Tanzania – Service Learning – by Paul Schulzetenberg. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports

Tanzania – Service Learning – by Paul Schulzetenberg. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports

Editor’s Note: Many thanks to photographer Adam Bridge for the permission to use his photos for photos # 1 and 4.

That might be kilograms?

That might be kilograms?

[Photo #1 caption: Me with Emanueli, the head baker. He was telling me how much flour I needed to weigh out.]

During the “service learning” part of the trip, several other students, a professor, the photographer, and I were sent to the Chipole monastary. We remained in Chipole for two weeks participating in service learning as well as getting to know the people we came into contact with. For this report, I would like to discuss the concept a service learning a bit and some thoughts about my own experience with service learning and my current perspective.

I was thinking about this a lot while I was there and questioning what exactly I was doing and what the point of this trip was. What does service learning mean? We had discussed this prior to going to Tanzania; however, what was really bothering me was that I did not know what service I would be providing, or if it would be useful to them. For one, I was not providing any sort of unique or specialized service that they lacked. For instance, I was not a nurse, so I could not help much in the dispensary. In fact, I was completely uneducated with regards to most of the tasks that they did, and they were actually teaching me, which I had no problem with by the way. That is a part of service learning: learning through participating in their way of life. What I was really pondering was if I was actually doing them more of a disservice by being there because they had to “train me in” per say, but maybe that is the point. I kept questioning myself and wondering if I was providing services in order to simply broaden my view of the world (a potentially selfish endeavor), or if I was actually positively contributing to their life. I did not want to have a job in which my contribution was unhelpful and was not up to par with their standards. The point was not to “feel good” about what I did, but to feel as though I am contributing positively in some aspect of their life.

Photo #2

[Photo #2 caption: Cakes getting ready to be baked. We had to make the batter, grease the pans, and pour the batter into them. I spent a lot of time at this table doing a wide variety of tasks.]

It is important to mention I fully recognized I was not there to impose my will on to them nor was I there to “teach” them; I was there to learn through service. I always tried to keep in mind that just because I do things differently than they do does not make my way correct or better than theirs. It is easy to get into that mindset sometimes, and the more I kept that in mind, the more I learned. I was there to experience how they do things and what their methods are. The issue that I was running against, however, was if the service I was providing to them was actually beneficial or if it was a hindrance to them. I had no intention of trying to “teach them my ways;” I just wished I had more to offer other than my willingness to work and a functioning body to perform tasks.

For instance, a majority of my time was spent in the monastery bakery learning how to bake various sorts of breads, cakes, and cookies. It was a great experience, and I have some awesome memories as a result. However, the baker, Emanueli and the other workers (mostly postulates), had to take time out of their workday to teach me how to make the various types of dough and batter, and to teach me proper techniques in cutting and kneading the bread. As mentioned previously, I was always worried that I would mess something up or do something wrong. I did not want them to have redo the process because I did it wrong. Not to mention all the time spent trying to communicate as a result of the language barrier. I was completely clueless when it came to making baked goods and what the proper techniques were. Emanueli was extremely patient and one of the friendliest people that I met while I was there. I am very grateful for getting to know him and who he is as a person. I was learning their methods, and I had a lot of fun doing it. However, my contribution was simply a helping hand, and I sincerely hope that I was helpful.

Photo #3

[Photo #3 caption: This is one of the machines used for mixing. All their machines were huge and for making large amount of batter and dough. I believe most of the machinery was either made in Germany or Switzerland.]

