Now, 2020 has been quite the wild ride when it comes to international experience. The end of 2019 included, as we were preparing to live and intern in Dar es Salaam for three months, planning additional travels afterwards, finishing our semesters, and working. It felt like a lot to organize in such little time. 

Nevertheless, it was all worth it because being a part of UFV’s East Africa Internship Program was the best decision we ever made. It was because of UFV’s partnerships that this opportunity was even a possibility for us, past interns included. Specifically, we were partnered with CityLab in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania at Ardhi University. CityLab is an extension of the university that explores and re-imagines the co-production of space in the city of Dar es Salaam through experimental research. As such, we had the opportunity to work with brilliant researchers and academics during our time there. 

A video project I (Tianna Sarra) filmed and edited for CityLab.

We were able to be a part of CityLab’s ongoing projects and gained an abundance of knowledge about urban development and urban planning. We made meaningful connections with our colleagues that went well beyond the walls of our placement at the university. We were able to immerse ourselves in their world and were welcomed with open arms. Soon, we realized we had become a part of the community and began to view Dar es Salaam as our home, making this an incredibly unique cross-cultural experience. 

Adapting to a new atmosphere, lifestyle, perspective, culture, language, everything, was simultaneously a nerve-wracking and joyous experience. We were very happy to be surrounded by a culture that is so welcoming and caring. We have never encountered such kind and helpful people before, no matter if friend, stranger, or uber driver! There was such a large selfless aspect to every individual we encountered, making being foreigners an easier thing to adapt to. This open and welcoming atmosphere really grounded us and encouraged us to apply our skills the best we could to help make a difference. Not only that, we stepped out of our comfort zones to explore new skills that we could not have discovered without this internship. CityLab was so appreciative of our presence with a continuous positive attitude, that it was not difficult for us to find ways to add value to the team. 

“Working with CityLab really gave me space to reflect within myself. It allowed some questions regarding schooling to become more apparent through adopting more of a documentor and social media coordinator role. I am now able to pursue a clearer educational path to contribute towards careers that I resonate with, as well as be more confident in my individuality.”

— Tianna Sarra

This internship not only provided an opportunity for us to have an incredible experience abroad, but for our colleagues to be able to do the same. Three members from CityLab will have the opportunity to come to Canada and be interns at UFV, just as we were interns at their university. Doing this type of exchange will allow them to see a different side of the world and be able to contribute their ideas and skills to make an impact as well. Not only that, they will also have a chance to develop new skills and have access to resources that may not have been available to them at their university. They will be able to take part in courses available at UFV and interact with other UFV students, sharing their ideas and viewpoints. Thus, students who are able to work with these interns from East Africa also stand to gain new perspectives. In doing so, the internship continues to make an impact even for students who are not directly a part of it.

“This internship helped me step out of my comfort zone and immerse myself in a foreign place that felt like home by the end. I was able to use my skills to help out in many different areas throughout this internship and at the same time develop new skills as I grew more confident.”

— Manpreet Dhillon

With all this being said, it was devastating to hear that we had to leave Tanzania sooner than planned. After coming back from our trip to Zanzibar, we received news from home that due to the rapidly spreading global pandemic, it was recommended for us to fly back to Canada. This was shocking news to us as Tanzania had not been affected by the virus at the time and everything seemed to be so normal. Our reality in Tanzania was quite different from that of North America where people were panicking over the shortage of toilet paper. We had been seeing news about the virus but never thought it would impact us so heavily. While we tried to figure out a course of action, a few days later we learned that it was not only ‘recommended’ for us to come home but mandatory. Things had escalated within mere days and our internship in Dar had been terminated. We were in shock and trying to wrap our heads around the rapidly changing circumstances.

However, we had to think far into the future and imagine how things would turn out if Tanzania became affected as well. We realized that it would be a challenge for us to cope due to the difference of the healthcare system, something we often take for granted here at home. As well, we did not want to be a burden to their healthcare system either if we were to get sick, as this would mean we would be taking away from other sick people receiving health care. After assessing all our potential options, we were heartbroken to face the fact that we not only had to end our internship a month early, but our travel plans for afterwards would also be cancelled. It was a hard pill to swallow that we would not get the chance to explore Africa the way we had planned, especially not being able to go on a safari that we were planning for the coming weeks. Trying to get flights home was another whirlwind as any flights we booked, continued to get cancelled on us hours after booking. It was a sad reality that we had to abruptly leave our new friends and colleagues that now felt like family and our place in Dar es Salaam that now felt like home. Nevertheless, we were able to cherish our time spent together, exchanging knowledge and growing in our skill sets, that it was a bittersweet departure.

The CityLab team alongside faculty and collaborators at Ardhi University in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Overall, of the endless lessons we have taken away from our time spent abroad, here are a few points we encourage new interns to keep note of:

  1. When booking flights, make sure it is through a travel agent. Furthermore, partake in thorough research with regards to Visas/restrictions of the countries being travelled to.
  2. Keep an open mind, always. You never know what lies on the other side of discomfort, and sometimes plans do not go as hoped. This will make your experience so much more enjoyable.
  3. You do not always have to be doing touristy things! Having lazy days at home are refreshing, and you should not feel guilty for not always doing something.
  4. Admire the little things, they can be more meaningful. For example, by going frequently to this cafe that we loved, it allowed us to make friends, connect with the staff, and get that ‘hometown’ feel.
  5. Get to know the people you work with. Trust that UFV has provided you this placement with these organizations because of how amazing the people behind the scenes are. You will undoubtedly learn something new from them, and the same viceversa! 

We are so thankful for QES providing us with the opportunity to participate in this rich international placement experience. As well as immense gratitude for the security and support provided by Mary and Rob Notman at KidzCare Tanzania, alongside Dr. Cherie Enns throughout the entirety of this semester. 

Asante Sana to the CityLab team. It’s not goodbye, it’s Tutaonana

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s