With a month left until college graduation, I had no idea what I was going to do after May. Like many of my peers, I could not see myself having a 9-to-5 job at this stage of my life.
I wanted to travel before I got the dreaded desk job I had heard so much about. East Africa had been calling me since I started taking Swahili my freshman year at the University of Kansas.
When I did not test out of a single Spanish class (after four years in high school), I decided to take Swahili, fulfilling my desire to take a less commonly taught language in college. I ended up loving my Swahili classes and studying it for five years, even minoring in it.
I decided to go to Tanzania: it is one of the safer countries where Swahili is spoken. However, many of my online searches turned up organizations that wanted to me pay them – as much as $2,000 a week – to volunteer. While I was OK with not getting paid, I was not OK with having to pay to volunteer.
Then I found a small charity based in the United Kingdom that has a program at a school for students who are deaf in Dar es Salaam, the biggest city in Tanzania with 4.5 million people. The charity told me a good hostel to stay at and did not charge me to volunteer.
It was a win-win for me. Not only did I get to practice my Swahili and travel, but when in the next 30 years of working would I have time to take 9 weeks off to travel to Africa?
I will always remember my time at the school in Tanzania. One boy at the school, who is deaf and has a lazy eye, would always come up to me in his old brown tweed pants and oversized blue t-shirt, which he wore every day when not in his school uniform, and give me the thumbs up sign. We pushed our thumbs together and then let them slip to the side. We did this multiple times a day; every time, he smiled widely.