Now, there is another side to this that I had pondered while I was there albeit a bit incompletely fleshed out. Perhaps it is not necessarily the “product” that my service provides, but the human interaction and cross-cultural connections that result from it. In other words, it is not that I am literally providing a physical service that contributes to their well-being in obvious ways. Perhaps, it has more to do with the gesture and my willingness to learn about their way of life. I do not want to say that I was “breaking down” cultural stereotypes through individual interaction. I simply mean that I think by showing that I was interested in how they do things as well as my willingness to participate and learn, it allowed for a level of communication that may be of some significance for both individuals involved. The baker was able to learn about my way of life and my beliefs to some degree, and I was able to learn a great deal about his. I showed interest in his craft, and thought of him as a teacher. Regardless, working in the bakery was a great experience. I spent a lot of time trying to communicate with Emanueli as he knew very little English and I knew very little Swahili. This was a lot of fun. Apart from the language barrier, we were able to learn about each other through hand motions and fragmented sentences.

Photo #4

[Photo #4 caption: Professor Schuettler and I at work in bakery. We were cutting small strips of dough that we then fried in sunflower oil. The machine that flattened the dough was a lot of fun to use once we got the hang of it.]

Overall, I would personally say that service learning was more of a “selfish” endeavor for me. I got to learn about a different way of life and see how they view the world, but I do not feel like I benefitted anyone. Is this a bad thing? Well, that is what I was struggling with over the course of the trip. I am sure as I think about it more, I may come up with new reasons and ideas, but that has been my general conclusion. I recognize the complexity of the situation, and that is why I think I struggle with what I interpret service learning to be. I recognize the disparities in wealth, the lack of sufficient medical care, the need for more schools, and various other social difficulties that are experienced by the people of Tanzania. With this in mind, I wonder what exactly my impact could be amidst such a broad and complex system of issues. I did not go there to fix anything; I went there to learn, and maybe I should accept my experience at face value. It was learning experience, which provided me with a true experience through my own eyes.

Please contact Professor Liang if you wish to write for The North Star Reports — HLIANG (at) css.edu

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The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy (http://NorthStarReports.org) is a student edited and student authored open access publication centered around the themes of global and historical connections. Our abiding philosophy is that those of us who are fortunate enough to receive an education and to travel our planet are ethically bound to share our knowledge with those who cannot afford to do so. Therefore, creating virtual and actual communities of learning between college and K-12 classes are integral to our mission. In five semesters we have published 200 articles covering all habitable continents and a variety of topics ranging from history and politics, food and popular culture, to global inequities to complex identities. These articles are read by K-12 and college students. Our student editors and writers come from all parts of the campus, from Nursing to Biology, Physical Therapy to Business, and remarkably, many of our student editors and writers have long graduated from college. We also have writers and editors from other colleges and universities. In addition to our main site, we also curate a Facebook page dedicated to annotated news articles selected by our student editors (http://www.facebook.com/NorthStarReports). This is done by an all volunteer staff. We have a frugal cash budget, and we donate much of our time and talent to this project. We are sponsored by St. Scholastica’s Department of History and Politics and by the scholarly Middle Ground Journal: World History and Global Studies (http://theMiddleGroundJournal.org).

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Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief and Publisher, The North Star Reports; Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal; Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica.

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(c) 2012-present The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy http://NorthStarReports.org ISSN: 2377-908X The NSR is sponsored and published by Professor Hong-Ming Liang, NSR Student Editors and Writers, The Department of History and Politics of The College of St. Scholastica, and the scholarly Middle Ground Journal. See Masthead for our not-for-profit educational open- access policy. K-12 teachers, if you are using these reports for your classes, please contact editor-in-chief Professor Liang at HLIANG (at) css.edu


Filed under North Star Student Editors, Paul Schulzetenberg, Professor Hong-Ming Liang

41 responses to “Tanzania – Service Learning – by Paul Schulzetenberg. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports

  1. Nancy Thao

    After reading your article, it really gives me a different view in service learning trips. I have the same conflicted thoughts when it comes to participating in service trips/study abroad opportunities that is not related to my major. Now I can see it as opportunities to create beautiful relationships with the people while learning something meaningful beyond the physical aspect of life. Although you may have felt like you weren’t able to do anything beneficial to others, I think what matters the most is the relationships you were able to create there. The people who have met you may have appreciated spending time with and learning about you more than you expected.

