In Tanzania, anthropology major spends summer asking questions and finding answers

Author: Ashley Lo

Nyakeh Tuchscherer Tanzania 3
Anthropology major Nyakeh Tuchscherer was the first-ever student from Notre Dame to receive a Summer Language Abroad grant to study Swahili in Tanzania.

When summer comes, Notre Dame students travel around the world — to build their language and cultural skills, undertake independent research, and explore career options — growing intellectually and emotionally along the way. 

Junior anthropology major Nyakeh Tuchscherer spent his summer learning Swahili in Zanzibar, Tanzania — the first-ever student from Notre Dame to do so — and found inspiration for his senior thesis project. 

Nyakeh Tuchscherer Tanzania

During his Summer Language Abroad trip to Tanzania, Tuchscherer found inspiration for his senior thesis project — the struggles faced by albinos, who can’t stay out in the sun but must find ways to make money.

Tuchscherer attended language classes at the State University of Zanzibar, visited Stone Town — the older part of Zanzibar city, and toured spice farms where he encountered parts of nature he had never seen before, from acacia trees to red colobus monkeys. 

“I learned as much Swahili on the streets as I did in the classroom,” said Tuchscherer, who was funded by the Summer Language Abroad program through the Center for the Study of the Language and Cultures

In and out of class, he was surrounded by the language. 

“The beautiful part about Zanzibar is that while not many people speak English, they are all well-educated and all spoke Arabic, as well as Swahili,” he said. 

Over homemade meals his host mother made, Tuchscherer picked up slang words and idioms from his host brother, who has plans to visit him in the U.S. very soon.

Sailing to the island of Tumbatu, he met with two albino families and witnessed the challenges they must overcome in order to stay afloat in an agricultural society. Unable to stay out in the sun due to a melanin deficiency, they raised chickens, conducted breeding work, and took on night jobs. 

Back on campus, Tuchscherer is now working on a senior thesis on survival tactics for albinos, with his adviser Eric Haanstad, director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Anthropology

His summer abroad was one of the best experiences of his life, he said.

“I still think about it all the time,” Tuchscherer said. “I wish I were back with my host family, enjoying Mama Adilla’s Tanzanian cuisine, and doing more research now that I have more connections there.”

Originally published by Ashley Lo at al.nd.edu on January 23, 2020.