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Profile of a Lifelong Learner: Stephanie M.

Here at ICLS, we believe that lifelong learning and travel are powerful ways to build relationships and make authentic human connections. So we were so excited when Stephanie reached out to us looking to learn Swahili, and sat down with her to hear her story of love, travel, and language. From Tanzania to the U.S. and back again, Stephanie has invested herself in the adventure of learning Swahili in a way that’s sure to inspire you. If you are ready to get started on your journey, check out our language classes for mature adults

A Hollywood rom-com

Learning Swahili as a lifelong learning adventureThis particular story seems to have been pulled straight out of a Hollywood rom-com scenario. In 2016, Stephanie, who was at the time a successful trial lawyer in Seattle, traveled to Tanzania with a group of friends to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. They were accompanied by a contingent of African climbing staff, including , a local mountain guide named “RG3.”

It took the group seven days to reach the summit and to descend. It was a trying experience but also an exhilarating one. This was not Stephanie’s first challenge, as she’d already ridden her bike from Seattle to San Francisco a few years before, as well as several other long-distance cycling challenges.

After the climb, the group went on a four-day safari. Stephanie also had plans to visit Zanzibar, but nobody else in the group planned to go. Undeterred, she decided to go on her own. Pressured by her friends who worried about her safety, she asked RG3 if he would go with her. He agreed, and the rest is history:

“We ended up falling in love. I didn’t plan for it to happen, but it did. And had you told me this would happen, I would have laughed at you!”

Making Tanzania Home

It took less than six months for Stephanie to decide to move to Tanzania, leaving behind a comfortable home near Seattle and moving into an apartment with off and on electricity and no oven. The couple later moved into a new home with modern amenities, including solar power for 90% of the home.

Stephanie did not just fall in love with her tour guide; she fell in love with Africa and Tanzania. She had traveled to Mexico and Canada, extensively as well as visited Italy, but Tanzania was unique. It provided her with the life changes she didn’t know she needed:

“I liked my job but it was suffocating me. I like Africa, it’s different, it’s nothing like the United States; it’s unlike anywhere I’ve been. I came here and I fell in love with the country, and I fell in love with this man, and I decided to stay. I quit everything.” 

Learning Swahili is a lifelong learning processStephanie now is part-owner of her husband’s  Kilimanjaro/Meru trekking and safari company called Dirty Freedom Adventures. While happy with her life, she still feels that there is one piece missing: The language piece. Stephanie started learning Swahili as soon as she and RG3 began dating. She enrolled in an intensive two-week program offered by a local school and leveraged her husband’s help and her daily interactions with her friends and neighbors.

Pursuing fluency through personal connections

Language learning wasn’t foreign to her at all. She had been an avid French and Spanish learner in her youth. She originally planned to major in foreign languages and had even considered a career as a translator. Like several of our lifelong learners, she fondly remembers her first French teacher:

“We had the most dynamic French teacher, I will never forget her as long as I live, Madame Fowler. She taught almost all in French, she was so funny and I loved it from the first minute.”

Although Swahili bears no resemblance with the two languages she has learned, she was able to capitalize on her prior experience as a language learner to develop an intermediate-high level of proficiency in Swahili.

At home, Stephanie and RG3 speak both English and Swahili. Her husband’s English is still slightly better than her Swahili, so English tends to dominate. Although she can communicate effectively, Stephanie is determined to further improve her command of the language.

“What I’m looking for is to bridge the gap between where I am and fluency. I’m past the point where I need to translate in my head, but I’d like to speak like a native. I’m looking for something that will push me that final distance.”

Setting specific language goals

Stephanie’s language goals are very specific. She wants to learn some idioms as well as some street language (or local slang). She realized that you can never be a true insider unless you know some slang.  This is a concern echoed by one of our other lifelong language learner, Burke. C who also understood the importance of mastering the standard version of a language but also its informal forms.

Stephanie also wishes to improve her listening skills. She noticed that “It takes time before you start to pick up where one word stops and another one begins.” Word boundaries can indeed be challenging and hinder comprehension, even later in the language learning process.

Stephanie’s ambitious language learning goals stem from a desire to feel completely at home in her adopted country, but also from a lifelong love for languages.

“I’ve always been fascinated with foreign languages. When you learn a language, you open your horizons. In French class, I learned about Morocco, we talked about food and culture. And it will prompt you to do some traveling that you would not otherwise do. Languages are essential.

In order to help Stephanie meet her language goals, ICLS was able to pair her with a Tanzanian Swahili instructor for some private classes.

Lifelong Learning at ICLS: Language classes for mature adults 

Inspired to start your language-learning journey? Whether you’re looking to dip your toes into a new culture, prepare for an upcoming trip, or boost your professional skills, ICLS has a language class to help you become a lifelong learner! Our highly experienced, top-tier instructors will make sure you achieve your goals and have fun while doing so. 

Our Lifelong Language Program offers 6-week online language classes for mature adults centered on travel and culture themes in French, Spanish, and Italian. 

And if you’re looking for a more intensive experience, try our 10-week Online Group Language Courses. Choose between courses in Arabic, Chinese, French, Brazilian Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.


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