  2. Holly Kampa

    Paul, thank you for sharing about your service learning trip. I have always wanted to take a trip where I could help, but like you said, I would have a hard time with thinking about whether or not I would be of any help. I like to contribute, but when someone else is helping me more than I am helping them, then I feel like maybe I’m a nuisance. I think it’s really neat how two different cultures can come together and grow off one another. Thanks again for sharing!

  3. Thanks for sharing your experience in Tanzania! I never completely understood what a service learning trip was, but your explanation helped me understand the purpose. Even though you say you feel like you didn’t help anyone during your time in Africa, I know the monastery would disagree. Any set of hands, no matter if they are experienced or not, is helpful. Your trip sounds like a great experience that I wish to have one day!

  4. Jenna Algoo

    You bring up some very interesting points in contemplating service learning and what the implications of that may be. The idea of giving a service in order to learn is a very flip-flop way of learning that I greatly appreciate. I definitely do not think it should just be taken at face value, mostly because everything we do and everyone we interact with affects both parties. It sounds like a really fascinating journey and like you learned a lot of really cool things!

  5. Roman Schnobrich

    Hey Paul, you raise no shortage of thought-provoking points about service learning and its potential issues. From the viewpoint of someone who has never experienced such a trip, I imagine it is much less about the physical offerings you can bring to the table, and (like you mention towards the end of your article) is more about the things you learn and bring back home to the States. One could almost consider it a modern form of “enlightenment”– personally experiencing cultures that are clearly vastly different than your own. By seeing how people like Emanueli live and work on a daily basis, you can reconsider your global perspective, as well as pondering how you could better his situation. Awesome article overall!

  6. Matt Breeze

    You do a lovely job of explaining what a service learning trip is about. The fact that you constantly questioned yourself and what you are doing might be the most important aspect of that description. The confusion over whether or not you were really doing good and if you were helping in a way that was wanted by the people are fascinating! The point that a simple exchange of conversations may be the most simple way to get to know a people and a culture, and from the sound of it you were learning alot!

  7. Sarah Burton

    Thank you for sharing your experience in Tanzania! What an amazing opportunity to be submersed into a different culture. You raised a lot of thought-provoking issues and ideas. I definitely think that a service learning trip is so much more than a selfish experience. Not all service trips will lead to people “fixing” what is happening in a different country. I think it is an eye-opening experience to be able to see how someone does something completely different than you and to be able to learn how to do it differently. It is wonderful to be able to provide a service, no matter how small it might seem, and be able to learn at the same time.

  8. Sara Desrocher

    This is a very interesting post that made me think about the topic on hand. We have all volunteered at some time in our lives and your points about it not helping as much as you would want it to make sense. It is a hassle to teach people to do a job that they are not familiar with and I feel that the results may not be up to the standards that they would want. Nonetheless, I know that volunteering and helping around the community is good for everyone involved, especially those doing the actual volunteering.

  9. Great writing! I really enjoy how you mentioned helping a community vs fixing a community. I think of service learning trips as exactly what they are, “learning”. It can be taken so wrongly if you went into the bakeries and acted like you knew what you were doing and were doing it completely wrong, but didn’t take the time to learn the way of the establishment. Unfortunately that happens a lot on service learning trips and volunteer activities. The communication gap had to have been the biggest struggle, I can’t even imagine!

  10. Kyle Dosan

    Paul, thank you for sharing your tremendous story with us all. One of the most selfless actions that a person can do in their life is volunteer. You wrote that you felt like you were not helping much, but you actually helped out a lot. The language barrier must have been tough at first, but it sounds as if you had a good handle of it. This sounded like a fun and very memorable experience, thank you again for telling us about your service learning trip.

  11. Bryce Gadke

    I’ve thought a lot about the same sort of struggle that you had during your service learning trip. Ever since Professor Liang brought to my attention in class the notion that not all volunteer work done in another country benefits the people. The service learning trip does sound like a somewhat selfish endeavor, but your intentions are good and maybe the justification for the first trip learning comes in the form of a second trip. Where you know what to do and don’t feel like a hinderance to the people. Best of luck in future service endeavors! Thanks for sharing a thought provoking article.

