Posted on Mar 18, 2015 in Alumni News and News
Meredith Chait knew she had to travel. Bit by the bug at a young age, she had vacationed in Africa with her family when she was 10 years old, lived in Belgium for three years, thanks to her father’s work, and studied abroad in Scotland during her time at KU. So it was only natural that she’d choose adventure over an average 9-to-5 job after graduation.
Meredith, c’14, j’14, showed signs of straying from the norm early in her college career, when she elected to take Swahili to fulfill her foreign language requirement. She loved it—even ended up minoring in it—and explored options to put her newfound skill to work.
She decided to focus her attention on Tanzania, one of the safer countries in Africa where Swahili is spoken. Internet searches turned up a number of volunteer opportunities, although many of them required participants to pay for the experience, an option Meredith couldn’t afford. But when a family friend told her about a no-expense prospect to work with deaf children in Tanzania, she couldn’t say no.
Meredith took off for Dar es Salaam, the most populous city in the country, where she stayed in a convent near one of the three elementary schools for deaf children. Each morning she woke to a breakfast of white bread and tea or coffee, sometimes a plantain, too. After a short walk to the school, she spent a few hours building the school’s website or teaching the kindergarten students to count. In the afternoons, she took Swahili sign language from one of the teachers.
“The students taught me a lot, too,” Meredith admits. “They would write Swahili words in the dirt and then sign them. One of my favorite things was just hanging out and signing with the children.”
Meredith rounded out her days with excursions around the city or to the nearby island of Zanzibar. She spent time drinking coffee at local cafes or playing cards with other volunteers. She even went on a three-day safari by herself.
Meredith’s nine-week adventure definitely left her yearning for more and confident that she’s capable of just about anything. She’s currently exploring opportunities to return to Africa to work for a nonprofit group or other charitable organization.
“I didn’t get the urge to travel out of my system,” she says. “I now want more adventures and more opportunities to travel—and to never have a desk job.”