Bubbles, Bangs, and the Big Move: A Chemistry Teacher’s Tanzanian Adventure

Switching from teaching science in the ultra-efficient city of Berlin to an African school in Tanzania has been nothing short of an epic adventure. As an international science teacher, my love for chemistry remains unwavering, but the unique challenges I’ve faced in the Tanzanian school system often have me questioning if I’ve accidentally wandered onto the set of a science-themed sitcom. Let’s take a humorous look at my journey from the orderly streets of Berlin to the wilds of Tanzania, and the occasional frustrations that come with it.

In Berlin, I had a chemistry lab that could rival a mad scientist’s dream, with high-tech equipment and an abundance of chemicals. In Tanzania, I often find myself on a resource safari. Our labs resemble archaeological sites, with vintage equipment that seems better suited for a museum than for teaching. You won’t believe the treasures we uncover – ancient Bunsen burners that look like they’ve seen a world war or two, and test tubes that might double as relics. Who needs modern lab equipment when you have the charm of antique chemistry tools?

Berlin’s classrooms were delightfully spacious, with a cozy number of students. In Tanzania, my classroom often feels like a microcosm of the Serengeti during the Great Migration. You never quite know when a herd of zebras – I mean, students – will suddenly stampede into the room. It’s a battle of survival just to find your own desk in the sea of enthusiastic learners. And trying to engage each student individually in this grand, chaotic spectacle is like trying to count the stars in the Milky Way.

The language barrier is an amusing adventure all by itself. In Berlin, English was the medium of instruction. In Tanzania, Swahili reigns supreme, and English proficiency levels vary like the colorful fish in the Great Barrier Reef. Teaching complex scientific concepts in a language that students are still mastering can be a hilarious exercise in creative translation. You’ll find yourself trying to explain chemistry terms using a mixture of Swahili, charades, and the universal language of funny faces. It’s like being a chemically-inclined mime artist.

In Berlin, students had access to an array of extracurricular activities. In Tanzania, the extracurricular menu is somewhat limited. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have our share of adventures. While my German students would attend science club meetings, my Tanzanian students might opt for a science safari in the local wildlife reserves. Who needs a club when you can witness chemical reactions in action during a lion’s hunt for a gazelle?

Economic disparities among students add a touch of comedy to the equation. In Berlin, students often had access to the latest gadgets, while in Tanzania, some may have never even heard of a tablet. The “haves” and the “have-nots” take on a new meaning, as you realize that in Tanzania, a “have” might be someone with access to a functional microscope, while a “have-not” is still waiting for a basic set of glassware.

Amidst the humor, there are heartwarming moments in teaching chemistry in Tanzania. The students’ resilience and enthusiasm are infectious. They have an uncanny ability to make the most out of any situation. When life gives them lemons, they’ll not only make lemonade but perform a chemistry experiment with it. I’ve learned to appreciate their resourcefulness, their determination, and their constant laughter, even in the face of adversity.

Teaching chemistry in Tanzania, after the relative orderliness of Berlin, is a comedy of errors at times. But it’s an adventure worth embarking on. Despite the challenges, there’s an indomitable spirit among the students that’s both inspiring and heartwarming. It’s a reminder that education, whether in Berlin or Tanzania, is a journey filled with unexpected detours and laughter-worthy moments. So, while I might not have a state-of-the-art lab, I do have the privilege of teaching chemistry in a place where every day is an unpredictable, hilarious adventure.

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