  12. Nichole DeBoom

    The question of being helpful or not to a community you are not familiar with is a valid point. Your story is inspiring to many of us who are interested in doing a service trip. I think the important thing to remember in something like this is you are an extra set of hands, in no matter what you are doing, you are helping out who ever usually does the job. Besides the fact you helping, think of all of the knowledge you bring back with you.

  13. Nick Campbell

    Very good article and interesting perspective on service learning trips. I’ve never been on a service learning trip but this article definitely grew my interest in going on one. The idea of learning through service is very interesting. Most of the time, when thinking of service trips, I instantly think of those going on community service trips, not learning service trips.

  14. Sandy Davidson-Hunt

    Thank you for sharing about your experience in Tanzania and especially about the moral dilemma that you faced throughout this trip. I have never really come across a service trip so I have never really taken the time to think about this idea you propose, of whether you were helping or hurting them. Through your explanation, it sounds as if your teacher had no problem in helping you learn his trade, and at the end of the day I’m sure that the experience gained by your teacher and yourself is much more significant than the time he may have lost by teaching you. i hope you can come to your own conclusion that what you were doing was a good act!

  15. Donovan Blatz

    Thank you for your story! It was very interesting to hear how you overcame a very difficult barrier and ended up having fun learning a new skill. I know how it feels to volunteer and feel like you can’t do anything for the country as a whole. I traveled to Haiti one summer on a medical mission trip full of nurses and dentists but being so young I had no experience in any of this. What I got out of this though was being able to give these orphans to feeling of touch and love that they had not had in a long time. It took me awhile to see that but I am glad I was able to give that to these orphans and I am sure you were happy you took the trip as well.

  16. Gina Palmi

    I think it is important to think about what you can offer and what you can receive from this trip. You did help them bake as well as get to know the people you worked with. They benefitted from working with you from this, as well as you benefitted from it. I can understand the feeling of selfishness, but I don’t think you should dwell too much on that.

  17. Mike Zupfer

    To me it sounds like you wanted to help these people or better their lives in a long lasting way. I think this trip should still be valuable to you however because it made you take a step back and ask a lot of big questions you might not have ever asked yourself before. Maybe this trip sparked a passion in you to fulfill your desire to be a positive impact in the world. In any case, your article was interesting and made me ask myself some big questions as well.

  18. Martti Maunula

    This is a very interesting perspective on how to look at what we label service trips. On an individual level it can be very hard to see the impact that we can have. It’s also important to note how you pointed out that it wasn’t so much you serving as it was a learning experience for you. It’s easy to assume that living in the United States we are the most successful and our way must be right, but going to another country and having them reject it is a good thing for many of us to experience. We may do things different, but it doesn’t make us better.

  19. Sofia Pineda

    I really enjoyed reading your article – I appreciate the fact that you ponder what effect your presence had. I think many times people go into other countries to ‘help’ and see the host nation as a charity. As you mention, people are often selfish and I think many times these trips are more about the individual and creating short term impacts that allows him/her to feel good about themselves.
    One of the best things you can take from a trip is knowledge. When you immerse into a culture you start to understand it and see what they may need assistance with. You work with them, not for them – this creates long term impacts which truly change lives.

  20. Rachel Reicher

    This article set my mind in a different way of interpreting the act of service to others. Yes, Paul, when someone thinks providing a service to others they assume medical needs are necessary and it is had to think you can help them in other ways. Being a nursing student, I seem to have the mindset of medical attention to these types of countries. I believe it is hard to see service from a different view, and I too would struggle with determining the significance of my service in a bakery. Sometimes it is the little things that make the biggest difference, such as the communication and learning experiences. Sounds like a fantastic trip!

