Find new perspectives in Tanzania


A past group of MSUM students jump off a sand dune at a place known as “Shifting Sands” found in a valley between mountains in north Tanzania. The sand dunes move many inches per year.

A past group of MSUM students jump off a sand dune at a place known as “Shifting Sands” found in a valley between mountains in north Tanzania. The sand dunes move many inches per year.

A 20-hour commute to class may sound a little extreme, but MSUM students have the chance to attend a course on the other side of the world this summer.

Bruce Roberts, MSUM anthropology professor, is offering a course that involves traveling to Tanzania in May. ANTH 390, Topics in Anthropology: Tanzanian Society and Culture, is currently open for enrollment to students of any major. The course will involve weekly meetings starting mid-March in preparation for three weeks of travel after the end of the spring semester.

The class meetings will involve assigned readings as well as instruction in the national language of Kiswahili. “I’m going to be a little more aggressive with that this year,” Roberts said after explaining that it was one of the major skills students from last year’s trip wished they had before leaving.

Traveling to a foreign country can be scary and a little bewildering. However, Roberts has been taking students to Africa since 1998 and has a real love for the continent and its countries. In fact, he can hardly stay away. “The longest has been three years,” Roberts said. “If it’s longer I go absolutely nuts. Africa gets in your system; it’s almost like an infection.”

The first student to enroll for the 2014 trip was a Biology major, Roberts said. He added that having students in the class from majors outside of anthropology is not uncommon. “Mainly, it’s students who have curiosity and are adventurous,” he remarked.

Sometimes, even students with curiosity can be turned off from traveling abroad due to the high cost added on to an already expensive tuition bill. Since the class is being offered as a spring course instead of in the summer, students can band their credits with their existing spring schedule, and apply financial aid towards the trip.

Total cost for the travel alone is estimated at $4,900, but could vary due to airfare. This total includes everything besides the cost of getting a passport, a visa, getting the required immunizations and personal spending money. Adding the cost of three credits of tuition would mean an additional $785, but this amount could be subtracted from the bill if banded with other spring credits.

Why Tanzania?

When there are so many other places in the world, what makes this country worthy of study? Roberts said when he first started bringing students to Africa, it was Kenya that was the destination. After 9/11, all study abroad programs shut down, so he postponed the 2002 trip to 2003. The morning that he and the students were supposed to be leaving, a travel warning was imposed on the country of Kenya, making it illegal for him to bring students there. He was forced to call students at 6 a.m. telling them they would not be going on their highly anticipated trip.

Ten years later, this travel warning is still in effect. Tanzania seemed a perfect choice to “modify the program and provide the same experiences,” Roberts said. He also added that, while Kenyans are more energetic and boisterous, Tanzanians are more laid back and move at a slower pace.

Despite the slower pace of the country, students in Roberts’ class can expect to cram as much as possible into their three weeks abroad. Traveling to the cities of Dares Salaam, Zanzibar and Arusha as well as the Ngorongoro Crater and the fossil sites Olduvai Gorge and Laetoli will provide students with a perspective of Tanzania they would never be able to attain in Minnesota.

Not only will this experience give students a view of the country, Roberts stressed it would also give them a new perspective of themselves. Roberts said travelers have to be able to “laugh at yourself” because “in these situations, we stand out, obviously. We’re tourists.” Going on this trip may be the first time students are referred to by a term that defines them by their skin color. White is the minority, and it can take some time to get used to being stared at. He mentioned that children often follow him and his group of students because they are fascinated by seeing  white people.

“I’ve always got this line following me,” Roberts said.

To further authenticate the stay in Tanzania, the group of travelers will stay in guest houses or furnished apartments. Roberts explained he likes to “stay away from tourist hotels; it’s sort of an artificial experience.” For part of the trip, students even camp in tents with a cook staff and land rovers provided by a local company.

Roberts said that having to choose his favorite part of the trip is the equivalent of having to choose a favorite child. “I like all of it; it’s all different,” he said.

Encouraging any, even slightly, interested students to learn more about the trip Roberts said, “It opens up a lot of opportunities and possibilities.”

As for his motivation for creating this study abroad tour: “It’s not about making money. It’s about sharing the experience,” Roberts explained.

Any interested students should contact Dr. Roberts directly or visit the tour’s website.

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