I have visited, so I thought it would be cool to, instead of just saying the food I’m eating, to take you all through the steps of a Zanzibari meal.

Firstly, you are invited to a friend’s home for dinner.  Dinner is eaten pretty late here, anywhere between 7 and 10 pm (that’s 1 and 4 usiku in Swahili time), so you show up around seven thirty because Swahili time is never on-time.  The most important thing is that you take your shoes off when you enter – in Islam, shoes are considered dirty and shouldn’t be worn in the house.  Also, if this is a formal occasion, you should dress for it.  That means full headscarf and makeup (and for the mzungus, makeup to make you look Arabic).  For Eid al-Adha, a Muslim holiday celebrating the end of hajj (the pilgrimmage to Mecca), I had my makeup (over)done by my host mom.  See below.

Anyway, back to the meal.  You need to greet your host with a handshake (people use the “limp fish” handshake technique or just a low high-five basically) and you hold on until you’ve finished multiple rounds of greetings.  There’s no appetizers set out, no glass of wine (Muslims don’t drink alcohol), just a floor mat and pillows or if you’re lucky, a couch.  Eventually, you hear “Chakula tayari!” (food’s ready!) and you head for the dining room.  You’d expect a dining room like at home with miscellaneous paintings on the walls and a table and chairs in the middle.  Wrong.  There’s an eating mat spread out on the floor with some plastic on top for food spillage, which will definitely happen.  No chairs, no table; you sit on the floor cross-legged around all your friends and family.

The food spread out before you is like nothing you’ve ever seen: breads, beans, some veggie things, something that looks like a fat pyramid, mounds and mounds of rice, potatoes (the potatoes here are incredibly sweet), fruits, and that one thing you know you love – chapatti.  Chapatti is a wonderful food, it’s a flat bread that’s buttery and flaky and I almost don’t want to know how it’s made because I know it’s going to be extremely unhealthy.  You do a second count of the people in the room and look at the amount of food for those people and think that there’s no way that double the amount of people could finish the meal in front of you.  Wrong again.

Those breads: chapatti, coconut bread, and boflo (bread loaves)
Beans: I hated beans before I came here, now I love them.  Still have no idea how to make them.
Veggies: peas in a curry coconut sauce, pilau which is a soup with potatoes, meats, peppers, onions, tomatoes, and whatever else you want basically
Fat Pyramids: they’re called samosas and they’re incredible.  They’re usually come in beef or veggie form, and they’re basically the meat and veggies wrapped up in filo dough, similar to what they use to make baklava in Greek recipes
Rice: a staple of a Zanzibari diet.

One of the first things I learned in Zanzibar was to always serve yourself, don’t let a Zanzibari do it because you will get your dinner plate covered in rice with the top of the mound rising about six inches off the plate (and that’s no exaggeration), and then you get pilau and other stuff on top of it.

Oh, and did I mention that Zanzibaris don’t use silverware?  It is common and accepted to eat with your hands.  It is both a cultural and religious belief – that Mungu (God) made us to eat with our hands and he gave our hands something that makes the food taste sweet that you lose if you use silverware.  My first time eating with my hands was an absolute disaster, there was rice everywhere but in my belly.  I’ve picked up on some of the techniques now though, and I can almost finish a plate like a Zanzibari.

So you’ve been eating with your hands all these foods you’ve never seen before, and are ready to birth your food baby when your host grabs your plate and you think you’re finished.  Haha, NOPE.  An equally huge portion of rice, pilau, meats, and everything else gets piled back on your plate.  Your expression just drops as you realize that you might actually throw up if you keep eating.  A helpful phrase is “nimeshiba”, meaning “I am full”, but that actually means nothing to Zanzibaris and you have to eat more food anyway.  And once you’re actually done and there’s no more food to be piled on your plate, it’s time for chai!  Chai (communal name for all tea in Kiswahili) here is delicious and spicy and served extremely hot, which is great on super hot and humid days!

And by the way, cooking is done on the floor as well.  So hope your leg muscles are ready for a bunch of squats!

Anyway, once you’re finished with absolutely everything, it’s time to head back home, so you thank your host with goodbyes that are longer than the greetings, put your shoes back on, and pass out on your bed from all the food you ate.  Time to do it again tomorrow night!

Asante sana kwa kusoma!

Kim, DUSA Blogger

Kristen’s Blog: Arusha, Tanzania

Take a look at Kristen’s blog as she studies abroad in Arusha, Tanzania. Aside from being fantastically written and interesting, her blog is named after a Toto song and her background theme is the Lion King. All in all, those three aspects make up an irresistible package and we’d love to share it with you!

A Wedding Fundraiser!



Having been living in Zanzibar for over a month now, I’m starting to really use the language and learn a lot more about the Muslim culture here.  But I still constantly screw up with Kiswahili, hence the title of this post.  I guess I’m sort of tri-lingual now with English, Spanish, and Kiswhaili, so it would make sense that I get the three confused sometimes.  It’s been difficult learning the language, especially since I haven’t been truly introduced to a new language since I was about seven years old.


Luckily I don’t need the language to see the fish!

Probably the most fun we’ve had with Kiswahili are the mistakes we’ve made.  In my Kiswahili oral exam, I spoke a full sentence of Spanish to my mwalimu (teacher) before I realized I wasn’t in either English or Kiswahili.  I gasped, covered my mouth, and apologized over and over again.  My mwalimu thought it was absolutely hilarious, and I still passed, so that’s a good thing!  I’ve made many other not-so-great mistakes though, and so have the rest of the wanafunzi.  See below:

Trying to say: I’ve had a good day (responding to a greeting)
Actually said: Banana

Trying to say: I’m drinking coffee
Actually said: I’m taking a poop

Trying to say: Brush your teeth before you go to bed
Actually said: Brush your teeth before sex

Friend trying to say: Hold him back
Friend actually said: Grab his butt

Friend understood: My husband is doing laundry
What was actually said: My husband is dead


I love the strong emphasis on language learning with my program, it really allows so much more to open up to you versus just relying on someone else to speak English, which is completely possible in Stone Town, but I feel so much like a tourist that I want to use Kiswahili whenever I can.  People tend to really open up to you when they see that you’re really trying to learn the language.  Combine that with dressing appropriately (long skirt or pants, loose-fitting, shoulders covered), and conversations will carry on until the sun sets.  That’s definitely a defining part of Zanzibari culture, always taking the time to greet people.  This is what is meant by “pole pole” culture (pronounced pol-ay.  In Kiswahili, all letters are pronounced).  Learning more about culture leads to religion, which has huge influences on the daily lives of the Zanzibaris.  Muslim culture is not as well known in America, so I thought I’d break a bit of it down.