  21. I really enjoyed hearing about your service learning trip to Tanzania. A couple summers ago I was able to go on a service trip myself and I felt the same way — like I wasn’t going to be able to help out or make a difference. I feel like this is very common and a lot of the time people feel the same way. It’s hard to see it sometimes, but we all have ways we can serve others, even if it seems small. I am also glad you were able to learn new things and experience things you might have not before. I think that is really important to do, even if it does seem selfish. Thanks for sharing!

  22. Courtney Banks

    Learning hands on is completely different from learning with books. Most people actually learn faster with hands on material, which is why kids often work with objects when learning math materials. I never really thought about learning through service. I feel that it would be a great way to get a sense of culture and actual human experiences.

  23. Jena O'Byrne

    This was a nice article about to different perspectives that go into service trips. I had never thought of it in the way you described one of the feelings you experienced. The way you were wondering if you were actually helping them. Another important point is our service to others can often times be done with simple small acts that can add up. I was also interested in how you described the mindset of those going into service trips, and what they are expecting to get out of it. But, in the end like you said you are providing a service while learning which is a one way we can connect with others around the world. In that we are learning their ways and not being overburdening with our ideas/perspectives. Thank you for sharing your expereinces.

  24. Meghan Lozinski

    I have always struggled with service trips for the same reasons you discussed. So many times I do think people go on service trips as an excuse to travel or feel better about what they are doing, but I do think there are people who do service trips and really benefit the community. To me, the way in which you approach the trip is what can make the difference. I’m sure we’ve all heard people talk about service trips and how great it’ll look on a resume and how wonderful the experience will be, those are the selfish trips as I see it. Then there are people who love what they’re going to be doing and find enjoyment in knowing they are truly benefiting someone by helping with daily tasks like making bread.

  25. Thank you for such an interesting reflection piece on your service trip. I understand how you felt unsure about the impact you were having on those in the monastery. You didn’t want to burden them and at the same time you didn’t want to force help on them. I’m sure that your willingness to learn about their way of life was greatly appreciated and had a bigger impact on them than you thought. You stepped outside of your comfort zone and immersed yourself in a new culture. That in itself is a great personal achievement. You were able to see that by working with them and not for them, changed the whole purpose of the service trip.

  26. Jessica Richart

    That was a very interesting article, Paul. I have gone on similar trips before as well and you bring up an interesting thought on what we are actually doing. I do like to think that the ones who are teaching us their way of life enjoy sharing what they know. Things such as food are very important to history and culture. Maybe they are sharing these things with us because they are so proud of their culture. I believe that they would be very pleased if we took something we learned and incorporated into our own way of life. Thank you for sharing!

  27. Thomas Landgren

    “I was there to learn through service. I always tried to keep in mind that just because I do things differently than they do does not make my way correct or better than theirs.” These sentences are so important. I feel like anybody who has the opportunity to go on a service trip should read this article and specifically think about these sentences. I feel like learning through service is beneficial because it allows you to really connect with the people and the culture. Great Article!

  28. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and insights. I appreciated that you elaborated on many of your thought processes surrounding the nature of your service trip. I do wonder, however, was this your first experience/involvement with service learning, or had you participated in it other service trips previously? And, if so, did you find that this experience was similar to the others? I also wonder if you still found your learning experiences there valuable, even if you found yourself questioning your involvement and action there? What do you think could be done to make service learning a less selfish activity that benefits both the learner and the community?

  29. Emily Ciernia

    Thank you for sharing you experiences in Tanzania, Paul! It sounds like you had a good time there. I really loved when you said, “Perhaps it is not necessarily the “product” that my service provides, but the human interaction and cross-cultural connections that result from it.” I think that this is an important aspect when going and interacting with other cultures. Sometimes you might not be giving them a “product”, but rather the friendship and connections through different cultures. Good Job!

