One year ago when I titled my personal blog “Cultures Collide” it was because I had planned to visit so many countries over the course of the year and I knew I would see things that differed from my own culture and that would collide with my upbringing. At the time I had no idea that the largest most difficult collision I would experience would be my return to America.

Over the course of my year overseas I have experienced new languages, weird food, vast cultural differences, many hours traveling on weird forms of transportation, living without a fridge oven or car, spending days without electricity or water, having only 3 pairs of shoes and 12 days worth of clothes and not understanding many of the things going around me. I don't know if it is because I have travelled a lot or if I am just a flexible person but all of that was easy compared to returning to the US. Granted I love my amazing US family and friends and seeing them has been wonderful but there are not many people that completely understand what I am going through in returning. Many people have tried to be super supportive, amazing and wonderful.  They have shown me tremendous love in so many ways but to understand the cultural collision that happens upon returning to the US after a year overseas is very difficult unless you have experienced it first hand.

You may be asking what is the big deal Kerri- You grew up here, get over it.  In an attempt to explain what  is happening with me I will explain the 3 biggest challenges I am currently experiencing and you can feel free to comment or criticize if you want.    

Many call this reverse culture shock.  And many people who have traveled extensively for long periods of time have comment that this is the worse kind of culture shock- I tend to agree with them.

The first major challenge I came across was the excessive lifestyle people have here and their need for physical possessions.  After living with just my basic needs for a year I came to realize that you do not need a lot to have a happy life.  We did not have a television, a refrigerator, a car, or many of the luxuries people have in America.  We did not live in a mud hut either with nothing but we had what we needed to get by.  We had a nice house, something to cook with, and our two feet to get around.  Everyday someone had to go to the market to get food to cook and we spent evenings with friends instead of watching television.  Many people here have said to me how did you live like that, but honestly I was the healthiest I have ever been, I made very intense relationships with the people I was friends with, and life was good.  When I returned the first thing that made me overwhelmed was the amount of stuff I had.  Granted before I left I thought I sold everything that I did not need but upon returning I felt like I had more than I would need in a life time.  I was so overwhelmed I went through every area of my house and eliminated half my wardrobe, threw out piles and piles of documents I had been saving since college, and donated many objects that I found to be pointless.  And after all that I still have more clothes than I need and stuff that I know is not important.  When I walk into a store here I feel like there is not a single thing I need and don't even bother looking at clothes anymore because I feel like I have too much.  After a week I still feel overwhelmed about the stuff in my house but what was the hardest was that every piece of clothing and object I donated I knew someone that could benefit from it far away and I knew that many people here are no longer interested in things once they have been used.  In America if it is not new many people are not interested in having it.  The frustrating part about all of this was that  every single thing I got rid of could have been given to someone I knew in far away countries, but to ship the materials would cost more than if I just sent them the money from shipping costs to buy the items there.  Which made me wonder- why as Americans to we feel the need to have so much stuff?  Why does everything we own have to be brand new? And why is it ok that we are ignorant of the fact that we do have so many things when so many people have nothing?

Ok my second cultural shock was the intense sense of urgency and work that exists here.  I have always said that the biggest difference I see between America and other parts of the world is the work load and the drive to have deadlines and schedules for everything.  This compared to the more relaxed attitude I have found in other countries makes me wonder what we are always rushing for.  Coming back I tried to mentally prepare myself for that.  I knew that I started work 5 days after returning home and I knew that it was not going to be easy, but as I sat in our teacher institute day and heard about how many things had to be accomplished by Monday morning I was feeling VERY overwhelmed.  Not only was I overwhelmed but so many other teachers were overwhelmed.  I know that education is not the only field that runs on calendars, to do lists and dead lines but sometimes it makes me wonder why we are so focused on getting so much done.  There are smart phone apps to help you get work done, email alerts to remind you of stuff you have to do, and a calendar on every system we use from paper to email to phones.  With all of that there are also advertisements about medications and therapies for depression, anxiety and things like restless leg syndrome everywhere you look.  Sometimes I wonder if the two things are not linked.  As I have gotten SO overwhelmed by the intensity of our developed advanced nation I also wondered if maybe we have made ourselves so focused on schedules and work that we have also made ourselves crazy.  Since being home I have tried to connect with many people and the thing that always amazes me is how scheduled they are and how they have to rearrange their schedules to see their friends or spend time with their family.  I am not sure if the way we live in the US is good for our mental health but I do know that one of the best things I learned this year while travelling is that is ok to slow down and take time to get things done.  The world will not come to an end if you are not doing everything or scheduled every hour of the day.  Sometimes relaxing and letting life happen to you is good too.  Now the trick is making my new way of thinking fit into my old American life.