One of the first cultural differences I noticed getting off the plane in Zanzibar was all the headscarves that women wear.  The only time I saw someone’s hair in public was if she was white (aka not Zanzibari).  Women are generally covered from neckline to ankles in loose-fitting clothing with a headscarf to top it all off.  Depending on how religious the woman is, she will either just wear her headscarf when she leaves the house or she will add a baibui to it, which is the face covering with a slit for her eyes (just don’t call it a buibui, that’s a spider, and side note: the spiders in Zanzibar are MASSIVE OH MY GOD).

When women leave the house, many wear a black overcoat, so walking around outside, you wouldn’t think that these women have much style or care too much about what they wear.  But once you’re inside a home or office, everything changes.  The baibui comes off, the overcoat comes off, and the most beautiful, colorful, fun fabrics are revealed.  Women have such an amazing choice of fabric in Zanzibar – I recently had my first experience at the market which if I were to describe it in one word, that word would be “balaa”.  Go look that one up.  But that’s a story for another day.

Anyway, I love the fabric choices women can have here – and women are very proud of their clothes (I mean, I would be too).  They’re also very loose-fitting and flowy, one part because women aren’t supposed to show the shape of their bodies, and one part because it’s too effing hot in Africa to wear tight clothes.  Your body is only for your husband, and he’s the only one who needs to see it.  And by covering most of your body, you also protect yourself from the harsh African sun.  Some of the wanafunzi (students) have taken to wearing them in public, and we’ve gotten comments on how beautiful we look, another indicator of how much headscarves are respected here.  And I kind of like the look on me too…



I consider myself lucky that I’m not studying abroad in Saudi Arabia, where the call to prayer is so loud it wakes you up at 5:30 am every day to make sure you don’t miss your morning prayers.  In Stone Town, I usually hear the call to prayer while I’m awake, but it’s not so loud that it would disturb any non-Muslim.  My new favorite study spot is this rooftop bar that overlooks the ocean, and the call to prayer is a bit louder there since the tower is about 200 feet away from the bar.  But the sunset over the ocean is totally worth it.


Yup.  I win for best study spot, sorry Colorado


Last week I was able to see the beginning of a big part of Islam – making the hajj.  The hajj is something that every Muslim must do if he or she is financially and physically able, and that is to make a pilgrimage to Mecca.  The trip is full of religious understanding  and Muslims are considered very pure when they return.  Our group of wanafunzi visited a director of our program who left for hajj a few days later.  She invited us all to her home and we presented her with a new headscarf she can wear on her journey.  While excited, she knows that there is a small chance she will never come back from hajj.  Every year, with the massive crowds at Mecca, people, especially smaller people, are trampled to death, and it is recommended that before making hajj you get your affairs in order just in case something were to happen.  When she told me this, I thought about how morbid it was and why anyone would want to risk a terrible death in the name of Islam.  Then I caught myself.  This same kind of thing happens at St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican when a new pope is elected.  This same thing happens every year at Walmart during Black Friday, a “holiday” that celebrates the accumulation of material goods.  I later was very upset with myself for mentally criticizing someone’s way of life before thinking about how my culture views similar things.


The only part of Islam I’m not the biggest fan of is the restriction on eating or drinking things that are considered “dirty”.  This includes consuming alcohol or drugs as well as consuming pork.  And with the population of Zanzibar being more than 99% Muslim, pork is a rarity on the island.  So yes, I sincerely miss pulled pork, pork in the crockpot, pork on the grill, and I definitely miss bacon.

Also, y’all seemed to like my dolphin video, so here’s another video of our group of wanafunzi painting the side wall of one of our accommodations in Mangapwani, Zanzibar.  Enjoy!

Asante sana kwa kusoma!

(Thanks for reading!)

Kim, DUSA Blogger

I am NOT a Mzungu


Before I came to East Africa, I would have greeted you with “Jambo!” like in Mean Girls.  Now I know better – Jambo is a tourist greeting and is not proper Kiswahili.  The proper way is to say “Hujambo”, to which you respond “Sijambo”.  Or if you are greeting multiple people at once, like now, you use “Hamjambo”.  The more you know!

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The view from the beach only a 5 minute walk from where I live

So I’ve been living in Zanzibar for some time now, and it is finally starting to sink in that I’m really here and will be here for the next four months.  When it really sunk in though, was when I saw the stars.  The night sky in Zanzibar is absolutely stunning and has almost brought me to tears on more than one occasion.  I am living in a very dark part of the world, away from a lot of development, so the number of stars I can see is incredible since there’s very little light pollution.  And being in the southern hemisphere, the night sky looks different than it does at home.  When I finally had time to just look at the stars, that was when it really hit me that I’m actually in Africa and this beautiful island is mine to explore for four whole months.

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The moon (look really hard!  Just left of the palm) in Paje

Since I arrived here my days have been packed with intensive Kiswahili instruction (4 hours a day plus homework!), special lectures about the culture and expectations of the program, and water time.  After a few days in Stone Town, the main town on the west side of Zanzibar, we headed to Paje (pronounced pah-jay), a resort village on the east side of the island.  This was when I realized how small Zanzibar actually is – the drive from one side to another only took 45 minutes.  The beach at Paje is gorgeous and the tides are incredible.  Low tide can have you walking out over a mile until you see the ocean, and at night, you can see bio luminescent plankton washed up during low tide.

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These photos were taken 6 hours apart at high and low tide

While in Paje, we were assigned to visit a local village, about a five minute walk from our hotel, and my group’s personal assignment was to learn about local employment opportunities the locals have.  Using as much of the Kiswahili we had learned as possible, we walked right up to people and started asking.  One conversation we had really made me rethink the entire tourism industry.  We talked to a man not much older than us who worked for an excursion company (kitesurfing is very popular in Paje), and while he loves having tourists come and spend money, he isn’t the biggest fan of the new all-inclusive resorts that have been popping up on the island lately.  These resorts make their money by keeping guests at the resort.  The guests almost never leave and spend money in the community, and business has gone down in the past few years in the island.  He also made a good point about visitors going back home saying that they went to Zanzibar but they never talked to the locals or learned about the culture or did anything but stay at their hotel so did they really see Zanzibar?  All I know is, I’m going to think twice about booking an all-inclusive vacation in the future.

