Wednesday, 14 February 2018

We LOVE our USP Program Assistants!

USP has a staff that is designed to encourage and support student growth and learning during their four months in Uganda. The Program Assistants (PAs) play a significant role in that! They are an active part of the USP staff and are a vital part of the student experience, providing support and encouragement to students as they navigate the complexities of studying for a semester in Uganda. PAs are usually recent college graduates, and have helpful insights into student experiences from their own recent experiences as USP/ UCU students.

Allow us to introduce you to our three current, amazing PAs!...

Paige was a senior social work student from Olivet Nazarene University. She works closely with Lisa, our Social Work Coordinator, to support the social work students in their learning. As a USP student, Morgan was a sophomore General Studies student from Trinity International University. She works closely with Micah Hughes, our Global Health Coordinator, to support our Cross Cultural Practicum course. As a recent UCU graduate and Honours College student, Becky interacted with many USP students during her time on campus, and was even a roommate to a few USP students. She is a wealth of knowledge, helping students navigate and understand Ugandan culture. All three PAs provide invaluable behind-the-scenes, administrative support as well as we plan and lead trips, coordinate practicums, facilitate homestays etc.

As the application for our next two American PAs has just been posted, we thought you might enjoy hearing from our current PAs to learn a bit more about what this unique position is all about!

Paige Schaefer
USP student Spring 2017; Program Assistant Fall 2017- Spring 2018
Paige (foreground) with students from the top of a mosque in Kampala during a religion class field trip 
"The Program Assistant position is a one of a kind position that has given me opportunities to grow in many ways. Through being involved with the social work students, helping facilitate social work classes, going on site visits, and meeting with Lisa Tokpa, USP’s Social Work Coordinator, on a weekly basis, I feel as if I have grown so much in my professional development. I have also grown as an individual, understanding myself and the way I interact in the world in a new way. Through different cross-cultural experiences and through relationships with USP students, I have gained new insights into my talents/abilities and also specific areas where I have need for growth. 

One of my favorite parts of the job is walking with students through their semester in Uganda, watching them gain new insights and grow in new ways, just as I did as a USP student. Being able to take part in their experience is really exciting! The teamwork dynamic of the USP staff has also been something that I have loved. All of the staff truly come together to make the program run as smoothly as possible, and we have fun doing it! The job does, of course, come with challenges. Being far from home and being on call around the clock are a few things that have proven to be difficult, but overall, I have learned and grown so much from this year as a Program Assistant – not to mention, I’ve met so many incredible people that I now get to call family." 

Paige and Morgan celebrating Jessica Mount (Point Loma Nazarene) on her birthday during Rural Homestays.

Paige and Becky preparing supplies for Spring 2018 students with Innocent and Lydia

Becky Nairuba
UCU Honours College graduate 2017; Program Assistant, January-December 2018

Spring 2018 students learning the ways of hand washing from Becky

"Becky Nairuba is my name and I am a Program Assistant. This is my story. Coming to USP was a dream come true for me. I am an adventurous person; always ready to jump on the next bus that pops up for a new experience. This year, it was the USP bus. Of course like any other employee, I had to apply for this lovely position. It was very attractive on paper and inspiring watching the former Ugandan and American PAs work together. I read all the roles in the paper and if I had to be honest, I was anxious. It was going to be a new setting of learning and appreciating of new cultures.

As a PA, I perform several tasks that might or might not be physical. I serve as a cultural translator simply putting everything in perspective. The American students come to live in a new context for four months and it is a cultural shock for many because of the clashing values and beliefs they find in Uganda. Working with the USP staff is an enabling environment to learn from each other.

I get to engage with the students and answer most of the cultural questions that they have and this will help them navigate freely and adjust to a diverse setting of over 50 tribes that have similarities but a few unique aspects about each one of them. Participating in Faith & Action with the students has opened me to questions that I never asked myself and things I never thought about. I participate in class and also listen to these new perspectives and angles on Christian faith and what it means to be a Christian wherever you are.

