From Maine to Tanzania

Michaela Therrien looks up at her final slide, clearly missing Tanzania.

When students get the chance to study abroad, they may go to England, France or even Germany.  For Michaela Therrien, she and her classmate Lauren went with their professor, Shirley Rush, to Tanzania. “For junior year, we have to do 200 volunteer hours and I decided to go to Tanzania because Shirley has been taking students since 2016,” Michaela said.  Tanzania is a country located in eastern Africa.  “I wanted to experience something interesting.  I’ve never been out of the country and I wanted to because we volunteered in an orphanage for seven weeks.  So, I wanted that experience,” Michaela said.

Michaela’s presentation had a variety of pictures that she took while she was in Tanzania.  She had photos of the family she stayed with and the children she volunteered with at the orphanage.  “I had to fundraise a lot of money to go.  I saved a lot of money.  I asked family and friends to help out and I did fast cash fundraisers here.  We did a bunch of things to fundraise money for my trip,” Michaela said.

“Oh my goodness.  When Michaela told me she wanted to go to Tanzania, you could have pushed me over with a feather, because I didn’t think she would do it,” Shirley Rush, Michaela’s mentor, said.  Shirley has been bringing students over to Tanzania for their volunteer hours.  She believes that Michaela’s presentation was very meaningful.   “She’s speaking from her own experience and so she’s going to draw those connections like how we are, what are the similarities here and there,” Shirley said.

Throughout her presentation, Michaela gave plenty of information on Tanzania and the culture over there.  She described how something as small as a cell phone was huge over there.  She celebrated her birthday there and learned the culture of celebrating a birthday.  She also experienced Ramadan.  When Michaela described the photos of her holding babies, she giggled because it brought her happiness.  “Before I went over there, I had never cared for a baby.  By the end of it, I was holding five babies at a time,” Michaela told the crowd.  The biggest achievement Michaela received from going over there was something she didn’t expect.  “I found what I want to do with my life, so I found my life purpose when I went over there.  I want to give back to the community and that was my favorite part about going there.  It was a very positive impact on my life.  It changed my life.  It brought me happiness.  It gave me the title of my presentation: Finding My Voice in Tanzania. So I found my voice there.”

Michaela graduates this year and she has already started to make plans.  “I want to move to Tanzania,” Michaela said.  Michaela was very emotional during her presentation because Tanzania has become her home away from home.  “You can see why it’s hard to come home,” Shirley said.  Shirley plans to take more students over to Tanzania this year so that they can complete their volunteer hours.  As for Michaela, she is already starting her plans to go back to her home away from home.