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We were able to see the poorer side of Paje, just a few minutes walk from our hotel.  It’s incredible the stark difference between the resorts surrounding this village.

On our last day in Paje, we rose before the sun to leave our hotel at 5:30am (which is 11:30 usiku in Swahili time) to head to Kizimkazi, about a 20 minute drive north.  We arrived at the beach as the sun was rising and piled into two wooden boats so as not to harm the creatures we were following.  As we headed to deeper water, we were told to be ready to jump in the water at any second in case there was a sighting so we all got our fins, mask, and snorkel ready (and in my case, my GoPro camera as well).  We heard a “GO GO GO” and we rushed into the surprisingly warm water and I stuck my camera in front of me so I didn’t miss anything.  After the bubbles cleared, I saw some dark figures swimming below me, so I followed their path, and before I knew it, I was swimming less than twenty feet away from a pod of bottlenose dolphins!  It was incredible to get that close to a wild dolphin and they were so peaceful and strong and just beautiful.  I didn’t even know that it was possible to swim with wild dolphins – I thought it was just a Discovery Cove thing.  I took plenty of footage, which you can check out below!

This was absolutely incredible.  The dolphins weren’t afraid of us, they were just hanging out with some small humans watching.

I had a truly African experience a few days ago.  We had an assignment to take what’s called a daladala to different places in Zanzibar and our project was at some old Arabic ruins next to the ocean.  Those were interesting and all, but the really interesting thing was the daladala ride.  Daladalas are basically open-air buses you can take for 300/= (about $0.18) but they pack you in more than sardines, so good luck if you’re even the least bit claustrophobic.  But people are more than happy to move over to accommodate someone else so they don’t have to crouch on the ground.  We ended up sitting in each other’s laps (good thing there were four of us).  Deciding to study Kiswahili on the daladala was actually a good idea because many of the people on the daladala wanted to help us out, especially when we were asked to pay twice.  The kindness of the Zanzibaris is without end, and I’m grateful to each and every one that has helped me in my short time in Zanzibar so far, and I’m sure I will owe them big time by the end of my time here.


This is a daladala
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The inside of the daladala.  This was not even close to how packed we were on the way to the ruins.

And lastly, feel such a sense of belonging to this town and my group of sixteen.  We are recognized walking on the streets of Stone Town and asked how our Kiswahili language class is going and if we’ve learned anything new since we last saw each other.  And one specific experience was when I was at the site of the ruins.  I finally learned how to tie my khanga (a single piece of fabric you tie around your waist and wear as a skirt), and when I walked up to the beach bar, one of the women working there told me “You tie your khanga just like a Zanzibari!” and that was the moment that I realized that I’m no longer a mzungu.



The long yellow skirt I’m wearing is a khanga

My first few weeks here have already been unforgettable, and I’m really coming to understand the meaning of “experiential learning”, and not just having lectures.  Stone Town is beautiful and has so much history, which I will be posting updates about regularly.

As always, thanks for reading,

Baadaye! (until later)

Kim, DUSA Blogger

Waka Waka

I now have just one week until I leave for study abroad! In just one week I’ll be living right next to the ocean (not so different from home, but it’s a different ocean) and I’ll be 9,000 miles from Denver on the beautiful island of Zanzibar, off the coast of Tanzania, Africa.  I’ve watched some of my friends leave already, and this is just making me more excited! And with the juniors leaving, it’s left me with the start of the abroad blogs! My favorite procrastination technique during the fall is starting, and I still can’t believe that it’s starting now!

Really the only thing I’m not looking forward to is the flight there. I love to travel, to see new places, meet new people, and try new things, but I detest the actual traveling part of traveling. Sitting down for a long period of time is like my own personal torture, and combining that with airports, sitting next to people I don’t know, and feeling gross from not showering makes traveling the actual worst. My longest flight is from Washington DC to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, a trip of about 13 hours. And that doesn’t count the flight from Boston to DC, Ethiopia to Zanzibar, and layovers. I leave at 6am on August 21st and get in to Zanzibar at 3pm on August 22nd, local time. But I know it will all be worth it when I land and see that crystal clear ocean!

With that, since I get asked so often both “Why Zanzibar?”, and “Where’s Zanzibar?”, I thought I’d break down some simple demographics of the island. This is one of the struggles of studying abroad in Africa – nobody seems to know where exactly you’re going (and to be honest, I had never heard of Zanzibar until I applied for the program there).

Probably the biggest reason I continually am asked questions about Zanzibar is that no one from the University of Denver has ever studied abroad there. Being the first DU student to go on my program is so amazing, and I’m excited to have the opportunity to pave the way for other students to study there in the future. But why Zanzibar in particular? I’ve done the Europe thing, I’ve done the Australia thing, and I’ve done the Central America thing. Each trip was life-changing (and I mean that literally, I came back a different person than when I left) and breathtaking and I learned so much, but I wanted to travel someplace completely off the map, someplace I knew I would probably never have a chance to visit again. And the places I’ve visited have not been very different than what I’ve grown up knowing. Since my first tour at DU, I knew I wanted to study abroad in Africa. I wanted to live somewhere with a completely different culture than my own, and also somewhere I could study marine biology, which has been a passion of mine since I was a little girl. When the official packing list for my program stated that I was required to have my own mask, snorkel, and fins because I would be in the water every single day, I knew I found the place for me!

First question: Where is Zanzibar?


Second Question: Is it even a country?

Not quite – In 1964, the island of Zanzibar joined with the nation of Tanganyika to form what we now know as Tanzania. So no, it’s not its own country, but Zanzibar does have its own flag, much like the US states have their own flags! Below is the flag, and then my copy of it I painted onto my sorority letters (of course!). The Zanzibar flag, while it is for the island, incorporates the flag of Tanzania in the upper left-hand corner to show their merge with Tanzania.

pic082014-06-21 11.55.37 - Copy

Third Question: How big is it?

