I never had a serious thought process of weighing the pros and cons for spending a semester studying abroad. As an African Studies major I had taken Swahili for my first two years at Penn so the chance to spend the entire semester in Tanzania totally immersed in this language that I had spent so many late nights in Van Pelt trying to learn seemed like the natural thing to do. I wanted total language immersion and that’s exactly what I’ve gotten.
The College’s language programs and classes are phenomenal, but there is something about language that you never really can grasp with only grammar charts, dialogues, and in-class essays. Being able to go to country or part of the world where your language is spoken and get real practice on the streets is invaluable. Haggling with shopkeepers in the main market of my host community of Iringa or trying to explain where I was trying to get to when I was hopelessly lost during my month-long home-stay in the rural village of Ikanga has taught me more about the subtleties and intricacies of Swahili than I ever could have learned in a classroom at Penn.
Being able to wittily deflect aggressive and frequent marriage proposals from random strangers (yes, this happens and, yes, it’s bizarre) has cemented my ability to think and produce the language quickly. While negotiating prices for some colorful Tanzanian cloth (that my sister basically wants brought home more than me at this point) has honed the way I use certain vocab, progressively getting more direct and harsh as the rounds of bargaining go on.
All in all, what this semester has taught me most is that having the opportunity to study abroad is not an alternative to Penn, but a natural continuation, in my opinion a requirement, for anyone trying to solidify their proficiency in a foreign language. As a junior I’ve spent two years memorizing vocabulary and learning verb conjugations, but five months of getting to put that knowledge into use has been amazing and, if given the chance, I’d do it all again if I could.
If you’re trying to master your language and thinking of going abroad, as Professor Mshomba, Penn’s Swahili instructor, told me last year “Uende Ng’ambo!” “Go Abroad!” and put those language skills to the test.
-David Scollan '17