Travel Stories: What Teaching in Africa is Really Like
Firsthand stories from my friend, Alexis, all about what it’s really like to teach children in Africa. Plus, tips on how to score your own spot in a teaching abroad program.
What inspired you to even get started and go in the first place? Is there a reason you specifically wanted to go to Africa?
Well, when I transferred from NCCC to Buffalo State College, they explained to us all the opportunities available for Teacher Candidates. I was most drawn into the International Professional Development School program, where education majors are given the opportunity to apply to participate in a once in a lifetime experience to teach and learn abroad for a few weeks during the semester that trip is offered. Currently, Buffalo State is connected to IPD schools in Chile, China, the Dominican Republic, England, Germany, Honduras, Italy, Myanmar, Rwanda and Zambia. one trip is offered each semester, so each trip only occurs every couple of years (You can learn more about the program as well as read student experiences here).
I had always been intrigued by international studies but never really pursued it. When I saw that the Zambia trip was planned for the upcoming semester, I knew I had to step way outside of my comfort zone and apply for that trip. Normally, I would be drawn to a place like Germany or Italy, but I decided it was time to do something I never would have imagined myself doing. When I told my family and friends they were all like, “AFRICA??? REALLY??” and I said, “First of all, Africa is a continent, I am going to the country of Zambia. And second of all, YES!” Next thing I knew, I was called back for an interview and was accepted to be part of the 2018 IPDS Cohort to Lusaka, Zambia.
I love that! Stepping outside of your comfort zone is so important to experiencing new things. Were you super nervous going into it?
Not as much as I thought I was going to be. I was so excited I could not even contain myself, like singing and dancing on the plane excited.
That’s good. So a lot of students fund their study abroad with scholarships, loans, help from parents, saving up, etc. With finances being such a struggle as a college student, what did funding your trip look like for you?
OH MAN. I was STRESSED to say the very least. Small parts of the trip are covered by the International Ed. office, but the majority needs to be paid by the student. I had to pay for my flight up front through our travel agent, which I had saved up for, but, I had no plans for funding moving forward. I created a GoFundMe and was able to raise $500 through that, I babysat a ton and increased my work hours. My 21st birthday happened to fall during the trip, so my family was more than willing to give me some ‘fun money’ because of that. The funniest thing I did to try and raise money was that my aunt paid me to organize/destash her closet and have take out with her one night. ;) Eventually, it all came together.
Absolutely. You got there, and that’s what’s most important. Where did you stay while you were there?
We stayed at Twangale Park Lodge just outside of Lusaka. There were two students per room, and man oh man did Mackenzie and I make that our ‘apartment’ while we were there. From FaceTime-ing my best friend while sitting in the bathtub, to doing laundry in it the next minute, as well as walking out our back door to the bar to order pasta and drinks, to just chilling and writing lesson plans.
We also had two weekend excursions, one to Mukambi Safari Lodge and another to Victoria Falls in Livingstone. Mukambi was beautiful and livingstone was great, but we missed our Twangale apartment!
That sounds really cool! So what was it like teaching in Africa?!
INCREDIBLE. I could not have asked for a better experience. my teaching partner I chose was also my roommate while traveling, which was incredible because we have very similar teaching styles. There were 62 students assigned to the grade 4 classroom, ages 9-11, that we were in. As a cohort, we purchased many class sets of personal Dry-Erase boards and markers, with the intention of teaching the students and their teacher how to use them in the classroom, and then donated them to the mentor teachers. The students were OBSESSED with us and the idea of America. It really put me into perspective of how great we have it here, not just in our schooling system, but just in general. We take so many things for granted that these kids would die to even just see in person. The classroom had just a chalkboard and the teacher provided her own chalk. That was it. And here I was, student teaching and having a mental breakdown because the projector wasn’t working and the copy machine was down. Mackenzie, my teaching partner, and I ended up growing so attached to these kids just from spending a few days teaching them and playing in the school yard with them. Libala Primary School will always have a special place in my heart.
I can imagine, that’s amazing. What do you think was the biggest challenge for you of your trip?
I would say my biggest challenge personally was just getting over my insecurities and being 100% myself. Even though I had been in a preparation class with the other women in my cohort for months, I still felt a little uncomfortable, except for with Mackenzie (fun tidbit- we were later called mom and dad), but by the end of the first week there, I was myself and having a blast.
Aw, that’s good to hear you were able to adjust pretty quickly! I feel like a lot of people must struggle with that. Did you have a best moment or something that stuck out to you most during the trip?
There were so many to just choose one. So I guess collectively, all the cultural experience was my favorite. With our professor being from Lusaka, we were lucky enough to be invited into her family members’ homes for traditional meals. I will never forget how kind and loving they are. They touched my heart so much.
What advice would you give someone that might want to do a similar program?
Step outside your comfort zone, be yourself, and take everything in at the moment it happens. Put down the phone and stop recording or taking pictures and just use your senses to take it all in.
Do you have anything else you want to add about the trip?
I have so many funny stories it could take up two more blog posts!!! From jumping in the pool with all my clothes on at a multi million dollar mansion on my birthday to dancing with a Zambian boy at a nightclub/hookah bar in Livingstone, it's all just incredibly crazy yet oh so wonderful. Thankfully I have great pictures and lifelong friends from the trip that show just a glimpse of how wonderful this trip was, and I will never forget it.