  30. Connor

    I think there is definitely more to your service learning trip than the “selfish” aspect you describe. I understand why you may feel that way because the only tangible results from your service were the baked goods, and you may have felt like a burden while struggling to learn how to properly make them. However, the intercultural connections you made may have had more impact than you think. In addition, while it may be frustrating to be unable to do more, the fact that you’ve kept an open mind and were genuinely interested in learning about a new culture is something that I would imagine is appreciated.

  31. Andrea Ramler

    That was a very interesting article on you service trip. I have heard of similar experience from past class mates who traveled to Africa. I was told that you can’t go in there thinking your some type of hero. Yes these people need your help but are more then capable of also doing things on there own. I think it would be very important for anyone going on a service to trip to hear such an experience. It would help them to realize that you can help but need to remain respectful and leave a gap for them to do things on there own, they aren’t helpless just struggling. I thought it was cool that you stepped out of your comfort zone and made an impact and purpose in these peoples lives in a respectful way. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  32. I always have the same concern with helping people with jobs I don’t know how to do. Aside from a relatively short attention span, I seem to have an incredible talent for being in the way. It’s true that the purpose of this trip was for you to learn, but the idea of being a hindrance is a good think to think about… But I’m sure when they agreed to be involved with your trip, they understood that. Like you said, the cultural exchange and learning to communicate through some barriers might be the biggest takeaway. But it’s a good one. 🙂

  33. This was a very refreshing post, thank you for honestly portraying your experience. As a student then and now I was never allowed to go on mission trips because its selfish. My father would tell me that sure you go down there and dig a well put in a new pump then you leave. Is anyone tried to fix the pump or how it works? Insure though that they appreciated the help and it was nice to work with a new face. I had a friend who would go on many mission trips and she would bring American trinkets to give to kids, that really can put stress on their economy and village life. Because you give them blankets or stuff today but in a month your not their and they have to figure it out.

  34. Samantha Wollin

    Thanks for sharing your story about your service trip! It sounds like an amazing journey you will never forget!! You said you felt like you didn’t help out much, but you definitely did!! I have always been interested in doing service trips, but I never have, so your story was really interesting! Thank you!!

  35. Jodi Moran

    Paul, my immediate thought as I was reading this article was maybe you are teaching these people in ways that you are not even aware of. For example, when you said that you were baking and didn’t really know what you were supposed to do and the bakers had to help you, you were teaching those bakers to be patient and show you something that they enjoy. When people get into a routine of doing something, the skill that they are performing can be taken for granted. However, when a newcomer needs explanation and help, this reminds someone of why they are doing the skill that they treasure so much. So in other words, I think that you have helped these people in more ways than you know!

  36. It’s very refreshing and insightful to read this reflection. I think it’s important to look back critically on a service trip. For many of the readers here, this provides a good breakdown of what to expect and how to think about future service trips they may embark on. It certainly has me thinking about future trips.

  37. Cheyenne Lemm

    Wow, you put this feeling into words. During my recent service trip to New Orleans I felt the same way- was I going to blunder or actually make a difference. I think it’s easy to see your service when it results in a fence built or a house primed, but when you do small every day tasks it can feel insignificant. I feel they were most likely thankful to have a helping hand and to see people interested to learn what life in Tanzania is like outside of what media would have us believe.

  38. Carley Nadeau

    Thank you for sharing your experience of your trip! Service learning seems like a very interesting concept, and you explained it very well here. You also brought up many thought provoking points. Not only are you learning on the job, you are getting a whole new global perspective. It is interesting to see how people like Emanueli live and work every day.

  39. Madina Tall

    Hello Paul!
    Thank you for sharing! I do not think that you did not contribute anything at all!! Just by you, someone from as far away as the United States, being in Tanzania learning from Emanueli, you are spreading your knowledge and culture! Everyone has something special to offer because we are all so different! Whether it was the way you spoke or grew up or even acted, I can guarantee you that you contributed something to the people at the Chipotle monastery! And I think it’s very important that you recognize what potential dangers there could be when doing service trips!

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