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Student Voices from Zambia

Lisa Nyachia Cheche

I was excited to travel to Zambia as a Tanzanian in order to learn more about my neighboring country. I want to see how its geographical emplacement has affected its cultural and economic landscape, to get firsthand knowledge and accounts of a country that I heard about so often yet knew so little about and finally to simply discover a new part of the world. Tanzania and Zambia are on good and friendly terms and yet there seems to be a disconnect between the two. I wanted to gain a personal understanding of why this may be. What is it that separates yet connects us? Is the fact that Zambia is located between both South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo? These are two nations that have had a significant impact on urban Tanzanian culture and in South Africa’s case, on our economy. All of these unanswered questions stem from my desire to be knowledgeable about the African continent as a pan-Africanist. 

Although Lusaka was not as lively as I expected, I soon discovered that it is a city that truly opens up to you through its people. The architecture reminded me of of the Dar es Salaam (my hometown) of my childhood. There were no skyscrapers and not much of a skyline as I expected since Zambia is technically more economically advanced than Tanzania (an assumption that I had made based on their higher GDP per Capita). This economic aspect was reflected in the presence of big shopping malls that have yet to appear in Dar es Salaam. I was impressed by how big and well maintained their roads were. I did not expect them to have such good infrastructure. The South African presence was strongly felt since most of the chains that were present were South African and were spread everywhere from Lusaka to Livingstone. There was no avoiding them. Although I expected a strong South African presence, this was overwhelming. I also found out that I had underestimated how much English was used by the people. Although as time went on I began to get a clearer picture of how class played a role in the people’s familiarity with the English language.

My Experience

I had to use the mini-buses on a daily basis to go to work at the Zambian Governance foundation and to travel around the city. I could not help but be astonished at the differences between the public transportation system in Lusaka and the public transportation system in Dar es Salaam. Although I initially complained that their mini-buses did not have their destination or routes marked, I soon became acquainted with the routes and no longer had this issue although I can recognize how it continues to pose a problem for countless newcomers. Despite this, what astounded me the most was how uncongested the buses were. They only fitted 4 people to a row and no one had to stand except for the conductor and this was oft by choice. In Tanzania, they aim to maximize the number of people in the bus with no regard for passenger comfort. This made me realize that what happens in Dar es Salaam’s mini-buses is abnormal and unfair. Despite this, the Zambians around me complained that their mini-buses were cramped and that there ought to only be 3 people to a row.

During the Journal of Southern African Studies 1st Biennial Conference that was organized by the Southern African Institute for Policy and Research, I was in charge of Hotel Relations and had to ensure that the hotel management and its staff was aware of and executed their various tasks in a punctual and suitable manner.



Although I expected travelling to Zambia to be mirror, It actually turned out to be a window into southern Africa. More than any other Bantu African country that I have visited, going to Zambia has taught me never to generalize or make assumptions about African countries although they may initially seem similar. It has also made me realize that South Africa is probably even more different from Tanzania that I had previously thought. Spending the summer in Zambia has opened my eyes to how much the small differences that exist between African cultures truly do alter the big image. Never again will I let my preconceived ideas of an African country guide me. It also made me realize that I was not as open minded of a person as I previously thought I was but now my horizons have been cleared and I am working towards being a better Pan-African.

My biggest regret is that I did not spend enough time with my co-workers outside of the office. My friendships with them truly began to flourish towards the conclusion of my time in Zambia and the little time that we spent outside of the office was spent with them exposing me to parts of Lusaka and Zambian culture that I would not have had access to on my own.


Iman Abdi Ali

I did not assume or wonder on how Zambia might be before my internship started. I knew what it was like. After having lived in Zambia for over 10 years I thought I knew everything there was to know about the country. To my surprise, this was far from the truth. I knew the Zambia where I went to an international school with very few Zambians, the Zambia with the modern malls and game parks for expatriates, the Zambia made for non-Zambians.