Zanzibar is only 1,023 square miles. That number means nothing to me, so I looked it up in comparison to what I do know – US states! To put it in perspective, Rhode Island, the smallest US state, is 1,212 square miles. So in conclusion, the island is TINY. Which is going to be awesome, because that should mean a constant sea breeze, right?

Fourth Question: (I’ve actually been asked this) Is that where they speak the clicky language?

While I am traveling to a third-world country, it doesn’t mean that there is no development. Although the population of Zanzibar is more than 99% Muslim, the three main languages are Kiswahili, English, and Arabic. What’s Kiswahili? It’s the same as what we call Swahili, but the word Swahili encompasses the entire culture, not just the language. However, the indigenous music is this awesome combination of African and Arabic influences, and I’m excited to listen to it live – but for now I have to settle for YouTube:

Fifth Question: Do you have to wear one of those things that covers your head?

There is a large amount of Arabic influence on the island, and is reflective in the people and the architecture around Zanzibar. Native women can choose to cover themselves fully if they wish, but it is not required of visitors. However, visitors are strongly recommended to be more covered than what Americans are used to. This basically eliminates my entire summer wardrobe: sundresses, shorts, and tank tops. But it has given me a great opportunity to buy some new clothes! So I subsequently went out and bought a few maxi skirts, loose-fitting shirts, and the coolest pair of pants I have ever owned and probably ever will own. See below.

2014-07-14 18.07.20

Sixth Question: Anything interesting ever happen there?

In my perusing of the internet for fun facts about Zanzibar, I came across this little tidbit: Freddie Mercury was born in Zanzibar. Um, yeah, THE Freddie Mercury. Having been a Queen fan for as long as I’ve been a music fan, I’m extremely excited to study in the birthplace of such an amazing person and someone who was part of a generation of music that I sincerely wish I was alive to see.


Seventh Question: Is it safe for Americans to be there?

Now this is the question I’ve gotten from every parent I’ve talked to about studying abroad in Zanzibar. I always reassure them that my university would not send me to somewhere that wasn’t safe. The worst thing I have to worry about is pick-pocketing. One of my biggest fears, though, is offending the culture of the natives. A big point my program made was that the two biggest complaints they get about their American students is that they dress inappropriately and drink too much. The absolute last thing I want to do is offend someone, and have that be the lasting impression of all Americans. And being a white person, I will be a minority (something I have never experienced), and I don’t need to draw negative attention to myself. I have traveled twice as a student ambassador with People to People International with the goal of changing viewpoints of Americans. I hope I succeeded then, and I hope to succeed during my four months in Africa.

I had such a fun time compiling all this info and I learned so much, so I hope you did to!

Thanks for reading!
Kim, DUSA blogger

Works Cited


Thank you, Sonia, for sharing your post from this past July’s Mandela Day in South Africa.  What an incredible legacy he has left for our world, and we are so glad that you got to experience it first hand.  Read Sonia’s blog post here:

“I am honored to have spent Mandela day participating in such a great tradition. Though I am excited to continue my service over the next several months within this community, I am all the more excited to bring this legacy into my existence back home as well. This tradition is certainly a 67 minutes well-served, but it is even greater to know that it represents a legacy of equality, forgiveness, and strength that is very much in effect today.”

Mural put together made by Khayelitsha students.
Mural put together made by Khayelitsha students.

Just Go with it: Adventures in Senegal

Every day is an adventure in Senegal. Nothing is certain, but somehow everything turns out right in the end. With a little help and a lot of trust, anything is possible. But you’ve got to roll with the punches, make fast friends, and hold on tight to your confidence.

Here is a typical itinerary for a day trip from Ndangalma to Toubacouta:

  1. Start shortly after sunrise. Get on the back of your host father’s or brother’s or neighbor’s motorbike. Ride to the main road as the moto bucks over the potholes and rocks in the unpaved road. (15 minutes)sunrise SN
  2. Arrive at the main road. Wait for the bus. Tune out while your host father/brother/neighbor strikes up a conversation with a stranger. (20 minutes)
  3. When the bus arrives, find a seat and try not to hit anyone with your bag. The stranger will sit next to you. Try to be comfortable and not freaked out.
  4. Don’t bother trying to get fresh air from outside. Your own bus is spewing blue exhaust. (1 hour)pikine kaar
  5. Arrive in Djourbel. The stranger exits the bus with you, and directs you to another stranger, who is apparently now in charge of watching over you, as the last one was. Realize belatedly that you should thank him for accompanying you. He helps you find a taxi, which you will share with a woman who clearly knows what’s going on but isn’t telling you.
  6. Note the taxi’s air freshener. Realize that you had actually already passed the garage on the bus route but no one told you. (30 minutes) Pay for the woman who shared the cab with you. Remain confused as to who she is. Thank the taxi driver.air freshener
  7. Find a sept-place (a beat up old station wagon with seven seats) and negotiate a price. (10 minutes)
  8. Wait for the sept-place to fill up with large women in flowing boubous and old men with coughs. (1 hour)
  9.  Realize that you got the worst seat in the car: your head hits the window at every bump in the road. The roads are nothing but bumps. The man next to you is trying to stretch his long legs and arms, ignoring you completely. Go to your happy place. Give up after a particularly strong jolt leaves your face print on the window. Try to fall asleep. (30 minutes)
  10. Wake up disoriented with a piercing headache. Try to figure out if you’re still going in the right direction. Use broken Wolof to ask the driver, who just laughs and winks. ( 4 hours)
  11. Arrive at garage in Kaolack. Exit the sept-place only to be swept into the arms of a handsome moto driver who tells you that you are at the wrong garage. Nothing is going according to plan. (3.5 seconds)
  12. Somehow he convinces you to let him drive you to the correct garage. Pay him 500FCFA, climb awkwardly onto the back of his moto (you’ve been in an ankle-length wrap skirt this entire time), and hope for the best. (1 minute)
  13. He is a horrible driver. Hold onto his waist for dear life and bury your face in his back. You are paralyzed, muttering, “bad, bad, bad” under your breath as he turns his head and waves to a friend. The moto bucks as a speeding Renault rushes past. Feel embarrassed because you had to hike up your skirt and your knees are showing. (20 excruciating minutes)
  14. Actually arrive at the garage even though you believed he was planning to take you somewhere for tea. Thank him, and decline his marriage proposal.
  15. Fight through a crowd of vendors to reach a car bound for Toubacouta. Negotiate for a new sept-place. Realize too late that you have once again been relegated to the crappy scrunched seat in the back. Consider crying. (15 minutes)
  16. The sept-place has made great progress down a smooth stretch of road. Your car stops to help a similar vehicle which won’t start. Smoke is pouring from under the hood. Your driver finally gives up and continues the drive. (30 minutes)
  17. Hit the worst stretch of road yet. Stare at the ground, visible through the hole in the floor by your left foot. Contemplate walking the rest of the way. Fall asleep instead. (1 hour)moto
  18. Wake up because the woman next to you is shaking you on the shoulder and saying toubab over and over. Get up! It’s your stop. The other six passengers wait patiently for you to get oriented, only grumbling a little as you clumsily climb around them out of the car. (5 minutes)
  19. Walk aimlessly around the town until your friend gets off work. Eat chocolate mousse, laugh about your day, and stretch your cramped muscles. Prepare for a relaxing weekend.
  20. The sunset over the river serves as a reminder for why you took the trip in the first place.baobab

