Sophomore to spend the summer speaking Swahili
April 2, 2017
Sophomore Anastasia Winfield’s summer will be spent learning Swahili in Tanzania.
Winfield, a global health studies major on the pre-health track, received the opportunity to spend her summer in Tanzania when she was selected for the Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) Program.
The CLS is a program of the United States Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, according to their website.
Amy Nichols-Belo, Winfield’s advisor, introduced Winfield to the CLS scholarship program.
“She [Nichols-Belo] has done a lot of work in Tanzania, and I took her global health class last year and declared global health [as my major],” Winfield said. “I felt really connected to her experiences.”
For her global health studies major, Winfield needed to take a foreign language class. She didn’t want to take French or Spanish because she said she didn’t feel like she connected with either of them.
“I can understand Spanish to an extent, but I wasn’t passionate about it,” she said. “I think it would be cool to know multiple languages. It’s useful.”
As she spoke to her advisor about her plans, Winfield said Nichols-Belo brought up the CLS scholarship program.
Winfield said Nichols-Belo helped her fill out the application and was the one who made the announcement that she had been accepted to the CLS program on the Mercer International and Global Studies Department Facebook page.
Now that she has been accepted to the CLS program, Winfield said Nichols-Belo and women’s and gender studies professor Natalie Bourdon will help her to get a head start on the basics of Swahili.
Both Nichols-Belo and Bourdon speak Swahili and have done work in Tanzania, Winfield said.
“I know nothing about Swahili. I’ve never spoken it, so this is completely beginner,” Winfield said.
Even though she said she knows nothing about Swahili, Winfield said she specifically applied for the Tanzania program.
“I want to do medical work in other countries, and I’m feeling like I want to go somewhere that is regionally in Africa,” she said. “I know that at some point in my roots I have family from there. I don’t know specifically, but I have a piqued interest in digging that.”
According to their website, the CLS program offers 14 different critical language programs. The language programs are split into three different categories: no previous study, one year of previous study, and two years of previous study.
The program will take place June 11 through Aug. 11 at the MS Training Centre for Development Cooperation (MS-TCDC) in Arusha, Tanzania, according to an email Winfield received.
While at the training center, Winfield will participate in 20 hours of class each week in order to learn Swahili.
“Also, every weekend [we will] go on cultural excursions, and they have rules while we’re doing the activities,” she said — including one about not using English.
“You’re literally thrown in there and forced to do it,” she said about speaking Swahili. “It’s going to be super immersive, and I think that’s the whole concept of it.”
Before she becomes immersed in the culture of Tanzania, Winfield said she has a lot of preparing to do for the trip. Along with already having to get her passport renewed, she has had to begin the process of getting a visa and getting medically prepared for the trip.
“I have to get several vaccinations and take anti-malarials and all this different kind of stuff that we don’t get vaccinated for here in the U.S.,” she said.
Although she is still unsure about her housing arrangements during the program, she said she also has to write a letter to her potential roommate or host family.
“It’s a little stressful because it’s a lot of paperwork, bust mostly I’m just really excited,” she said. “I just want it to be summer so I can go.”
Winfield said she will not be the only person on the Tanzania trip this summer. Her Swahili group will consist of five to 35 people, she said.
She also said that the whole CLS program has around 600 participants from across the country.
“The first day [of the trip] they fly us all to D.C. for orientation, and then we leave for our respective countries,” she said.
Winfield said the CLS program has a Tanzania/Swahili Facebook page that will allow the students in the program to connect before the trip.
“I just think it’s going to be cool to learn about different people and be able to learn a language and be directly immersed in the culture. It’ll be a completely different way of life and that’s something I’m excited for and interested in,” she said about the program as a whole.
Winfield said that her upcoming trip will not be her last.
“I’m planning to go back to Tanzania next summer with Mercer on Mission and be of assistance,” she said. “They’ve had issues in the past with translation, so they’re looking to use me to help out with that.”
The Tanzania Mercer on Mission is led by Nichols-Belo and Bourdon, and Bourdon said she is excited that Winfield will be helping out.
“Winfield is a bright, curious, keenly analytical student, and her choice to learn Kiswahili, partly in preparation to apply to the Tanzania Mercer on Mission program I teach with Dr. Amy Nichols-Belo, reflects her sincere interest in cross-cultural learning and prepared, conscientious engagement. I am so pleased that we will have another Swahili speaker on our program and here at Mercer,” Bourdon said in an email.
As she continues to plan her trip with the Swahili program and her future trips, her friends, like Madeline Bare, said they share her excitement.
“Anastasia is the most passionate and driven person I know. I have never met someone who cares so deeply about the world around them,” Bare said. “Everything she does, she does it to prepare for her career and how she can help everyone she meets. I am so excited for her to go on this trip and continue to grow as a person.”