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Leah Roberts plays with a student during the sports day Project GO participants organized in Zanzibar.

Leah Roberts plays with a student during the sports day Project GO participants organized in Zanzibar.
Leah Roberts '16 plays with a student during the sports day Project GO participants organized in Zanzibar.

By Cadet Leah Roberts ‘16

To say I was excited to participate in Project Global Officer (Project GO) would be an understatement. The experience of spending the summer in Africa – a continent I had long desired to visit – surpassed my expectations.

Project GO provides ROTC students the opportunity to immerse themselves in a foreign culture and study a language that the military classifies as strategic, which in my case was Swahili. Over eight weeks, I traveled with 22 ROTC students from across the U.S. to eight cities in Tanzania. Our primary focus was to study Swahili and anthropology with an emphasis on the relationship between culture and the environment.

Our packed schedule included three Serengeti safaris, snorkeling in a protected coral reef, lectures at the University of Dar es Salaam, two volunteer projects with African Impact, and a three-night homestay with traditional Maasai families.

The time I spent with a pastoralist Maasai family was easily my favorite part of the program. I helped milk the goats, watched my host mother cook over a small fire in a mud-dung hut, slept on a stick-frame bed covered with cow hide, and observed a culture unlike anything I have ever experienced.

Prior to this, I would have imagined a life with minimal hygiene, lack of fresh water, and zero modern conveniences as desolate and depressing, but I was wrong. The Maasai are extremely happy and loving, and the bond within the community is inspiring. It reminded me of the bond I formed with my buds during New Cadet Week and Red Phase. It was a privilege to experience this alongside roaming giraffes and gazelles under a sky filled with more stars than I have ever seen. The experience left me with a desire to unplug more often.

In Zanzibar, we spent four days painting the walls of sparsely equipped classrooms. On our final day, we organized a sports day for 160 kids from four schools, including the one we had painted. If I had to pick the best day of the trip, this would be it. We were each given a list of names and told to organize our teams. Initially, it was difficult to tell if the kids couldn’t understand our poor Swahili or if they were simply scared of these foreign strangers. Eventually, language proved to be an insufficient barrier, and it was hard to tell who had more fun – the kids or us.

While I received 12 credit hours for my Swahili and anthropology courses, the personal development I experienced was far more valuable. This trip increased my confidence to travel internationally and adapt to other cultures. It also provided me with an understanding of a part of the world I knew nothing about.

Regardless of where I am, whether deployed or serving stateside, I will encounter people with backgrounds, perspectives, beliefs, and challenges different from mine. The ability to adapt, communicate effectively, and show respect will be imperative to success in the mission. Project GO proved to be a tremendous blessing, and I would highly recommend it to other ROTC students.