In a way, this trip was representative of my entire semester in Senegal. I was usually confused to some degree, I was always a little tired, often uncomfortable, and never fully in control. I had to rely on good luck, the kindness of strangers, and my own ingenuity. That combination makes even the smallest things an adventure.

Mollie Doerner- DU Study Abroad Peer Advisor

Wrapping Up The Goodbyes

What will you be doing in a week?

Oh!  How interesting!!!

That was in response to my imaginary friend.

I’m joking.  Maybe.

In reality a lot of you will be living your daily lives.  Some interesting things may be going on.  The students and staff of DU will be participating in the studying, taking, and grading of finals.  Goodbyes for winter break will take place and they’ll be joining the loving arms of their families and friends back in their other homes.  That’s the interesting thing about college.  You have two homes.  Two places filled with people who love you.  Every so often you leave one to go to the other.

In a week I’ll be doing the same thing.  I’ll be leaving my current home and entering the arms of my family and friends.  I don’t get to return to this home though.  It will be by official goodbye to South Africa.  To UKZN – PMB.  To Petrie Hags, home group, and room 2A.

To the people.

While I’m excited to be returning home, there are things that I’ll miss. I’ll make a top ten list not in any specific order.

1.    Food

Debonairs, Rib Co, Nandos, and Steers are the fast food places that I love.  Aero candy bar, Heaven ice cream, iron brew, and the biscuits are the sweets I’ll miss.  Chips with the seasoning put on it and samoosas are also things I am sad to leave.

2.    People

I strive on people connections.  I love human interactions.

3.    Purple Trees

The Internet calls them Jacaranda trees.  I just think they’re beautiful.  When I grow up and get my own home I want to plant one in my back yard.

4.    Monkeys

No one here likes them because they’re annoying.  It’s an American equivalent to a raccoon they say.  I think they’re entertaining to watch.

5.    Home group

Otherwise known as bible study, cell group, or connect group.  The biggest reason I’ll miss it is for the people, but it was also my Jesus time.  I got to really connect with God through home group.  It was easily one of the highlights of my week.

6.    Salvation Army

Another weekly highlight would be volunteering with my babies.  And yes I mean my babies.  I’m going to steal them all and take them home.  Okay, so I can’t do that.  Everyone keeps telling me that I’m so good with them and they love me and that I should take one home, so I want to.

7.    Petrie

The dorm I’m living in.  It has it’s own atmosphere about it.  The community is wonderful and it’s just a comforting place to be.

8.    Free laundry

We don’t get this at DU, or in America, okay.  It’s important to me to be able to wash my cloths for free.  That means that there were often broken machines, but hey, you get what you get.

9.    Being a complete adult

In America you’re fully an adult at 21.  In Africa it’s 18.  There are many perks that comes with that.

10. Being a ninja

Besides being a time lord, I’m a ninja in my free time.  In case you missed the story, I’m a time lord because my VISA says it was issued in 2015.  It’s only 2012 folks.  I’m a ninja because in order to get into the theatre department they have to thumb print you.  Yep, that’s right.  I place my thumb on a scanner before every class; it turns green and shows my name, thus unlocking the door.  Ninja status achieved. 

-Sarah Caulkins, DUSA Blogger

Mollie’s blog: Dakar, Senegal

“The guidebooks say to bring DEET and sunscreen and be prepared to say hello to everyone and eat with your hands and wear lightweight clothing and keep a positive attitude. That’s good advice. I’m glad I did all of those things. I’m glad I read through everything I got my hands on and absorbed all the information I possibly could, because it helped. But you should know that I was not prepared. I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into. For better or worse, it’s so much more.”  

Read (and see) more from Mollie here:

She is participating on the MSID Senegal study abroad program.

Why yes, I am American

Did you mistake me for a South African?  Of course you didn’t because everything from the way I talk to the backpack I choose to use shouts ‘American’.

Actually, I was told that my accent isn’t to bad in comparison to other American who have come to UKZN.  I’m also told that some of my actions, such as taking the mini bus system alone, is more ‘black’ than most of our black kids on campus.  Yet i’m a foreigner here, at times I forget it.  At some point I started saying things like, “keen”, “high boh”, “just now”, “now now”, “yeb boh”, “robot”, “varsity”, and many many more.  The lingo of the PMB South Africans has started to invade my brain.  My brain does a double take when I see a large crowd of white people.  Mainly because it’s not common.  We have white people, just not in large crowds.  Especially on my part of the campus at PMB.  I sense the first major part of culture shock when I get back to DU.  Ha

Despite my brains decision to pronounce ‘z’ as ‘zed’ and to say my ‘a’s more round, it is impossible to forget where i’m from.  I almost have more knowledge and pride for my home land than before I left it.  It’s a sad day when you realize that people in other countries know more about America than you do.  And that realization happens often for me.

Luckily, I never run out of conversations to have.  A lack of words isn’t a problem for me anyways, but now I can talk for hours and not even mention my own soul or life.  Literally hours.  I had a four hour talk with some friends about the food and politics in America.

