Written by Megan Gode ’10
I am a professor of biology. Teaching is my calling, my passion and love. It is through teaching that I am freest to express my true self. I can play. Teaching is a playful dance staged in the wonders of biology. As the student learns the steps, the dance becomes a thing of beauty. Teacher and student, both rise to new ideas, inspirations and questions. The probing is deep and the awe is profound. The dance contains elements of a spiritual quest for a deep connection to one another and to the study of life. –Cindy Johnson (blog entry)
The Fulbright scholarship provides an academician with an educational exchange opportunity that works to promote an increased understanding between the United States and other countries. Gustavus’ very own Professor of Biology, Cindy Johnson, received a Fulbright scholarship to teach and conduct research in Tanzania for the ‘09-10 academic year.
Tanzania has become a place of knowledge for Cindy; seeing as she’s been leading a January course there since 1996. Cindy always joked that one day she would write a book that would do justice to her subject matter. With this dream taking on a sudden reality, Cindy was approved by the Fulbright committee to begin writing her book, Conservation Biology of Tanzania, an in-depth look at the ecology and conservation biology of Tanzania.
Once finished, her completed efforts will serve as a textbook for short-term travel courses, an introduction for long-term travel courses, and a reference to those in the ecotourism and safari industry. However, Cindy’s main goal is to promote an awareness of the difficulty, urgency and complexity of issues relating to the conservation of biological resources in northern Tanzania.
In September 2009, Cindy made the journey to Tanzania with her daughter Mara, who will graduate from Gustavus in ’13. The two moved to the small town of Mweka, northern Tanzania- 15km from Moshi, a town that sits on the shoulders of Mt. Kilimanjaro. In addition to completing her book, Cindy teaches at the College of African Wildlife Management, an institution that focuses on wildlife management and tourism.
Her experiences are not only touching the academic scope, they go down to a much more personal and emotional level. “Living in a different culture has changed me in ways I have yet to understand. I have learned many things about myself and this culture,” says Cindy, “I am learning to laugh more, accept what comes my way, and dance with life more than ever before.”
As Cindy has gained such valuable insight from her experience, she hopes to pay it forward to her students in Tanzania. “In the US we are taught from a young age to dream. We are encouraged to strive for our dreams and be all we can be. In Tanzania, the realities of life prevail and dreams are largely viewed as unachievable and simply dreams. I have tried to help students here see their dreams first and the barriers secondly. I hope I have inspired some,” says Cindy.
Therefore, in wanting others to realize their dreams and pursue their true passions, Cindy reminds us to push ourselves, but still maintain a zest for life: “Be open to new ideas! Try new things! Push yourself into places and situations that are new and even uncomfortable. We grow and stretch our abilities when we try new things. Reach out to others and listen to their dreams. Learn from them. Follow your heart and let your passions emerge. While you’re waiting for those passions to emerge, kick up your heels and have fun! Laugh hard, work hard, play hard and don’t take yourself too seriously.”
Following her own advice, Cindy has extended her time in Tanzania, as she received notice that her Fulbright grant has been renewed for a second year. She had always wanted to do something different with her sabbatical, and the people she’s met and the cultural experiences she’s had, have all culminated into an unbelievable adventure- she can’t wait to able to continue her journey for another year.
Cindy will return to Gustavus in September 2011. For those of you interested, Cindy will be taking students on a camping Safari to Tanzania in January of 2012!
I can think of no other dance I’d rather do. I am a teacher of biology and a student of life and death. I’ve learned many new steps in this dance. It is an eternal celebration of the relationship between teacher and student, mentor and mentee, elder and youth, parent and child; a celebration of life and all that we have to learn about living and dying. To dance is to embrace life, to honor the sacred. Our time is brief, the music is sweet, let us dance. –Cindy Johnson (blog entry)