My SIT Semester Abroad Changed My Life
May 24th, 2017 | SIT Study Abroad
My PhD fieldwork was all about adapting to difficult situations and working with people to overcome challenges. Although it was nine years before I started doctoral work, my SIT semester was priceless.
How my SIT semester abroad changed my life
By Ed Bourque
Alumnus, SIT Tanzania 1995
I participated in the 1995 Wildlife Conservation and Ecology semester in Tanzania way back in 1995. In addition to opening my eyes to real-world integrated conservation and development, it helped me grow as an independent learner.
From the start, the program helped us build basic field skills—from getting around in Arusha and elsewhere to doing wildlife tracking and walking transects. The program had a good curriculum to complement the field components as well.
On top of all of this, for a city boy like me, seeing the level of natural beauty in the country was very impactful.
Just under a decade later, after finishing my BA at Colby College, completing graduate study at Brandeis University, and doing some environmental work before and after grad school, I returned to Tanzania to do my PhD field work in Dar es Salaam, based at King’s College London. I chose Dar es Salaam to be the case study city for my doctoral research in water and sanitation access because I knew a few parts of Tanzania—Arusha, Moshi, Dar es Salaam, and Zanzibar—pretty well.
In Dar es Salaam, at the city level there was major controversy in terms of public and private water supply, and at the ultra-local level my preliminary research showed cholera outbreaks in some of the older informal settlements near the center of the city.
While King’s College London prepared me well for the methodological challenges I would face, my comfort within Tanzania that I gained through my SIT Tanzania semester also helped. I understood the social and economic context and was comfortable in country. Heck, I even remembered how to speak Swahili (and got right back up to speed with a little practice with strangers on buses ("dala dalas").
While my PhD fieldwork was on urban water and sanitation issues, social science skills, and, most important, the emotional resilience that the SIT semester taught me helped me get through all the roadblocks and setbacks I ran into. My PhD fieldwork was all about adapting to difficult situations and working with people to overcome challenges. Although it was nine years before I started doctoral work, my SIT semester was priceless.
Edward Bourque is an independent water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) professional who provides research and proposal writing support to NGOs and donors including USAID, World Bank, and UNICEF. He writes about water, sanitation, and international development at his blog. Feel free to say hello.
Tanzania: Wildlife and Political Ecology