While studying abroad, I have discovered the true meaning of adaptability. As my program operates in remote locations and in unpredictable ecosystems, adapting to changing conditions and overcoming obstacles has become an essential life lesson. Whether the roadblocks are physical, social, mental, or emotional, I’ve realized that a) I am not alone, b) that my feelings are valid, and c) the best way to move forward is to adjust my mentality to realize that every obstacle is a chance to learn and grow. My tight-knit group of six study abroad peers and I realized that we each had different strengths and weaknesses, so we learned to approach challenges as a team.
Not long ago, we ventured into the middle of the Tanzanian jungle (no plumbing, electricity, clean water, or translator). While the physical challenges of outdoor living were not as challenging for me as they were for others, I found myself struggling with the severe language barrier. When trying to communicate with a local ranger, I became frustrated at my level of Kiswahili comprehension. The forest ranger was listing all the dangers and safety precautions we needed to be aware of, but all my ears heard were, “monkeys…. hole…. fire…. food” (not exactly the most helpful). At another, (in hindsight) hilarious moment, I attempted to communicate to the ranger that a blue monkey had pooped on me from above; however, I apparently used the incorrect and crude term for the action. Shock, followed by bouts of laughter, helped me realize my mistake and move past the uncomfortable moment. I am grateful to my friends who helped use humor to surpass the language roadblock, and the practice it offered to sharpen my Kiswahili language skills. In turn, not long after, I helped support one of my peers through her difficulties in adapting to camping life, namely, learning to use “nature’s bathroom” (also overcome by fits of giggles). Overcoming cultural differences and obstacles is a transition that can take time; however, a support system, adaptable mindset, and humor have certainly helped develop my character and, at the very least, left me with a few funny stories to share.