First things first, here’s a pro tip to anyone looking to study abroad: go in the fall because, while it’s tough to miss out on the changing leaves and apple-picking, getting a full spring break in both the fall AND spring makes up for it! Though I’m not sure every study abroad program offers this, I’m grateful this was an option for us, and that the breathtaking island of Zanzibar is right off the coast of mainland Tanzania! Eight out of the nine of us booked some plane tickets and an Airbnb, and off we were for our week of pumzika (relaxation) time! (The 9th person in our group decided to do a solo, five-day hike up Mt. Kilimanjaro in sub-freezing temperatures as if that were no big deal or anything… simply put, she’s amazing).
It was a week full of so many good things, I could go on and on! But for now, here are some of my highlights:
We stayed in a home located somewhat off the beaten path, and it was the perfect size for the eight of us. The house came with a personal tour guide, Emmanuel, who quickly became a good friend of ours and who took great care of us as we navigated the island. One of the best parts of our Airbnb was that it was a short walk to a beautiful beach with clear, warm water. We all swam in it for hours on our first day. The first morning I woke up in Zanzibar, my first thought was, “Wait…what am I supposed to do?” I wondered why I felt so antsy until I realized that I hadn’t been on a true vacation in nearly four years… all my past spring breaks, I’ve attended or led immersion trips (which every Hope student should do at least once!). I had forgotten how to just get away and relax without any agenda, but the laid-back environment of our Airbnb and the pumzika vibe we kept throughout the week retaught me why letting yourself just “be” is so nice, and needed sometimes.
For me, on this trip, that looked like playing endless rounds of Uno, sleeping in until 11 a.m., a couple of times (oops!), and taking the time to truly taste each bite of a homemade, gluten-free grilled cheese- having a kitchen was a blessing!
Another awesome feature of our Airbnb was that they set up little excursions for us, so one morning a few of us decided to go snorkeling! This was something I had always wanted to do, but had never gotten the chance to do, so I was thrilled. The water was the dreamiest blue I have ever seen, and once I put on the flippers they provided, I knew I was the closest I would ever come to having my dreams of being a mermaid fulfilled. My friends and I, along with about 20 other strangers from all over the world, jumped off our boat and were suddenly submerged into the underwater world I’ve always dreamed of exploring. After nearly two hours in the water, I had personally met both Dory and Gill from Finding Nemo, saw Nemo and Marlins’ anemone, dodged sea urchins, and saw starfish, swordfish, and so many other colorful fish I don’t have names for. At one point, I found myself swimming right in the middle of a school of fish, which was one of the most breathtaking, national-geographic-worthy experiences I’ve ever had!
Former Slave Market
The historical former slave market of Zanzibar is located in Stonetown and was something many of us were eager to tour. We had an incredible guide who showed us the cathedral that had been built over a whipping post, and took us into two of the underground chambers that those who were enslaved were kept in. The chambers were designed to test them, and see if they were strong enough to survive the horrific conditions before they were taken to the market to be sold. It was a sobering and eye-opening experience- with seven of us in the small room, I could hardly breathe, and our guide explained to us that they would keep up to 50 individuals in that same space — many of whom died from suffocation. During this tour, we learned about the history of slavery in East Africa from beginning to end, which we had already discussed a lot in my history class at RUCU. I felt honored to be able to, personally, see the setting of it all despite how heartbreaking and challenging it was. The museum also highlighted forms of modern day slavery across the world. I have so much gratitude for all I learned and saw, and for the information I am now able to bring home with me.
In Iringa, our group eats at about four restaurants on a pretty consistent rotation, so I eat a lot of the same foods every day: white rice, chicken, and vegetable curry (on top of rice). Being gluten free here has been a struggle as most Tanzanians do not know what gluten is and are very confused by the concept of it. However, because Zanzibar is a tourist destination, there were so many good restaurants with lots of gluten free options, and I savored EVERY. SINGLE. BITE. Pad Thai, sushi, fresh fish, ceviche, a coconut milk latte, and gelato twice in one day- my taste buds were in heaven. I know when I come home, I will be so much more grateful for having an abundance of healthy and delicious options available to me all the time, and I plan on doing a lot of cooking
Our island in the sun getaway was just the breath of fresh air we were all in need of, and left us well rested, well fed, and ready to jump back into our studies… perhaps spring break in October is something college students in the U.S. could benefit from, too… wink wink Hope College!