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From the USA to Tanzania: From Tanzania with Love

08 September, 2014 11:01  Erin Erin

From Tanzania with Love Meet Michael and Ashley Leen, residents of east africa, americans by birth, co-bloggers on from tanzania with love.

1. Why did you move abroad?
We moved abroad because we wanted to take the jump and try living in a developing country. We had opportunities to volunteer in parts of Africa and Central America when we were in college, which gave us the first taste of living and working with poor and marginalized communities internationally. Through those experiences, we learned so much about ourselves and the effects culture has that we knew we wanted to do it again, but this time, for the long-term.

2. How do you make a living?

We work for Maryknoll Lay Missioners (MKLM), an American faith-based non-profit organization that sends people to six different countries all over the world to serve in developing communities for a minimum of 3.5 years. Currently, there are about 60 of us serving in Tanzania, Kenya, Cambodia, Bolivia, Brazil, and El Salvador. MKLM covers the majority of our expenses but we too participate in fundraising activities for our work and for the larger organization.

3. How often do you communicate with home and how?
Thank God for modern technology! Although internet services are poor here in Tanzania, we are able to keep in touch with folks back in the United States often. We use Google Voice to text family and friends during the day and Skype for phone and video calls at least once a week.

4. What's your favorite thing about being an expat in Tanzania?

Our favorite thing about being Tanzanian expats is the warm and welcoming nature of Tanzanians. They are such an incredibly hospitable people. It is not out of the ordinary to walk by a local’s home and hear them invite you in for a meal, sight unseen! We are clearly not used to this, coming from the United States, so that takes some getting used to. We enjoy meeting those with whom we live and work, learning about their lives and conversing in the local language.

5. What’s the worst thing about being an expat in Tanzania?

Yikes, that certainly opens up a can of worms! Being in a developing country, you have to get used to living without modern amenities, the worst of which is the internet! We could get used to pretty much anything, but embarrassingly, as children of the computer generation, we just can’t live without steady internet service.

6. What do you miss most?
Doesn’t everyone say family and friends? We knew in moving away that we would miss out on important events back at home, but after seven months here, it’s starting to sink in. We miss holidays, weddings, birthdays… We try to stay in touch as much as we can, but it’s just not the same!

7. What did you do to meet people and integrate in your new home?
We have been really shameless about our attempts to make new friends. There are a couple of expat communities here in Mwanza that we’ve joined. Through our blog, we’ve made friends as well! We’ve been surprised and pleased with how friendly the expat community is here. Because we can relate to each through our shared experience, people are very open to new friendships, even with strangers!

8. What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?
I wouldn’t use the word “strange” as what’s strange to us is done for perfectly normal and logical reasons to them! We’ve been amused as we attempt to learn Kiswahili, the local language. So many Western concepts have absolutely no translation in Kiswahili. For example, there is no word for “favorite” here, which makes it difficult when getting to know a child. We’re so used to asking, “What’s your favorite color? What’s your favorite food?” But there’s simply no concept of something being “favorite” in Tanzania.

9. What is a myth about your adopted country?
Because Tanzania, and Africa in general, is portrayed as poor in Western media, many get the impression that Tanzanians aren’t well informed. But they are! They are constantly listening to the radio and standing on the street corners, reading the newspapers. They often know more than we do about current events, even about what’s happening in our home country!

10. Is the cost of living higher or lower than the last country you lived in and how has that made a difference in your life?
The cost of living is lower here than in the United States, but our income has also decreased accordingly, so it hasn’t made a huge difference in our life. Like we said earlier, we live without many modern luxuries that we had back in the States but it’s amazing how quickly you adapt to your new surroundings!

11. What advice would you give other expats?
Our advice would be to stick it out the first six months. We hit our breaking point around Month 4 or 5 – the culture was too foreign, the language was too hard. We felt way in over our heads! But we focused on getting through one day at a time and although it was really difficult, it became a lot easier. Now, life feels very normal.

12. When and why did you start your blog? From Tanzania with Love
We started our blog in September 2013 to document our initial move from the United States to Tanzania. We’ve loved keeping it up now that we’re here. It allows us to reflect more intentionally on our experiences and share our life in a different way with friends and family in the States. Karibu! Welcome!

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