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06 January 2017

Head of School Elise Ecoff learns what it truly means to step outside of your comfort zone on an adventure to Tanzania and is reminded that experiences outside of our safe spaces are often the most rewarding.


  • Elise Ecoff Tanzania 2016

True confession, I am not the outdoorsy kind of Head of School. So when I learned that the annual Nord Anglia Education Senior Leadership Meeting would be held in Tanzania last October, I was filled with dread. From the educator perspective, I completely understood Andrew Fitzmaurice, Nord Anglia CEO, wanting all Heads of Schools to experience what our students do when they travel to Tanzania for a service learning expedition. However, the neophyte global traveler and camper in me felt pushed completely out of my comfort zone.  I would soon be reminded that experiences outside of my safe space are often the most rewarding.


Preparing for my journey was my first challenge. I studied the pre-arrival packet I received with great care. It provided useful information regarding immunization and travel details that enabled me to prepare for my personal health and wellbeing. I arranged to receive the numerous vaccines recommended and filled my prescriptions for anti-malaria medication. I purchased more mosquito repellant than I could use in a year, including highly “fashionable” bracelets that arrived in a rainbow of colors. If the aroma of DEET didn’t poison me first, it would certainly keep the flying insects away!


The packing list stated casual clothing was acceptable, no business or formal wear necessary. While that was probably a relief for most, I was completely stumped as to what to pack. My wardrobe didn’t include (what I considered) acceptable clothing for camping or safari with colleagues from all over the globe. What stores offer suitable business casual safari wear for a work trip to Tanzania? I can tell you now with great certainty that Nordstrom and Ann Taylor do not.  With much deliberation and a whole lot of stress, I managed to pack my bags for the great adventure I was about to embark on. I think my family was more than ready for it to begin.


What comforted me most throughout the preparation was anticipating the opportunity to spend time with wonderful long time colleagues, to renew acquaintances with colleagues I had met during my first year as part of the Nord Anglia Education family and the chance to meet educators from around the world. I was able to meet up with Tom Marcy, former North Broward Headmaster and current Headmaster at Windermere Preparatory School, and Hortensia Prieto, Director General at San Roberto International School, to make the long journey together. We flew to Amsterdam where we met several colleagues from different locations. There were ten of us who enjoyed the last flight to Kilimanjaro Airport together.


Obtaining a VISA and locating our luggage at the airport is a story in itself. Suffice to say that the multiple lines, intense heat, interesting characters and travel exhaustion did not deter our growing enthusiasm for the adventure ahead, but provided us with several moments of great angst. It did, however, make falling sleeping in a tent that first night very easy.         


Shamba Kipara Private Camp is truly a beautiful, secure and serene spot. The extraordinary staff, the same people who work with our students, are warm and caring, and do an amazing job of anticipating and accommodating the group’s needs. The grounds are pristine, and the lounge areas, pool and dining hall serve as great social networking spots. I imagine the students must thoroughly enjoy all the setting has to offer. If I am being perfectly honest, the first moment I laid eyes on my tent, my heart skipped a beat.  The tent itself was spacious and clean, but nothing I could prepare my hotel-loving-self for. I was incredibly fortunate that mine was one of the larger permanent tents at the campsite. The smaller temporary safari dome tents, set up to accommodate the number of people at the meeting, would not have fit me and my giant duffle bag. And it is true what they say about location, location, location…being situated near the restroom tent, especially in the middle of the night, was a highly coveted spot indeed.



Each of the three major activities made a huge impact on me, and will stand as experiences I could never have imagined myself participating in. Being on Safari is surreal. I had the privilege of sharing a safari vehicle with Andrew Fitzmaurice and colleagues from schools in Asia, the Middle East and Europe. Together we explored the Ngorongoro Crater starting at the rim, where we were dazzled by the panoramic view of the Crater. After descending the 2000 ft. crater wall, we were immersed in the unfamiliar habitat of the Crater, where we saw lion, buffalo, zebra and other animals and birds too numerous to list.  To top off an amazing day, we spent the evening in a hotel, where the shower and bed felt like a life-altering experience.


After a blissful night’s sleep, we headed to Tarangire National Park. I felt like I was on the set of a Disney movie while observing the numerous species all gathered around the watering hole, part of the Tarangire River. Tarangire is known for its elephant population and it did not disappoint. The elephants were magnificent creatures, and they had no qualms about walking right next to our safari cars, which led me to wonder, who was watching whom?

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Renovating and building at Kitfu Primary School is one of the service projects our students participate in when they travel to Tanzania and it was one of the highlights of the trip for me. The drive through Arusha to reach the school, and learning about the challenges and successes of the Tanzanian people from our bus driver, were eye opening experiences.  Our task was to build desks for students, which would enable more students to attend school each day. The students welcomed us with a native dance, and the teachers and administrators shared how the work of Nord Anglia students had made a positive, lasting impact on their school. We built our desks by region, and a spirited competition between teams led to a highly productive day. The North American Region worked hard, and learned about one another in the process. We felt great about our accomplishments and equally important, strengthened our connection as a team, which we have all benefited from now that we are back at our individual schools.

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It is hard to imagine that attending workshops could have compared equally to safari or service learning, but the time spent learning with my colleagues was a highlight of the trip for me. It is not just that their beautiful English, French, Scottish, Australian or other international accents make them sound smart. The professionals who I am privileged to work among are truly the most talented, creative, intelligent and thoughtful people in the field of education today. Conversing with peers around best practices in curriculum, safety, leadership, student engagement, or management from so many diverse perspectives is so fantastic, it is almost indescribable. And they are a lot of fun, too!


During the long journey home I had many hours to reflect on my trip to Tanzania. I looked over and over again at the photos I had taken, some of them shared here, that are “proof” of the amazing experiences I had. I thought about the doubts and trepidation I had felt, and the angst of preparing for such a different type of professional obligation. I recalled the feeling of being pushed so far out of my comfort zone, and savored the sense of accomplishment I felt at having conquered my fears. I felt so much better having taken the journey. Sure it would have been easier if I had just embraced the trip with the spirit of adventure, but it’s not in my DNA, and that’s just fine. It reminded me that each of us approaches challenges differently, and we must be mindful and respectful of the uniqueness of every member of our community, especially when we ask people to move beyond their comfort zones.


If I learned anything from my trip (other than reconfirming that camping is not my preferred method of lodging) it is that magic truly does happen outside of our comfort zones. I hope all of us have a chance to venture beyond our comfort zones in 2017. You don’t need to travel halfway around the world to get there, but wherever the destination, it will change you in immeasurable ways.


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