After the intense throwing out of all my unneeded things and the decision to not obsess over my schedule, calendar, or to do list- I thought ok maybe I could do this.  Maybe if I just slow down and relax I will be ok.  That is when the phone calls started from my students in Tanzania.  It started during institute day when Humphrey, a student Jill and I took care of all year, called to say hi, see how I was and asked me to come back.  Then this morning Raphaeli, another student I have worked with for 3 years called to say hi and tell me he misses me.  Honestly I know that there are kids at my school in America that need me and there is alot I can do here also and the more people keep telling me that the more I don't want to hear it because no matter how many America students need me it is still hard to tell a kid without parents living by himself in his dead grandmothers house that I cannot come back right now but miss him also.  I love teaching- I love being in the classroom and I love the students I see everyday at Antioch they are great kids and the teachers are amazing people who I love to work with, but it is just not the same.  Helping kids find food, clothing, shelter, education access and civil rights when they have disabilities is so much different for me than teaching in America with computers, diversity clubs, sports teams, and enough resources to teach every kid in a different way.  

As much as I am trying and trying and trying to make it work and not be cynical and critical- It has been hard.  My new culture that has been built from my amazing experience has decided not only is it going to collide but it is going to smash everything I once knew about life to bits.   It is hard to look around and see how much stuff we have here and wonder do we need it when so many others are struggling.  It is hard to enjoy life here when overwhelmed by the amount that is expected and demanded of one person with so little respect for their personal time to live.  And it is hard to look at our textbooks, computers, and large teaching staffs and not think about kids over the ocean who only have pens and paper.  Kids who learn about computers but will never see one.  Kids who memorize the parts of a microscope but never actually use one.  

Those in the US that deal with me daily, and those in Tanzania that get my many sad texts messages please just know I am trying, please be patient with me.  I did not just go on vacation for a year.  I worked really hard, made a life for myself, and enjoyed everything about it everyday.  I love seeing every single person I am getting to see again in America and I love talking about what I missed and catching up but I also miss where I was, what I was doing, and the amazing people I fell in love with while I was there.  

So.....What have I learned about cultural collision........When do cultures collide?

Cultures collide when you go somewhere really really different for a while.  To a place that impacted your heart and mind and sent you home to realize you have forever been changed.

One of the amazing things that Jillian and I are participating in while we are here in Tanzania is the creation of a comic book on child’s rights.  We are working with an organization called Mkombozi, which works with street children and promotes child rights in Northern Tanzania.  One of the administrative staff members approached us about helping them work with the street children in their group home to create a kid friendly comic book promoting child rights.  To do this Jill and I met with the kids at the center a few times and talked to them about child rights.   We gathered many ideas from the kids and put together a story line for a comic book that we are currently working with an artist to now create and give out to 5,000 kids across Northern Tanzania in the upcoming months.  Although the comic book is still in the works  to kick off their large campaign on child rights (haki ya watoto) Mkombozi had an event in Moshi for the children in town to celebrate their rights and to celebrate all the youth of Moshi.

All children were invited to this event and Jillian and I gave out invitations to our students at Kilimaehwa Education Center.  We told the kids it was up to them to get to the event and that we would be there to hang out with them but they had to talk to their parents about going and getting home.  The location of the event was on the opposite side of town and required the kids to take two dala dala (public buses) to get there and then to walk for about 25 minutes.  We did not think that the kids would show up but they seemed really excited about it.  Saturday morning, the day of the event, one of the children called us to tell us he was there and we needed to hurry up and come hang out with them. 

We arrived there at 10:30am to see 25 of our Kilimahewa students there.  We were so surprised and excited to see them.  They had gotten up early and many had arrived when the event first started at 8am.  While there we hung out with the kids, told stories, encouraged them to watch the presentations, to learn about their rights, and we laughed and danced.  The special needs students from Gabriella Center (another school we support) sang a song about children and other school groups performed.  We treated the kids to popsicles and enjoyed the day with them.  It was a great day and so much fun to see the Kilimahewa kids involved with the local community. 

Although the comic book is still in the works and we are hoping to have it published and distributed to children in both Moshi and Arusha before we leave in the beginning of August.  It is our hope that this book helps educate children and parents on children’s rights and gives kids something positive to read.  When we finish I will publish the comic book for you to see on my blog. 

Here are some pictures of the Kilimaehwa kids from the amazing event this weekend.  

