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Spotlight: Professor shares Tanzanian culture

BY MAX FREUND | NOVEMBER 10, 2010 7:20 AM

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Blandina Giblin has more than 65 children.

The Tanzanian-native walked around a white-walled classroom in Van Allen Hall on Tuesday, her black-braided hair neatly tied in a ponytail, a pink and white striped scarf wrapped around her neck.

Her strong voice echoed off the bare walls as she spoke Swahili to a class of 14 students, but Giblin's passion for teaching doesn't end after class lets out.

"If you come to my house, you would have to call me Mama," she said. "I look at my students as if they are part of my family."

Giblin moved to Iowa in 1986 with her husband, and she has taught at the University of Iowa since 1991.

Giblin has chosen to live by the phrase "Upendo ni mali ya moyo usiwe mchoyo" — "Love is the wealth of the heart, don't be stingy."

And Giblin has opened her heart and Tanzanian summer home to American students since 2002, allowing them to stay and learn firsthand about Tanzanian culture, traditions, and food.

"They love it," she said. "I do not think there have been any students who have never liked the food. Although I had one student, she had a hard time, because she brought junk food, like Twinkies. Which is really sad, because if you are going to Africa and you bring junk food, then why go?"

For UI senior Lily Dobson, visiting Giblin's home in Tanzania's commercial center, Dar es Salaam, highlighted her teacher's warm personality.

"When she took us into the city, we drew a lot of attention because we were Westerners," she said about her trip last summer. "People said things in the streets, and Mama snapped back at them, like we were her little ducklings."

But Giblin's protective aura is not reserved only for the students who visit her.

"My teaching style is totally different from other people; I like to reward my students," Giblin said.

She does this through a chant of "Hongera Imara Waa" — congratulations for your strength — accompanied with rhythmic clapping.

"When students struggle, and do something that is good, it is a way to say 'way to go,' " she said.

Though students said her style of teaching is unique, it's never boring.

"She is crazy; she is really funny, and makes class really interesting," said UI senior Kelly Waddell.

Waddell said he has always struggled with foreign languages, but Giblin made learning Swahili easy.

"For the days we are feeling the stuff a little more, she will let us flow," he said. "And on the days we are quiet, she gets personal with each of us. She is really good at not letting us sit back."

Waddell's description of Giblin was on full display as she circled the room, her steps slow and directed, as she coaxed students to go to the board and write Swahili sentences.

But while she works hard to get the most out of her students, in the end she is still Mama.

"My door is open, and when they come to study abroad, if they want to extend their stay, they are welcome to do it," Giblin said. "That is part of being a mom."


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