Some of OPRF’s “Beyond the Classroom” students had never even flown before, let alone step one foot in another country. They not only endured a marathon 16-hour flight to the African country of Tanzania, but also spent a part of their summer learning about its people, land and culture.
The June 2005 Tanzanian trip, the first ever in Field Conservation and Cultural Studies, sent 13 students for two weeks, studying the country’s animal habitat, soil and interacting with the cordial Tanzanian people.
They spent from February to May preparing for the trip, studying the continent and its wildlife, and completing assignments, earning two elective credits in the process. The class of juniors, sophomores and seniors departed June 15 and returned on June 30. Many weren’t quite sure what they were in store for.
“It was completely different than what I expected,” said 17-year-old senior Brandon Hosely, who traveled abroad for the first time this summer. “I didn’t expect some of the things like the living environment. It was really fun and really exciting.”
Unlike the shenanigans on CBS’s wildlife show Survivor or the high-wire plot of an Indiana Jones movie, OPRF’s students got a real-life African experience.
In their first week, the students camped for three nights at Serengeti National Park. They went on a jeep safari, riding alongside zebras, lions, cheetahs and buffalo over the hot grasslands. They were able to study the animals while walking through some of the country’s plentiful tropical forests.
They spent the other nights camped in the Ngorongoro Conservation area, near Lake Manyara in central Africa. The area is also home to the world famous Ngorongoro Crater. Spanning some 260 square kilometers, and with a depth of more than 600 meters below its rim, the crater is the world’s largest volcanic caldera (“cauldron,” in Spanish). The crater is its own self-contained environment, with freshwater lakes, grassland and thousands of wild animals.
One of the biggest treats educationally and personally was a visit to the conservation area’s Olduvai Gorge, said OPRF junior Sophia Stith, 17. The gorge, a 30-mile-long ravine in eastern Africa, is the site of some of archeology’s greatest finds. For more than a million years, volcanic ash covered the once large lake, burying beneath it the remains of early man”and woman.
“We saw skeletons and like the first tools ever used,” said a beaming Stith. “I mean it wasn’t like a replica or something. It was one that was actually found. I got a change to actually touch it. At a museum, that stuff is behind the glass. But these thousand-year-old tools are like two inches from your face. There’s no security cameras or anything. It’s just there.”
The site is well known for its archeologists as well. World-renowned Dr. Louis Leakey first excavated the land in the 1950s, helping to confirm the theory of evolution.
The students’ second week proved just as enriching. They met secondary students at a school in Moshi, a Tanzanian city of roughly 140,000 people. The OPRF students learned firsthand about the economic conditions facing the Tanzanians.
“We learned that the students spend their weekends replanting the forest because people cut down trees for firewood and don’t replant them,” said 17-year-old senior Leah Gross, who also traveled overseas for first time. “A lot of their time is spent replanting the forests to make sure the future of their country is preserved.”
Some students helped the Tanzanians plant small trees and cultivate their soil. They also found out what their hosts thought about them and America.
“They didn’t think there were black people in America,” said Erica Corbert, 17, senior.
“They were surprised when they saw us,” added Noby Edwards, a 15-year-old sophomore at OPRF. “They thought we were all slaves or something.”
Some of the visitors had their own pre-conceived notions about Africa and its people. Some thought they’d find a bug-infested, sweltering desert. The country had its share of hot days and hyperactive insects, but it wasn’t as bad as some feared.
“I thought it was going to be flat; just nothing but land,” said 17-year-old senior Kristen Donat. “I thought it was going to be all like warriors there, but when we got there, everyone was totally different. Everyone was really friendly. When we said hi to someone or ‘Jambo’ [hello in Swahili], they would say hi back. We tried to learn Swahili. And they knew more English than we knew Swahili.”
The students saw people from all walks of life. Those eye-opening lessons and experiences are what a program like “Beyond the Classroom” is about, said science teacher and trip chaperone Jamie Bender.
“One of the greater aspects of taking students outside of the classroom to learn is that when you’re in a situation like this, in Africa, you have experts from all different areas teaching the students. Every day they’re learning from a different expert and putting it all together to know that they are a part of the larger world.”
And though the students have been back for months, they haven’t forgotten their African friends. They’ve since filled a couple of cardboard boxes with paper, markers, crayons and notebooks, among other items, to send to Tanzania. It’s a small gift for them compared to the one they gave the young travelers.
“It was just so interesting to learn about other people,” said Noby Edwards. “It made me want to know everything I could.”