If I could rule the world of traveling educators and missionaries, I would set down a few ground rules.
- Before you travel, you must familiarize yourself with the culture you are entering into. Right now, there is a pair of teachers giving phonetics seminars to the New Life teachers. Yesterday I stopped in for a few minutes of their seminar to find they were teaching a bit about the sounds vowels make when doubled, for example the sound “oo”. The lesson wasn’t bad, but it would have been much more culturally relevant had the teachers known that “oo” in Swahili makes and elongated “O” sound. Had they known this and clarified that in English “oo” = “oo” not “OHH”, the students would have been able to make a connection and better retain the information.
- After arrival, you must spend a minimum of 2 days familiarizing yourself with the local culture before beginning to export the information you plan to teach. When I prepared to teach public health in Tanzania, I came with a binder full of information, some of which has proven relevant, much of which hasn’t (often because the information is too basic for the audience I am teaching). It is crucial to take time to get to know your audience because often times a national, even regional culture is not representative of the locals.
- Finally, please be willing to adjust. One of my favorite pieces of advice I have received during my time here in Tanzania is “I hope you find what you’re not looking for.” It’s one of my favorite quotes because whenever I find it coming true, that is when I am enjoying myself the most. This rule of being willing to adjust is just as much for the sake of the visitor as for that of the visited. If we travel and only find what we expect to find, what’s the point of traveling at all? If travel planning to share information and we do not adjust to the needs of the culture, what will be gained on either end?
These are all of my rules for now. I’ll be sure to add if I think of some more.