During Joel Zimbelman’s childhood years in western Africa, there were no televisions or telephones, as his family’s home received electricity for just three hours a day.
It was a simple but happy life, he said.
“You swim, you hunt birds, you do a lot of walking. You do a lot of reading and listening to the radio,” recalled the longtime faculty member in the Department of Comparative Religion and Humanities.
The nearly eight years Zimbelman’s family spent in Cameroon and immersed in its culture remained with him long after he went on to become an educator, and continues to fuel his passion for teaching abroad.
“It was the idea that I’m at home in the United States. But there’s also a sense in which I’ve also got this place on the other side of the planet that is where I really grew up,” he said.
During the past two decades, overseas teaching stints have taken Zimbelman to nations as far-flung as Hong Kong, Ghana, and France. He even taught for a semester aboard a ship that traveled the globe with 600 US college students and made port stops across Asia, Africa, South America, and the Caribbean as part of the University of Pittsburgh’s Semester at Sea program.
He is about to embark on yet another overseas teaching voyage, and this time, Zimbelman is bringing other Chico State faculty members along with him.
Now his department’s interim chair, Zimbelman is organizing a first-of-its-kind alliance to enable an interdisciplinary group of Chico State professors to teach and conduct collaborative research projects with faculty members at several Tanzanian universities starting next year. He also eventually plans to bring Tanzanian professors back to Chico to conduct research alongside the University’s faculty members or to complete advanced degrees.
The Tanzania colleges are associated with Stefano Moshi Memorial University College (SMMUCo), which offers education programs for teachers and other professionals in the town of Moshi, population 185,000. Its nearby affiliate, the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center, oversees the region’s major hospital—serving 11 million people—and also operates medical, nursing, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and pharmacy schools.
With four campuses, dozens of faculty, and various undergraduate and graduate degrees offered in about 15 disciplines, SMMUCo’s program offerings align well with Chico State, making opportunities for developing connections between them plentiful, Zimbelman said.
“We are hoping to get Chico State faculty involved from different disciplines, with the idea that they can bring their expertise to these Tanzanian schools,” he said.
During his upcoming trip to Tanzania in July, Zimbelman will interview about 20 African faculty members about international research topics they want to conduct. Once back at Chico State, he’ll match those professors with faculty here who are interested in jointly pursuing those topics.
“My hope,” Zimbelman said, “is that it would quickly move to our people going over there to do research in the field.”
The partnerships will continue in the summer of 2018, when Chico State music professor Michelle McConkey will travel to Tanzania to conduct workshops for her counterparts in SMMUCo’s music education program, with a focus on strengthening training in music education instruction.
McConkey said she expects to be accompanied by one other music professor and three music education undergraduate students. The professors will lead clinics for the Tanzanian educators and students, she said, while the Chico State students will get an opportunity to both teach and learn about African musical traditions from their Tanzania counterparts. “We would be able to get in on that rich resource,” McConkey said.
Janelle Gardner, a retired Chico State nursing professor with a specialty in maternal-child nursing, will also go to Tanzania next year. Gardner will hold education classes for nursing instructors, midwives, and birth attendants at the Tanzanian nursing school, in hospitals in the surrounding community, and at isolated rural clinics.
To lay groundwork for the exchange, Zimbelman, McConkey, and Gardner made trips to Tanzania in 2016.
Zimbelman began examining potential relationships the University could develop with SMMUCo in part because of an existing community assistance drive started by the Rotary Club of Chico in 2014. At that time, Zimbelman was serving as director of the Office of International Education, and said he began looking more at what the University could provide, including opportunities in Africa.
“Traveling and living abroad changes you in ways you don’t understand when you first arrive back home,” Zimbelman said.
But, eventually, you’ll realize what you gain, he said, which includes becoming more aware of “what you value the most about your own culture, and what you value most about those other cultures.”
Zimbelman said, “It’s good to have another perspective other than the one that you are comfortable living in all the time.”