A whirlwind welcome to Zambia

We were able to attend a panel discussion on arts in Zambia with two current university students who grew up in Zambezi. A nice connection to our history in Zambezi and Zambia’s present vibrancy.

Yesterday morning at breakfast, Jeff asked us who wanted to be the first one to write a post for the blog. I remember thinking “wow, whoever volunteers for this is so brave, I could never do something like this,” as starting off this blog for our Zambia journey is a lot of pressure, something that makes me uncomfortable. However, for some reason I look to my side and my right hand is up in the air, and I see Jeff with a big smile on his face saying, “Sarah will be starting us off!”.

This is what this journey is about, the uncomfortable. Pushing ourselves outside of our own comfort zones is how we will truly connect with the communities we encounter, and what will let us make the most out of this once in a lifetime opportunity.

It is now our 3rd day in Zambia and as I write this, I am on a 7-hour bus ride full of Zambian individuals, along with our Gonzaga cohort, with the sound of popular African music playing in the background. We are on a journey from Lusaka to Livingston, giving me a chance to reflect on the whirlwind that has been the past 2 days of rich cultural and learning experiences, completely surpassing what I expected the start of this trip to be like.

After a long day of travelling to Zambia and keeping ourselves busy to overcome the combination of sleep deprivation from the two days of traveling and jet lag, we began our first full day in Lusaka sharing a meal of fruits, avocados, teas, and other assortments of breakfast items prepared by the wonderful staff at our hostel. We reflected over what we’ve experienced upon arrival, talking about the pure smiles of everyone we’ve met to the intrusive feeling lots of us have felt, of being foreigners in a country’s whose culture is very different than the one we grew up in. We finished our breakfast talking about our excitement to begin establishing connections and learning about life here, packed up and hopped on our bus to tour the University of Zambia.

We met up with Michael and Gilbert, old friends of Jeff and Josh, who both grew up in the Zambezi community, moving to Lusaka for university. We began with introductions, learning that Michael is studying engineering at University of Lusaka and Gilbert is graduate school studying medicine at a nearby university.

As soon as we stepped through the gates of the university, I was shocked when I realized that we were on a college campus, followed by a sense of guilt when I realized my surprise stemmed from my privilege of being able to go to a private school in the United States. The entrance was rather bare with a few trees on the dirt pavements, with a couple old buildings to the side with laundry lining the sides.

As I continued to observe my surroundings, I saw students with their books in hand, walking down campus talking to their friends. I immediately could see myself walking down bulldog ally talking to my friends about classes and whatever was going on that day. I experienced my second uncomfortable element of surprise, that these students were my age. However, I later realized that although they were college students just like us, Zambians that go to college make up a mere 1% of the population. I found it difficult for me to relate to their experience when since birth, it was pretty much certain that I would get to go to college when here going to college, something that I think a lot of us take for granted, is extremely rare.

We continued to tour the campus and Michael and Gilbert answered questions from us. I asked Michael what the most popular major is, and he answered by telling us that it depends because people only major in things that guarantees them a job. This makes health and education very common because these fields usually have more job openings. This made me think a lot about how majors work in the U.S. Of course, people typically chose majors that will help them get a job after college however, due to how different the job market is at home compared to here, we still have a large variety of options. I never realized how lucky I was just to be able to major in what interests me and that not everyone has that privilege.

After the tour, we were supposed to have a quick lunch and then go to a talk at an art gallery. However, in Zambian fashion, that quick lunch lasted two hours. By the time we were done the gallery was almost closed. However, we were able to make it to the last, supposably couple minutes, of the talk which of course lasted about another hour. There were extremely intellectual artists, who were able to take their art to extreme depths. Upon learning that here was an American group going to a rural African village in the audience, one of the artists made a comment about the importance of waiting for people to ask us what we’re doing there. This stood out to me and another member of our Gonzaga group; Tyler, so we decided to ask him about it after the talk.  

This man is named William or Miko, which he told us means cooking sticks. He explained to us that it’s important to let people come up to us and ask what we’re doing there instead of just coming into the community and telling everyone what we’re doing there. He said upon getting there, people are going to want to get us a chair and food or drink before they sit down with us and ask what we’re doing there. There’s a cultural importance of letting people host us and ask about who we are. In a way, we are foreigners interrupting their daily life so it’s important to keep this in mind as a sign of respect.

His last comment was a suggestion to us to ask others how much money they make in a year. He said they will not know, which shows how little people care about money compared to the money focused mindset in the U.S.

William then introduced us to an American women named Betty. She was born in the U.S and came to Zambia to work for 6 months but ended up never leaving. She explained to us about how she fell in love with the culture and how community oriented it is, as opposed to the mindset of individualism encompassing the U.S.

She gave us advice for how to approach the rest of our time in Zambia and emphasized the importance of listening in their culture. She encouraged us to listen to everyone’s story and to always continue asking questions, with being careful that we’re not only talking about ourselves.

In these past few days, we’ve learned so much about the importance of the simple act of learning others’ stories. I look forward to continuing that as we journey to Livingston, our last stop before our 3 week stay in Zambezi.

Sarah Barsky
Gonzaga 2024

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11 Responses to A whirlwind welcome to Zambia

  1. What a fabulous introduction to your first impressions as you acclimate to a very different environment and culture; understanding the importance of listening, asking questions and learning from those around you. I feel fortunate to live this experience, indirectly, through the eyes of this Gonzaga cohort. Continue to embrace the differences. They are life changing! Bonne continuation!

  2. Pascale Bergeron says:

    Bonjour Sarah-Jeanne and friends!

    Très heureuse de te lire et de découvrir ton expérience grâce à ce blog!

    What a great experience! Can’t wait to learn more!


  3. Jonathan Barsky says:

    Thank you for such a thoughtful reflection of your initial experience. Most striking are your observations about connecting with people, and the importance of respecting their customs and culture. This is far from a typical tourist experience! Looking forward to more posts!!

  4. Katie Buller says:

    Thank you, Sarah, for your reflections and illuminating details of your experience so far. What a treat and a blessing to get to “experience” this journey from so far away through all of your eyes and hearts. Thank you to all for including us through this blog. We are so lucky!

  5. Molly Watts says:

    So excited to see this new post and photo. What a wonderful reflection and I’m so excited to hear more. It’s a fantastic experience that I know you will all carry with you for the rest of your lives.

  6. Kyle Meyer says:

    Wonderful writing! I very much enjoyed the immersive descriptions allowing us readers to begin to see and feel the atmosphere that you all are experiencing. I appreciate your personal reflections and courage to take on the challenge of the first blog post. Looking forward to hearing more!

  7. Janet Flesch says:

    Wonderful post, Sarah. Thank you for sharing your experience so thoughtfully. Can I also add that Monday, May 23rd is Mackenzie’s 21st birthday! Since we can’t be there to celebrate, we’re hoping that you all will do that for us! Have fun!

    • Catherine Zeisner says:

      We just sang and celebrated Mac! Making sure she knows how special she is and that we get to celebrate in Zambia with her. CZ

  8. Bryce Kreiser says:

    Thank you for sharing your heart, Sarah Barsky! I am delighted to read along as you all share your experiences in turn. Rooting for you from my post-graduate life in San Diego. Grace and peace. And kisu mwane.
    Bryce Kreiser, Zambezi 2019

  9. Karina says:


    Sending so many well wishes and happy thoughts as you all embark on this wonderful, once in a lifetime experience!!
    We miss you jazzy!
    We cannot wait to hear all about it

    -The Newson Family

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