As the Ugandan PA, I have been a liaison between the Honors College Leadership Program and USP. I love communication as a person and have to do this throughout this whole career makes it better. I cannot reason out challenges, but of course these make learning more intentional. And of course I get to work with these awesome PAs, Morgan and Paige, attend to office errands with them, do some printing, and now I get to use my mechanical skills in setting up projectors for class, provide the front office and administrative staff with support (e.g. filing, emailing and data entry) and last but not least plan and coordinate events. This is when you get your creative hands on deck. The most important role here is maintaining the student’s safety."

Enjoying the relationships made possible through the Honours College & USP partnership 

Morgan Walker
USP Student, Fall 2015; Program Assistant Fall 2017- Spring 2018
Morgan (right) a willing "patient" for GHE student, Jessica Fox, learning to take blood pressure. 
"Having the opportunity to walk alongside students as they go through the ups and downs of a semester that had such a tremendous impact on me is really exciting! I love being a part of the conversations and rhythms of USP. Sitting in on classes and talking with students about presence, mutually beneficial relationships, injustice, power structures, and the way our culture impacts our faith has been beneficial to me as I continue to think through these things I was learning as a student in Fall 2015. I love that I get to help support students and create a space for those conversations to happen, all while learning and growing myself. 

I also appreciate getting to be a part of all that happens behind the scenes to make the program run. Working to run USP social media, taking students to doctor appointments, helping students navigate their ever changing class and practicum schedules, battling with excel (I can proudly say that I am now able to format a table in excel without crying), and running errands in Mukono are all part of what goes down during “office hours”. But office hours aren’t even the half of it. Being a PA is a ‘round the clock' job. This can be challenging but honestly, some of my favorite moments and biggest growth opportunities happen outside of office hours (though those are great too :). These range from telling "bedtime stories" on our numerous trips (what started as a joke, has became a standing tradition), to caring for students who are up all night with a bad stomach bug (My PAs did it for me so I just get to pay it forward. Shout out to Martha, Prudence, and Courtney!), to having deep conversations about life and culture. These situations make my job fun and exciting (seriously, there’s never a dull moment around here)

But by far one of the best parts of being a PA has been getting to work with the USP staff. They continually blow me away with their problem solving, student care, jokes, and insights. Having a team to work with that love and care for each other, have fun, and want to see you grow is a huge blessing that most don’t get at their first job out of college."

The PAs just hanging out! 
Benji, Morgan, Paige, and Becky in the Honours College Complex

USP staff Spring 2018

Leave a comment about how your Program Assistant impacted you during your study abroad experience! And if you are a recent college grad and looking for an awesome opportunity to grow, learn and support others on that journey - apply now and join our team!

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Student Reflection: Compassion

Student reflections upon the first month in Uganda have revealed a greater awareness that we, as Americans, have much to learn from Ugandans regarding hospitality and compassion. From the warm greetings of host families to the hours devoted to student learning by field supervisors, Ugandan hospitality is a virtue that has even captured recent headlines in the global refugee crisis. Uganda hosts over 1,000,000 registered refugees (the most of any African country), and the number is increasing by the day. According to a recent inter-agency emergency report, an average of 288 Congolese refugees are arriving through one point of entry EVERY. DAY.(  

USP’s Social Work Emphasis has recently partnered with Refugee Law Project in providing opportunities for social work interns to learn from Ugandan experts who have devoted their lives to helping refugees in this part of the world. Deanna Frey (Senior BSW student from Messiah College) reflects on her first few weeks at Refugee Law Project and a unit within the USP Core Course, Faith & Action