25 students showed up on their own to participate in the event
It was so much fun
Winifreda wore her EdPowerment t-shirt
The kids dancing
Salvatory and Peter enjoying popsicles
Joseph's serious face
Some of the girls
Reading the Rights of children and smiling for the camera
Some of the older girls
Sorry for the late blog entry….

For the last month I have been travelling around East Africa.  I have visited different places I have never been in Tanzania, seen some of the amazing beaches of Kenya, Trekked with gorillas in Rwanda, and visited the Source of the Nile River in Uganda.  It has been a pretty amazing journey.  Before I left on this long adventure one of my aunts asked me, “Kerri, you visit some amazing places but I still don’t understand why you love to
live in East Africa?”  This answer is not always the easiest for people to understand.  The things that make this place very different from America and very difficult to live in, are sometimes the same things I love most about it.  So in an effort to help everyone I love understand why I chose to try to live here this blog is dedicated to some of those reasons.  

Just for comparison purposes….

In the United States I am a highly educated award-winning teacher (so fancy I know but I am proud of that) who works long hours for my students.  I am insecure at times about life and some times get so passionate about my work that I can argue about the smallest things or break into tears over my frustration of the slow pace of educational change in America.  My co-workers spend a lot of time making fun of how involved I get in school and my need “to save the world,” one after school group at a time.  I run a Model United Nations and Interact Service Club.  I keep score at the volleyball games and take tickets at the football games.  It would be an understatement to say that I live for my work or that my work is my life.  I lived the last few years in a suburb 45 minutes outside of Chicago where the houses were pretty much the same and the grocery stores, restaurants, and places to go for fun were all corporate chains.  On the weekends I hung out with my family, ran activities at my school, or watched tv or talked to friends on the internet.  All events with friends generally had to be scheduled in advance because people were so busy with America’s crazy work expectations that no one had time for spontaneity and everyone had wall calendars, phone calendars, and email calendars to keep them on track.  I love to travel to fun and exotic places but many of my friends have kids and realistically their idea of travel is weekend trips to Wisconsin, weeks in Florida or other small trips due to the short amount of days people were given off of work.  Don’t get me wrong I love my life there and it is an interesting one full of amazing students, fun times, and wonderful family and friends.  I love Sunday mornings with Bill Mahr and Starbucks Coffee.  I love to go to the Chicago museums, eat at cool restaurants, or to just walk around Millennium Park.  But for me after everything I have done and all the places I have been at times every day in the US tends to feel the same.


In Tanzania I live in the north of the country, in one of the most beautiful, environmentally diverse regions, I have ever visited in all my travels.  I live in a middle sized city called Moshi full of crazy and insane interactions and experiences.  In a way of life that is completely different to what I am used to in the United States I am amazed every day by the things that surrounded us….

Everyday when I wake up I look out my back window to a view of Mount Kilimanjaro.  And everyday the view gives me the chills just looking at it.  It is the largest free-standing mountain in the world and with the glacier on top it looks like a massive piece of ice and rock that could kill anyone who challenged it.  But for me, I do not think of the rock and ice or of the thousands of people that are on the mountain that day trying to reach its peak, instead I think of possibilities.  It is this mountain that people come from all over the world to climb and stand on the top of so they can say they reached the roof of Africa.  The mountain provides jobs to hundreds of people in the region and brings so much money in the form of tourism to the area.  The glacier at the top provides water to thousands of people that would not have it otherwise. The slopes of the immense mountain are full of coffee plantations and banana trees that so many people work to earn a profit from.  Every time I see Kilimanjaro on a clear day I think.-  Wow, Amazing!   

View from my backyard window
We then spend time at Kilimahewa Education Center or Gabriella Center with amazing children who come from all over the area to get an education.  Some of our kids walk hours to get to school and then stay after school and on Saturdays just for some extra help that might help them pass the national exam and determine if they can have a secondary school education.  The kids at Gabriella have huge smiles and are so happy for positive attention that they light up a room when they walk in.  The kids listen to every word and although they do not always understand our messages they truly want and are grateful for every moment we spend with them.  Our afterschool group teaches leadership and life skills and you can see our students implementing the lessons they learned through their interactions with each other, their teachers, and through the stories they tell about their homelives.  Our outreach programs work with parents craving information about their child’s disabilities and you can see the small amount of hope they have start to shine brighter at the possibilities of support.  The desire for education and appreciation from students, parents, and organizations we work with warms my heart and is the most rewarding thing I have every experienced from a job.

