Brittany Reyes

International Experience Country:
Cohort Year:
Home Institution:

University of Pittsburgh | Oakland

Heinz Programming Area:
Children, Youth, and Families
International Experience Summary:

Throughout, the five weeks of Swahili classes that Brittany Reyes took while in Tanzania, she prided herself in her ability to learn a large amount of the language in such a short amount of time. One of the biggest cultural differences that took getting adjusted to was greeting every individual she encountered. She never thought she would be able to spend 20 minutes greeting complete strangers, but also never imagined knowing enough Swahili to be able to do so. She learned pretty early by being in Tanzania, one would never survive if they did not have the “Pole Pole” (Slowly, Slowly) mentality. Even when language barriers were problematic, she learned that friendship is always possible through laughter. Each day she had a Swahili class, which was typically outdoors at the University of Dar es Salaam and on some days, if lucky, local monkeys joined the class. She also took a course that focused on public health issues in Tanzania and gave a more in-depth perspective of the culture. She was able to take trips to local non-profit organizations and community establishments – such as a school, orphanage, HIV clinic, hospital, and cultural centers. She wiggled her toes in the Indian Ocean, ran her fingers along the walls of Stone Town, Zanzibar and figured out bartering tricks that even had the locals stumped. In addition to the vast cultural experiences she had, her passion for working with youth was reignited. She was able to do research about two specific things that pegged her attention while abroad: the education system and child marriage in Tanzania. In her free time she traveled to a local woodcarver’s market and spent time with artists who worked there. At seven her nightly English class began and that meant it was time to figure out what hot topic she and her group would be discussing. Their discussions ranged from gay marriage and gender inequalities, to lighter debates of Kanye West or Jay Z. By being in Tanzania, she learned just what full cultural immersion felt like and loved the feeling.

Community Engagement Experience Summary:

CEE Title: Diverse Dimensions Dinner Series

For my CEE I worked with my team to create the Diverse Dimensions Dinner Series to connect American domestic students and International Chinese students. For this dinner series, we established a set of curriculum which would create the pathway for discussion regarding a number of large-scale topics that are not always brought into discussion among not just these two student groups, but our larger campus. In the initial planning stages of our CEE we met with a number of leaders on our University’s campus to secure funding and participation from the student body. Through these meetings, we each developed our communication skills and learned how to properly convey our message to those around us – skills that we will continue to build upon far into the future. We thought it was important to focus on this theme in the creation of CEE because we recognized that we would be creating discussions amongst people that would not occur otherwise.
We decided to have our focus for this to be on domestic students and the largest population of international students here on our campus, Chinese students. A few of our objectives that we aimed to establish through these dinners included enhancing the quality of communication between Chinese international and American domestic students, in addition to discussing varying student perspectives on cultural and personal experiences. We wanted to work with each of the participants to identify personal and cultural values and reflect on how they shape one’s interactions. We recognized these as being the most important topics of discussion because of the fact that it would create a framework for us to truly develop long-lasting and sustainable relationships with one another. Through the curriculums, we were able to explore communication types and its impact on personal relationship building, a large-scale discussion that rarely occurs when international students arrive to our campus. More importantly, through our CEE, we assisted in the creation of meaningful relationships with individuals who would otherwise not have communication with each other. We are confident that these relationships will last for a significant time and provide a basis for many other similar relationships between these two student groups to form.