Swahili to English: A Tanzanian seeks a bright future in the US under a scholarship

university of cincinnati
When Samara saw the scholarship posting to be a Global Opportunity scholar, he jumped at the chance. Source: Zedekia Samara

Zedekia Samara worked as an interpreter for Village Life Outreach, a University of Cincinnati  programme. This non-profit partners with Roche, Nyambogo and Burere in East Africa to fight poverty through projects like clean water access and healthcare. The organisation has taken over 700 students and faculty from the University of Cincinnati to work with their partner villages in Tanzania. 

Since its founding in 2004, it’s expanded by partnering with volunteers to empower the local communities in East Africa, including a primary healthcare facility that treats patients with malaria and other diseases. 

When Samara saw the call to apply for the University of Cincinnati’s Global Opportunity Scholarship, he jumped at the chance. “Helping people is my passion, and when I saw the announcement, I said to myself: I think this is my time,” he says in an interview with UC News.

Despite arriving on campus in January — the peak of a Cincinnati winter during a pandemic — he’s settled in. Samara holds a positive outlook on his future educational journey. Below we speak to him about life in Cincinnati and his passion for IT:

Is there a personal backstory behind your passion for IT?

Yes, my passion for IT started when I was a little kid. Back home, we were not allowed to use our computers because my father would always be scared to spoil them. 

For some reason, I always knew my way around him banning the use of the computers by memorising the passcodes or trying multiple ones until I got access. I also started burning CDs and using different software programmes. 

This made me the go-to guy whenever computers would malfunction at home. 

Why did you choose to study at the University of Cincinnati?

Honestly, it was something I always wished for — to study abroad. But, I never planned for it to happen until I was introduced to the Global Opportunity Scholarship offered by the University of Cincinnati. 

This was a partner of Village Life Outreach Project based in the US but operates in Tanzania where I was volunteering as a translator. It was a competitive opportunity because I had to pass through multiple interviews to be selected. 

The quality of education, mode of teaching, desire for more exposure, and experience-based learning were the major reasons why I always wanted to study in the US.

Walk us through the application process for the University of Cincinnati’s Global Opportunity Scholarship. Do you have any advice for prospective applicants?

It was quite terrifying at first because many people had applied who were quite brilliant — I managed to speak with a few. I gained confidence after each interview though and the application got smoother with time.

The challenges I faced were with the internet because back home it wasn’t so stable. So, there were interviews online which got disrupted and I would receive delayed updates. 

I advise prospective applicants to familiarise themselves with the uni and its resources (finding YouTube videos or through Google) and start thinking of what they want to do in college. 


Samara is looking forward to the rest of his University of Cincinnati experience. Source: Zedekia Samara

Coming from Tanzania, what stands out for you in the US?

What I love most about the US are the people I’ve met so far. Everyone I’ve met has been so readily helpful and passionate about helping you be a better person. I also love how the systems are reliable here — it’s easy to get stuff done.

Are there any non-academic experiences you can share with us?

I got the chance to attend a fireworks show on July 4. It was nice to see people preserve the tradition and how the entire show was organised. They also incorporated drones and the experience of watching that was awesome. I also attended a Cincinnati FC football game which was pretty nice as well.

Tell us about Tanzania. What would you show us there?

In my hometown, I would take you everywhere because there is so much to learn from every place. I would also take you to the beaches alongside the lake surrounding my hometown. 

I would also take you to Mount Kilimanjaro which is the tallest mountain in Africa. Even for the ones that don’t love hiking, just the view and atmosphere there is therapeutic. 

Have you explored the US? Is there a location that has stood out for you?

In Cincinnati, I really loved the view in Bellevue Garden — the greenery and the sight of the city with the river crossing really stood out for me. Cincinnati zoo and the botanical garden are also magical — being able to see and interact with the animals is a treasurable experience.

What’s the local food from Tanzania compared to the US like? Tell us your most favourite.

Well, I’m not going to lie. Food from Tanzania is the best and one of the reasons is because the ingredients are freshly harvested then consumed. However, here I fell in love with buffalo wild wings and chicken fingers. 

What about ordering food and talking with the locals in the US? Was that challenging?

I would say it depends on where the foreigner comes from but in my case, yes! The conversations were difficult because I had to construct sentences in Swahili and then translate them into English in real time. 

The accent is also a constraint. Sometimes it may not be the case of what you speak but how you speak it. 

Is there anything you miss from home? How do you substitute it?

I miss the food, my friends, and my family in Tanzania. I try to connect and keep in touch with them whenever I get the chance to through video calls and social media. I’ve also been cooking whenever I may feel homesick.