American politics are an interesting topic here.  The only opinion i’ve heard is that someone thought the only reason Obama was voted into office is because he’s black.  Most people like Obama as well.  One friend saved my number in his phone as “Sarah Obama” because i’m American.  In general though, everyone is way to interesting in my opinion.  When I was little I was told that the only two touchy topics are religion and politics.  Clearly that’s not a problem here.  Which is TOTALLY fine with me because I often touch on ‘touchy’ topics during conversation anyways.

So, there are a lot of “the American in South Africa” stories, but that’s not why I’m writing this.  The inspiration for this post is as follows:

“Sarah, come here real quick.” – Jon (South African theatre friend)

 The two people start walking towards each other while has a look of complete concern on his face

“Are you okay?” – Jon

“Ya.  Why?” – Sarah

“I just want to give you a hug”

While embracing Jon whispers, “I hope you’re okay, I saw on facebook that ….. (mumbles that Sarah can’t understand) …”

By this point Sarah is very concerned.  What was posted to her facebook wall?  Who is hurt or dead?  What happened?!?!?!?!

With a confused look on her face, “What?” – Sarah

“9-11” – Jon

Moral of the story:  Always check the date before you leave your room incase it’s a monumental date in American history.  Then you don’t look like an idiot when receiving random hugs.

This sparked something in my soul.  Mainly it was sadness.  Sadness that a South African recognized and cared about the date before I did.  Sadness that only after 11 years I managed to lose the intensity of what happened that day.  Granted, I wasn’t living in New York and I didn’t know any one who was hurt or killed.  It was still a monumental event.  It was painful for many and it showed how our nation unites through all things.  Yes, America has it’s issues, but we are great as well.

Then I get an email from DU.  Memorial service for Alex Teves on September 12th.  He was a well loved DU grad student who was killed in the Batman Arvada shooting.  Once the shooting hit the news I got texts from about five different people asking how I was doing because they knew I was from Colorado.  Sadly I didn’t have the privilege to know Alex, but the email combined with the date of it being 9-11 reminded me that I love my home.  South Africa’s great, but i’m America through and true.

Why yes, I am American.

— Sarah Caulkins, DUSA Blogger

The following videos are dedication videos.  The one is well known and it’s dedicated to the United States of America.  The second was written, recorded, and produced by two students from Westminster, CO.  It’s a remembrance for the victims of the shooting.

It’s ‘plane’ and simple. Traveling is easy…

He said.  That’s what my dad told me on the way to the airport.  “Traveling is easy, you’ll be fine.”  While my trip wasn’t that bad, “easy” isn’t the word I would have used.  First of all, my dad hadn’t been spending the last five months preparing for this trip, doing chores for DU, UKZN, Interstudy, and Daniels Fund.  I had to email people like crazy and go to so many places.  The to-do list was crazy, and that’s not normal for simple traveling (although it is normal for study abroad students).  So, let’s just take a run through of my travels, shall we?
July 12th 2012:  11pm
Goodbye: United States of America.
Hello: South Africa.
I am currently sitting in DIA.  To my right is a cute young man, in a white polo, a few years younger than me on his phone.  In front of me there is a couple, both silent and on their computers (ouch).  A different couple on their phones, eating McDonalds (at least they’re talking).  And a woman with a carry-on bigger than I knew was allowed.  I found that I still fear airports.  Everything went smoothly, it took under fifteen minutes to get to my gate from the time I left my family.  But my soul is crinched sitting here.  I’m not sure why.  Maybe it’s because it feels like limbo.  I know where my past was and where my future lies.  The airplane takes me to my future, but then there is this place.  The place where you just sit and wait.  It’s like limbo; and I don’t like it.
Everyone keeps asking if it has hit me yet.  I mean, I’m going to Africa for goodness sake.  In theory, it should be hitting me about now.   It’s not.   It just feels like another step to take.  Change happens and it’s happening now.  That’s all.  I wonder if it’ll ever hit me.
Flight 1:
July 13th 2012: 1am
I’m awake.  I’m on a plane, and I’m awake, and I will remember it this time, unlike any other plane ride I’ve been on.  It’s really pretty.  It’s dark and the lights are out.  Jet Blue is has nice planes.  It has decent legroom and plenty of snacks and water coming around.  Plus a personal TV, which is always nice.
The landing is fun.  As the sun was comes up in New York I get to see the city from above while watching the sun rise.  =)
JFK Airport:
I’ve spent five hours in this airport and have nothing to say.   It’s not very ‘New York’ ish.  I went straight to the gate and stayed there.
Flight 2:
17 hours.  I have to be on a plane for 17 hours.
I fell asleep during the take off.  Now they’re feeding us a full meal.   The food is wonderful.  Their TV’s have over forty movie choices and most musical artists I can think of.
Seriously, every single time my stomach says “mommy, I’m hungry…” the flight attendants come around with food.  It’s like South Africa Airways understands the way the human stomach operates on a plane.  And all of their food is really good.  I’ve also slept through basically the entire flight.
My favorite feature on the plane is the flight map.  It shows us the temperature outside at our landing destination, the time at our landing destination, how much time we have left on the plane, and how fast we’re traveling.  Also, it has a nifty map that shows us the world, our travel path, and where we’re located on that path.  So you always know where in the world you are.  And it has what I call “the black whale.”  It’s really just showing where the sun is up and where it is down throughout the world… but it looks like a whale.
Never again.  I never want to sit through a 17 hour flight again.  I’ll walk and boat back to the US.  I am so bored the entire time.  Just sitting there drives me insane.  I never even watch a movie.  Although flying above the clouds and going through them is pretty.
Joburg Airport:
Welcome to South Africa, may we have your passport?
Dear US government… you can’t issue me a passport in 2015 when it’s only 2012.  And thanks to your little mistake they red flagged me, sent me through security, and scared the crap out of me.  One of my biggest fears through out the last few weeks have been airports.  For no reason I can explain, I have nightmares about them.  Needless to say, this little endeavor put me into tears.  The men in the room kept saying, “You shouldn’t cry.  It’s okay.”   It was cute (and also the only thing I could understand because their accents are so strong), but it just made me cry more.  I knew I had no reason to cry and I couldn’t stop.  I feared not being allowed into the country and losing my scholarship and not knowing what to do with the rest of my life.  And on top of it all, I couldn’t understand them, so I just looked like an idiot.  They just passed it off as a human error, and I have to find someway to fix it soon, before someone else official needs my passport.
At this point, it hit me.  Mainly because I really wanted to call my friends and family and have them support me.  I wanted to tell them the VISA story.  And I realized that they’d be reading it somewhere or they’d hear it in four months.  It took a while for the tears to stop. =(
I bought myself an ice cream treat after that.  And coffee.  The ice cream was good, and the chocolate bar in it was really good.  The coffee was crap.  No amount of creamers or sugar could make it taste better.  Oh, and they have coins that are 2 Rand.  The currency here is fun.
I fell asleep waiting by my gate.  I know I said I didn’t want to fly again, but I just want out of this airport so bad that I really want to be on this next flight.
Flight 3:
Short is an understatement.  By the time we’re seated and SAA hands out a full meal and cleaning up, we’ve landed.  I tried the plane’s coffee.  It’s just as bad as the airport’s coffee.  Maybe South African coffee is just bad.
Durban Airport:
Seven hour wait.  The rest of the Americans will show up and then we have an hour trip to the school.  Then my traveling here is over.
I went to the ‘toilet’ (they don’t call them restrooms) and hit my head really hard on the door.  Ouch.  I made a friend though!  He also goes to UKZN, but on a different campus.  He was picking up people for a conference.  After a little while I started understanding his accent.  He says it’s hard to understand American accents because they’re fast.
I slept during most of this lay over.  I just slept sitting down, laying my head on my luggage, which was sitting in front of me.
Interstudy finally showed up.  I was worried when they weren’t there at 8:10 and the American I knew coming here hadn’t gotten off the plane yet.  They were there a few minutes later.  And we were on our way!  Let the adventures begin.
Sarah Caulkins, DUSA Blogger

