A few weeks ago, one of the English teachers approached me to ask if I would be willing to tutor a student. I have tutored students in the past so I immediately agreed because I knew it was something I would be comfortable doing. Moreover, the thought of working one-on-one with one of the girls excited me.
After the very first day of tutoring, I quickly realized that this was not going to be similar to my other tutoring experiences. In Tanzania, public schools teach all subjects in Swahili (except for English class, of course) until the 7th grade which is when they switch to teaching all subjects in English. This means that most public school students do not have very advanced English skills. Therefore, I found myself having to answer English-related questions that I had never given much thought to. For example, while trying to teach the adjectives of different countries, I had to explain why people from Tanzania are called Tanzanians while people from France are French.
As this was an endeavor that was completely foreign to me, I had to adapt and figure out effective ways to break the language barrier. I enunciated every word and occasionally acted out certain words to make sure she was actually understanding what I was trying to explain. In the process, I had the opportunity to also learn some swahili as she would excitedly share with me the swahili translation of some english words and terms once she finally understood them.
What constantly left me in awe was that as I was learning how to overcome the challenges associated with my new commitment, my student was attempting to overcome an even greater hurdle but did so with a smile on her face each time we met. She was excited to ameliorate her English skills and more ebullient that someone was dedicating their time to help her do so as I later found out in a letter she wrote to me.
This impromptu experience taught me more than I expected. I learned that there is always a way to adapt in a new and challenging situation, I learned that every new endeavor has potential to teach you something, and finally, I learned that you always have something to offer i.e. your time, words of encouragement or even a smile, to make this world or at least someone’s life just a little bit better than it was before.