Moshi, the town we live is a small town that booms due to tourism and a huge sugar plantation but if you travel west an hour you come to a much larger city called Arusha full of business, development, and many people. Both cities are full of traffic and congested with cars, people, motorbikes, buses, and businesses on street corners with funny names like “Chicken Pub”.   One of the things I love most about this part of where I live is the drive to Arusha.  On the way to Arusha you go from the lush forests and crops that fill the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro to a vast open Savannah full of Acacia trees and people that live like nomads traveling around looking for water, food, and business.  You look out over the rolling planes and see the dust, the trees, and the moving people and I think of the Africa one envisions before they know better.  I think of ancient Africa with warring tribes, spears, mud huts, and people wearing small loin clothes from old history books.  This is the stereotypical perspective that most Americans have of Africa and is not completely accurate today but looking at this vast Savannah you can imagine what it was like and actual envision it coming to life.  

When you live in a place like I do you often miss the small things from home that make you so feel comfortable.  You miss silly things like good coffee, comfortable couches, places to hang out where you won’t get bothered because you are a minority.  When you are in the United States you have access to these things everywhere you go.  A cup of Starbucks coffee just becomes a part of normal life.  Sitting in a cute café with comfortable couches is not really as exciting because they are on every corner.  You walk down the street and everyone in the United States looks different so people leave you alone and you can go about your business without talking to anyone.  In East Africa good coffee, comfortable couches in cafes, and places where you don’t stand out like the statue of liberty exist but they are rare.  When you find them you love them for the happiness they bring you that you never would have thought a comfortable coach could bring you.  You get excited to go to them and you make special trips to visit these places just to get that feeling.  If they have wireless (which does exist here in some places) you get even more excited and sink back into your American habits of playing on your ipod and not talking to the people around you.  You love it and tell all your other friends about it because you want them to share in that feeling and go with you.  This new appreciation for the small things in life makes you happy you live in a place where you can finally see the value of the miniscule experience of living.

Living in a place like this you also learn about how to live differently, you have to  adapt, learn how to relax and wait, and learn a new form of patience.  Life here is very slow and so much different than the United States.   The work ethic is almost the opposite of what you see in America and the values of life are very different.  The culture you have to adjust to here is one built on relationships and social interactions.  People value each other and interactions as a way to share stories, gather information, and do business.  Working is important and there are systems and rules but often nothing can be done here without talking to many people, making others feel comfortable in the process, and not stressing over small things that might derail your scheduled day.  As a result working and living here leads to different experiences everyday and everyday is spent waiting for someone or something.  I cannot tell you of a single day that has been the same as any other day.  Everywhere we go we meet people, talk and socialize and develop new ideas of how to improve what we are doing or how we are living.  These interactions happen on the street corners, in offices of friends, at the grocery store, next to the bus stand, in the road, everywhere.  Everyday our planned workday changes, we talk and work with different people, and we hang out with friends and relax without a pressure to get work done for the next day. In one day you might have to have 15 conversations to get one piece of information, or call 3 people to find out where your meeting is, or stop in five different offices to get one important document. It often takes so long to accomplish tasks here that after one day you feel like you have worked for a month.  You might be thinking that it sounds exhausting but for me this means everyday is a different challenge and you get to visit different places and talk to different people everyday.  Monotonony does not exist in this part of the world, at least not in our lives.  This also means I get to have spontaneous experiences every day.  I can see my friend on the street and get a coffee and no one questions my work ethic.  I can meet someone in the morning for a meeting and then decide to stop and visit a students home and it is completely normal.  I can plan an amazing autism conference with a group of people and trust that word of mouth will attract people to come without trying to fight people to listen to me through their blue tooths, cell phones, and busy schedules.  I have also come to learn how to survive it without getting frustrated and now I find I thoroughly enjoy the slow pace of life here.  

You have to scratch cards and enter number into your phone to make it work. Sometimes they only have 75 cent vochers and you can spend 15 minutes scratching them and entering them.
You order food and drinks but might wait an hour for someone to bring you a bill. Service is very slow here.
Everyday you have to go to the market to buy what you need that day for dinner. And if you need rice you have to go through it and get rid of the rocks and sticks before cooking it. It is much more difficult than Uncle Bens.
These are just a few of the things that I love about where I live but over the last month I have also been able to experience some of the amazing beauty and breathtaking environments that exist in Africa.  Traveling around Africa is not easy.  It requires lots of patience, many bus rides, lot of confusing situations and long hours waiting but once you reach different places you see things like you would never imagine.  The animals are incredible and things like the National Parks, Nile River or Lake Victoria are vast and are still great examples of natural untouched beauty.  You don’t see crazy high rise hotels or paved roads full of corporations trying to make a profit.  Instead you see a natural environment and the people around it not even aware of the rarity of the place they live.  I cannot put into words the amazing things I have seen so check out these pictures below and just imagine you are there.

