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Senior studying in Tanzania discovers self

January 7, 2008

Senior studying in Tanzania discovers self

As a philosophy and classics major, senior Lindsey Webb always planned to spend a semester studying away in Greece. However, a student-faculty research project with philosophy professor Erin McKenna changed her plans. McKenna and Webb studied great apes and ethics last year. During the project, Webb completed an apprenticeship at the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Wash.

After learning so much about chimpanzees, Webb decided she needed to visit Africa and learn more. She spent this fall semester studying away in Tanzania through the Lutheran Consortium of Colleges for Tanzania (LCCT).

The program is a collaboration between PLU, St. Olaf College, Concordia College and Luther College. In it, students take classes at the University of Dar es Salaam and participate in LCCT work, such as independent research projects and teaching at local primary schools.

Tanzania is home to Gombe Stream National Park, where renowned primatologist Jane Goodall began her work studying chimpanzee social and family life in 1960. While in the country, Webb’s independent research project looked at the conservation program run by the Jane Goodall Institute in Kigoma. It focuses on community development and education as the backbone of environmental conservation.

“For someone who is interested in chimpanzee conservation, it’s a place you have to go,” Webb explained.

Webb visited the national park and observed free-living chimpanzees. She also spent several days at the institute talking to the staff and learning about the conservation strategy. On one of the last days of her visit, she toured villages in the area, talking to the villagers about how they interact with the conservation project.

Along with Webb, five other Lutes – Andy Guinn, Caroline Gonia, Brian Wehmhoefer, Meredith Forrey and Jessica Baumer – studied in Tanzania this fall. Four students from St. Olaf and three from Concordia rounded out the group.

During her stay in Tanzania, Webb said two of the most difficult aspects have been seeing “crushing poverty” every day and adjusting to the slower pace of life.

“I’m kind of ashamed, because of the different natures of the problems, to say that they have been equally so,” she said.

Webb’s had to face the inequities that exist between herself and most Tanzanians. While she attends an expensive private university and spends thousands of dollars to travel and create life experiences, a Tanzanian housewife works hard all day just to feed and clothe her children.

“I know there is something wrong here, and the hardest part is trying to answer the question, ‘So what do I do about it?’” she said.

Before traveling to Africa, Webb heard that the pace was slower and things weren’t structured like American students are used to. This lack of organization and efficiency has led to tears of frustration among the American and European students, she said, but it’s also offered a unique perspective on cultural differences.

“I thought I would be able to deal with this just fine,” Webb explained. “But being here has made me realize that I’m addicted to organization and efficiency, and I’m definitely not as patient a person as I thought I was.”

The Tanzanian people have been extremely welcoming and she finds it easy to connect with the people as true friends. For example, her Tanzanian roommate offered to share her dinner with Webb on the first day they met.

Her experience has made her more appreciative of her life in the states, made her stronger in her convictions and sense of self, along with increasing her passion for environmental issues, feminism and the developing world, she said. She’s also learned not to take simple things – like running, drinkable water from a tap – for granted.

“In that way, this semester has made me a very grateful person,” Webb said. “It’s also made me aware of the ability I have to help other people who have fewer rights and opportunities.”

University Communications staff writer Megan Haley compiled this report. Comments, questions, ideas? Please contact her at ext. 8691 or at Photo provided by Lindsey Webb.