The Ultimate Decision

On a chilly November morning a young woman was spotted crossing the street at Evans and University.  She was flustered, in a rush, and multi tasking (as most young people in this time period do).  The noticeable thing about this common situation were the papers in her hand.  Multi-colored and large in quantity, it was clear that the papers had been acquired from a Study Abroad 101 session.  They were brochures for different schools in different countries.  While most students leave their 101 session with a few flyers, Sarah left hers with 89.  When she was spotted, she was in the process of arranging the flyers by color, into different regions.  Sorting the schools by color was the only way Sarah knew how to start.

As a mathematics major at the University of Denver, Sarah only knew one thing about her academics abroad: she didn’t need to take any math.  Maybe she’d take a few theater classes to fulfill some of her minor requirements, but theater was offered everywhere.  She didin’t have a particular interest in a certain language, she didn’t have to go anywhere for scholastic reasons, and she didn’t have an interest in a certain area.  That is why she walked out the 101 session with every flyer that didn’t have a language requirement or other prerequisite that she didn’t have.  That was why she was sorting flyers by color because it was the only way she knew how to start.  Because she didn’t have a single preference on where to go.  Actually, she didn’t even want to go.

Sarah is a master of the idea, “Don’t wait for the rain to pass, learn to dance in it instead.”  A life in poverty and tragedy teaches some to rebel, be angry, and do things they think they ‘deserve’ after all of the crap they’ve been through.  It teaches others to be happy with what they’re given, work hard, and change whatever they can.  As a Daniels Fund recipient, Sarah fell into category two.  The Daniels Fund is a supplemental scholarship to any University in the United States.  This includes financial coverage of study abroad.  As someone who had never left their hometown and who had only been on a plane twice, it’s more than unfathomable that she got to study in a different country for almost no cost.  So much more unfathomable was that she didn’t want to go.  She was happy at DU. She’d found a home, friends who she loved, and a place she belonged.  She was more than blessed, and couldn’t think of a good reason to leave it except the fact that everyone told her she should.  Deep down she knew she should too, but knowing and feeling are two different things.

Luckily the story doesn’t end with a confused girl with 89 flyers.  I know this because I am that girl and I know that I’m going to the University of KwaZulu-Natal Pietermaritzburg.  It’s a beautiful school in South Africa. (see below)  The thing is, the process of choosing UKZN wasn’t simple.

After organizing the schools by region, I realized how pointless that was.  I’ve never dreamt of going anywhere.  I’m not even sure if I understood that I could.  So I didn’t have a place I really wanted to visit or didn’t want to visit.  Who cares what part of the world the school’s in?  So then I prayed a lot.  I read through all of my flyers again and again.  I tried asking myself questions to narrow the search.  Do I want strong culture shock?  Do I want to live on campus, with other international students, or in a home of a native?  Do I want a lot of other Americans around?  Do I want beauty and places that have lots of adventure?

The more I questioned myself, the more I didn’t know the answer.  I’d be happy anywhere, and probably happiest right here at DU. I got rid of the schools that required me to take a language while I was abroad because I stink at foreign languages.  I got rid of the flyers that told me I had to present a ‘portfolio’ to get in because I didn’t have one and didn’t have time to make one good enough to get accepted.  I got rid of the schools that didn’t offer theatre classes and the ones that specialized in an area that I’m not good at.  I had about 41 flyers left.

“The heart can be deceptive, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen to its suggestions.”

I had spent so much time of weeding out schools based on facts about them, and I felt like I was getting nowhere.  So I tried a different technique.  I let my heart decide.  I just started reading flyers (for about the 30th time) and placed them in piles.  The ones I was sick of looking at and reading I placed into the ‘no’ pile.  The ones that made my heart excited got placed into the ‘maybe’ pile.  The maybe pile only had 13 flyers in it.  This process was more successful than I thought it would be.

With only thirteen schools to look at, I felt more equipped to make a decision.  I looked up the schools online.  I looked up information about where they were located, climate, culture, ect.  I looked at pictures and imagined myself in each place.  Then I let it go.  I didn’t look at those thirteen flyers for about two weeks.  I didn’t think about abroad.  I went on with life and gave my brain, heart, and soul a break.

When I went back two weeks later, I played the heart game again.  They all still excited my heart.  I was still interested in all thirteen, but there were five that I lingered on just a little bit longer. There was Canterbuy in New Zeland, Cork in Ireland, Tasmania in Australia, Ulster in Northern Ireland, and KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg in South Africa. With in a day I had chosen UKZN.