Last but not least the most important reason I love living here is the people I have come to know.  In the US I often feel like I am not completely understood.  In my life I have travelled to 6 continents, 33 different countries, on over 20 different airlines.  I don’t know why I have done these things other than I love the adventure, meeting new people, going to new places, and feeling challenged.  I have seen the amazing ancient buildings and structures like Stonehedge, The Greek Parthenon, The Colosseum, The Pantheon, Ankor Wat, and Wat Pol.  I have seen wild animals such as lions, giraffes, whales, gorillas, seals, elephants and others in their natural habitat.  I have stood on huge rugged cliffs on the edges of Europe, America, New Zealand, and Thailand and stared into every major ocean. I have hiked through rainforests, trekked up mountains, ridden a bike down a volcano, and rafted through major rivers.  I have lived an awesome life and I am only 31.  I do not have a house or apartment in the US, anything I do own is in boxes at my parents house.  I am no longer married and everyday unsure of what the future may hold but I know I love my life.

When you have lived the way I have lived and seen the things I have seen it is sometimes really hard find people who understand you.  Here I have been able to meet people who have done similar things, people searching out adventure, people wanting to live non traditional lives and I don’t feel a need to have to explain myself.  

I will be leaving this amazing place and returning home to America in 2 months.  I know my family is very excited and I am very excited to see them but before I come home I did want wanted to answer my aunts question about why I stopped in East Africa.  I love living here because I love the amazing environments, the rewarding work I do, the new appreciation for the small things in life, the relaxing pace of life, the untouched beauty that exists and the wonderful people I have met.  

I hope everyone is well and you had a great Memorial Day weekend!  Talk to you soon!  More blog posts will be coming soon!

This week two of my good friends, Farahani and Charisma, came to visit for a week.  It was a great experience.  With Farahani being from Tanzania and going to school in America it helped me get a better idea of just how crazy it can be when cultures collide.  Farahani has been in America for one year and is going to college in New Jersey, and Charisma in an America who just finished medical school and has traveled to Tanzania to volunteer in the local clinics and hospitals.  Both of them were nice enough to come to an Interact meeting (a student club I run at ACHS) with me and talk to my students about what life is like for a  Tanzanian to live in America. 

Farahani talked about how hard it has been for him to get used to how many things we have here and how much we take for granted.  He told students many stories and how the hardest thing for him was seeing the large number of things Americans have and thinking about how many people are in such need in his home country.  Many of the stories he told helped open the eyes of my students.  Here are some of the stories that stood out to them and to me.

He told students about was how difficult it is to go to an American restaurant and get a menu.  He described how it requires intense studying just to decide what to eat in America, and how once you decide there are twenty questions until you fully order……How would you like it cooked?  What do you want on the side?  What type of dressing do you want?........In his country the menu is one side with only a few options and there is no alternative to what is written.  Beans and rice is beans with rice.  Chicken Fried is fried chicken.  When asked how he would like his chicken (original, spicy, mild) his first thought was “Which one means dead?” 

He talked about how difficult it can be to drive in America.  In Tanzania there are only a few stop lights, and all roads are one lane roads.  Here there are so many stop lights, stop signs, lanes, streets and cars.  He told students that driving for him was like sitting through a really difficult math class that you couldn’t fully figure out what to do and you had to pay attention to so many things that eventually you just don’t want to do it anymore.

He discussed with them how difficult it can be in America because very few people talk to you and it can seem like a very unfriendly place.  In Tanzania everyone talks to their neighbors and knows everything about everyone through lots of conversation on the street, in town, at home, at school, everywhere.  He told them how when he first came to the US he spent most of his time in his apartment because very few people talked to him and it did not seem ok to go knock on people’s doors and talk to them.  He explained how in Tanzania it is perfectly ok to walk down the street and talk to a little kid or a complete stranger where in America if you start talking to a little kid people think you are kidnapping them and a stranger walks away from you quickly thinking you are crazy. 

Through this visit it reminded me how different cultures exist in the world and it is sometimes so hard to merge them together.  Had Farahani not told my students about these differences they might not have known how different our culture can seem to others.  Maybe through his conversation and his sharing of his experience they will be more open to those with different backgrounds.  I know that after this week together our cultures definitely collided and although Farahani and I did not see eye to eye on all matters we are better friends now because we tried to understand each other. 

I cannot wait to set out on this next adventure and see how different life can be.  After this very difficult year I am ready for a new adventure full of new ways of life, new cultures, and the chance to meet different people.    Though are cultures will surely collide and it will be difficult for me at times.  I am excited how that collision will change me as a person.  

Stay posted.....