My Experience

Through my internship at SAIPAR, I got the amazing chance to experience the other side of Zambia. This internship acted as a window for me to peer out of and see Zambia with a new perspective. On a regular basis, I got to interact with people that work at and come in to the office. Doing this helped me learn more about Zambians and their culture. I saw that Zambians are very warm and welcoming people and they are very open to new ideas. This taught me to be more receptive of new ideas and to make compromises when necessary. This lesson helped me work effortlessly with people in the office.

At SAIPAR, I got to learn a lot about the economy, politics and legal system of Zambia. I worked on various projects at SAIPAR that dealt with these topics. I worked on the EPRC which is a web-site run by SAIPAR that aims to digitalize as many of the economic policies and papers that are published on Zambia. I had to write abstracts for most of the documents, and this helped me get a solid understanding of Zambia’s past, present and future economy. I also got to learn a lot about the legal system in Zambia through Zambialii, a website that provides online access to acts, statutory instruments and court cases. When I worked on the website I got a chance to look through the documents and understand the judicial system in Zambia. To ensure that everyone was staying current, reading newspapers was highly encouraged in the office. I quickly got into this habit and it helped me understand the complex politics of Zambia. I knew that Zambia had 3 presidents over the past 7 years but I had not realized the political chaos that this had caused. I observed that the country is lacking good leadership at the moment and that most Zambians are keenly looking on to the 2016 elections for some change in leadership. I also worked on creating a wiki-page for researchers that were coming to Zambia. This project was instrumental in me understanding Zambia holistically. I had to provide information on accommodation, research resources, and transportation and tourist attractions for each of the 10 provinces. My previous knowledge was very limited so I had to research and ask around for information. Doing this helped me to get a complete picture of Zambia.


The IAD internship helped me learn how to work in a diverse community and become a global citizen. I am grateful for the internship as it gave me a great opportunity to see the country I call home in its full entirety.

Mihret Redda Tamrat

I applied for the IAD Internship in Zambia because Southern Africa was a part of the continent that I was least familiar with and I wanted to experience it at a personal level. Before getting to Lusaka, I had few expectations. It wasn’t my first time traveling and from past experience I had learned not to assume anything going into a new experience. I had hoped to learn how to open myself up more to new ways of thinking and appreciation of other cultures. I was apprehensive about how well I would do during my internship. However, I was confident that I would do my best at work and I was determined to let myself grow academically, career wise, and emotionally.

 My Experience

My internship with SAIPAR was very exciting. I lived in a house just a two-minute walk away from the office. I was almost always the first one in at 8:30 AM and I left at around 5:30-6:00 PM. I loved the challenging work they gave me and the variety of tasks I was able to do in one day. I had the freedom to set my hours and focus on the things that I was interested in. I worked on law reports, economic papers, creating Wikipedia pages, and I got to sit in on other Cornell students presenting their research papers for their Global Health program.  Overall, I was very proud of myself for putting myself out there to experience everything I could. This was greatly aided by how welcoming the people I encountered were. I immediately felt right at home because it was such a welcoming community.


My daily interactions with the people of Lusaka made me reflect on my identity as an African. The more I spoke to a person, the more similarities I would find in our upbringing. I tried to point these out to them as much as I could because I felt like I needed them to realize that I wasn’t so different. I think I felt the need to prove myself as an African to the people that had never left the continent. I thought that maybe I was a traitor for having left because obviously if other Africans have failed to identify me as one I must not be one anymore. The thing is though, Africa is so diverse and our cultures so different that it was wrong of me to think that I could fit in anywhere on the continent without a hitch. My Zambian friends accepted me for who I was with all my different quirks that came with being an Ethiopian from Addis Ababa studying in the US. They were genuinely interested in knowing about my culture and telling me about theirs. They didn’t care that I had an American-ish accent or that I looked like I was from Sri Lanka to them, especially if I was with my almond-shaped-eyed, straight-haired Malagase roommate who shares my complexion.  I had nothing to prove because what I was trying to prove doesn’t exist. There is no one African identity just like there is no one Ethiopian identity or one Zambian identity.

I will never forget what Zambia has taught me. Because of the internship I have changed my major to History and have decided to finish my minor in Education to pursue my passion for learning and teaching.