A mini story is that I knew that I was leaning towards this school since my study abroad 101 session.  My 101 leader, Christina, went the UKZN three years ago and she spoke about how she got into a class where she got credit for working with kids who have AIDS in a children’s hospital.  Afterwards she and I had a long talk about me not wanting to go abroad and she prayed with me about it.  Through the entire process UKNZ lingered towards the top, but I didn’t want to choose it just because it was the first interesting school I heard about.  I wanted to go to the best place for me.

Once I started talking about the schools to different people, the answer became clear.  First of all, I received an email that day that told me that two schools weren’t offered for the Fall of 2012 anymore.  They both happened to be on my list. Then I was telling my pro and con list of the three schools to one of my best friends, Adam, and when I was done he gave me ‘the look’ and said, “I already know where you’re going and you do to.  Why is it even a question?” I knew he was talking about South Africa, but I asked him just to make sure.  He was.  Then I was explaining the options to one of my adult role models and he just politely listened.   After a leadership meeting, where I shared that he has a way of saying things that don’t relate to anything I’m going through, but some saying exactly what I need to hear, he looks me in the eyes and says “South Africa”.  When I woke up the next morning, I knew what I wanted.

I went through the motions, just in case.  I knew deep down that I wanted to stay here.  It took a lot to find my fire.  I talked to a lot of people, I prayed a lot; I did a lot of research.  I found reasons that I needed to go, besides just ‘ not losing an opportunity.’  I reached a point where it was my reality, and an exciting reality at that.

Sarah Caulkins, DUSA blogger

Top 10 Things To Do in Cape Town

If you’re studying abroad in Southern Africa, visiting Cape Town, South Africa is a must. It’s a gorgeous city, nestled beneath Table Mountain, and located right on the Atlantic Ocean. I went on an eight-day trip to Cape Town while on my semester break from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and it was absolutely incredible. If you’ve only got a week to explore the city, here are some top things that you must do.

1)      Stay in a hostel

This is a general rule no matter where you travel. Sure, staying in a hostel is an economically wise decision (they tend to be pretty cheap), but it’s also a great way to meet people from all over the world. While staying at a hostel in Cape Town, I met people from New Zealand, Norway, England, Germany, Northern Ireland, Italy, Japan, Belgium, and The Netherlands. I had stayed in hostels in other cities in South Africa during my travels, and I even bumped into a guy from Peru that I had met at a hostel in Durban halfway up Table Mountain on my climb. The conversations and connections made in hostels are so special – there are so many perspectives and cultures that people bring to the table, and it’s always great to build some new international friendships!

2)      Climb Table Mountain

Flying into Cape Town, Table Mountain is the first thing that you will see. It is a large, gorgeous mountain that juts up directly behind the city. There is a large gondola that goes from the bottom of the mountain to the top, but for the adventurous type, climbing up is definitely the way to go. It starts out as a pretty easy hike, but by the time you hit the middle of the climb it turns into a super steep uphill grade. My friend and I ended up climbing on all fours to reach the top. During the climb we went through thick fog and gusty winds, which made the view at the top even more gratifying and spectacular.

3)      Robben Island

This is absolutely a must-go! It is so important to learn about the history and culture of the country that you are studying abroad in and/or visiting, and Robben Island is rich in South African history. This is the island that former South African president Nelson Mandela was imprisoned on for eighteen years. The most amazing part about visiting the island was that all of the people that currently work there were once a) prisoners or b) prison guards. These people now live and work side-by-side and have put many of their differences aside. It was incredible to hear about the history of the island from people that had lived through its past.  

4)      Go on a wine tour

Located very near Cape Town is the wine region of South Africa. There are various tour companies that will pick you up from hostels located throughout the city, and will drive you to several different vineyards throughout the day. Not only is there fantastic wine, but the vineyards are absolutely beautiful. Take a day and do a wine tour to see and experience all that the area offers.

5)      Boulders Beach

Who doesn’t love penguins?! Boulders Beach is the home of the African penguin. Stop by Boulders Beach and take a look!

6)      Cape of Good Hope/Cape Point

Part of Table Mountain National Park, the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve is a beautiful, rocky cape along the Atlantic Ocean. Cape Point is the most south-eastern point of Africa, and it is part of the National Park as well. Stunningly beautiful, these are two must-see locations. The Park is also full of baboons, so hold onto your belongings – they have been known to steal food and other small items right out of the hands of people!

7)      Seal Island

If you’ve ever watched the BBC’s Planet Earth episode on Seal Island, you would know how incredibly cool this place is. When you arrive at the island, you don’t just see one or two seals, but HUNDREDS. They are everywhere – sunbathing on the rocks, swimming in the water… it’s a pretty awesome spot.

8)      Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens

I’ve always loved being in a beautiful garden, but Kirstenbosch is at a completely different level. With Table Mountain jutting up behind it, and vibrant, colorful flowers everywhere you turn, its beauty borders on magic. Go for a walk, have a picnic, or grab lunch at the beautiful outdoor restaurant and soak in all that Kirstenbosch has to offer.

9)      World of Birds Wildlife Sanctuary and Monkey Park

My friend and I happened upon the World of Birds Wildlife Sanctuary and Monkey Park completely by accident, but it ended up being a highlight of our time in Cape Town. There are hundreds of beautiful birds in the Sanctuary, but also tons of monkeys that we got to hang out with – literally. The monkeys were crawling all over us, which was a little unusual, but tons of fun.

10)   Sandboarding at Atlantis Sand Dunes

If you like snowboarding, you need to give sandboarding a try. It’s HARD – but really fun! Atlantis Sand Dunes are located right outside Cape Town, and there are several adventure companies that take people out to the dunes a couple times a day. Honestly, I spent most of the time sitting on my behind (and I was washing sand out of my ears for days), but the few times that I made it down the hill were super rewarding and a lot of fun.

Christina Hunter, DU Alum, Office of Internationalization Staff

Becca’s Blog: Tanzania and Kenya

Wow, yet another GORGEOUS blog from a DU student studying in Africa.  Becca is studying in a School for Field Studies (SFS) program in Tanzania and Kenya this semester, and her blog could make just about anyone want to go and fall in love with Africa as much as she has!  Don’t miss her blog at!