One month.
That’s just so crazy to me! One month since this journey began. It feels longer than that and shorter than that. It seems so much has happened and I am learning exponentially.
Because of the distance in travel time that my internship is from the campus at UCU, I have the privilege to live with a welcoming Ugandan host family part of my week! While there are some logistical challenges with traveling back and forth and being away from campus for most of the weekdays, I am so thankful for a gracious and loving family that creates a little bit of home for me in Kampala, and I look forward to continually getting to know them better.
I am getting into the (fluid) routine of activities at my internship at Refugee Law Project (RLP). So far, I have observed/helped in the registration process for persons with disabilities at the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) refugee registration event in Kampala, accompanied and advocated for a client to receive medical assistance at a local hospital, and observed and documented client counseling sessions while simultaneously learning more about RLP’s and Uganda’s policies and services for refugees. All while engaging in these activities, I am witnessing raw and real stories of suffering and pain which produces questions of why I am allotted the privileges and resources which I hold.
In our Faith and Action class on campus, we have been reading a book called Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life which has been pushing me to contemplate my reactions to all that I am seeing and learning. Compassion is so much more than just feeling sorry for another person but instead it should be a reflection of the love of Immanuel – God with us, which calls for crazy love which might put us in some uncomfortable situations. In compassion, there is no “us” and “them” in the distinction of who is blessing who but instead an acknowledgement of mutual brokenness. In this way,“Radical servanthood challenges us, while attempting persistently to overcome poverty, hunger, illness, and any other forms of human misery, to real the gentle presence of our compassionate God in the midst of our broken world.” God is the only one who can bring healing and change and I am a mere and small vessel; but I am praying for his divine gift of compassion that will bring me to love more and love truly.
Alongside learning some of these tough lessons, God has been blessing me with gifts that remind me of his love and his presence such as attending an international church service singing worship songs I love, a visit from a friend from my home university, enjoying fellowship with friends and ice cream, and just witnessing creation’s beauty!
Your love so deep is washing over me
Your face is all I seek; You are my everything //
All fear removed, I breath You in
I lean into Your love. Oh, Your love
These powerful and true words that mean so much to me in this season and I pray they ring too for you too!
Deanna with her host parents Rev. John and Joyce Kateeba

Saturday, 3 February 2018

The Liturgy of Tea

When you mention "Tea Time" in Uganda, it is met with anticipation of a space in the day to be together with others and regroup with a cup of warm, milky, sweet tea.  For USP students, it is a new ritual in their day that is, at first, a little confusing...but soon accepted and even looked forward to. 

Tea Time is mid-morning and/or early evening. This ritual was brought by the British with the intention of snacking before dinner, especially as preparing dinner takes time and may not be ready until late in the evening. In Uganda, however, this ritual was incorporated with the locals’ value of being together. It wasn’t only about hunger but Tea Time has always been a communal time in Uganda for families, friends, and colleagues to come together and share the day’s plans and experiences. Furthermore, it’s a way of showing hospitality to the visitors of the family, something that strengthened community relationships. In Uganda, eating together depicts harmony and is a way of strengthening the ties. One fills their family in on how and what they are doing since seeing each other last.
The USP students have experienced this in their host homes. Tea Time presents a great platform for them to share what they plan to do for the day and then evaluate their success in the evening. The conversations allow the family to know how everyone is fairing and what to do, to make the following day better.

Here at the USP office, we also share teatime and get to know more about each other and enjoy the smiles and moments of the day. 

Tea Time is even a part of the UCU class schedule! There is a break in classes every day at 10:30 for students to pause and "take tea" with one another. 
USP students during teatime in the DH

The American mentality usually questions, "How can I be a productive member of society and still make time for tea?" The Ugandan culture asks, "How can I be a productive member of society  without making time for tea?" We have much to learn from our Ugandan hosts.

Our daily reminder in the office

Monday, 22 January 2018

Here, Right, Now! Spring 2018

It is a new year and we have had an exciting start to the spring semester!
The group arrived with forward-looking charisma, ready to experience a new context; Uganda Christian University (UCU), Mukono and Uganda at large.
This semester, the program has 25 students from 12 universities including Kuyper College, Anderson University, Messiah College, Olivet Nazaren, Wheaton College, Pointy Loma Nazarene, Taylor University, Gordon College, Cairn University, Dallas Baptist University, Asbury College, and Biola University. 
Seventeen of the students reside at the University campus and are having a full experience of Ugandan campus life; whereas eight of them have chosen to stay off campus with Ugandan host families for the full semester. 
The students are two weeks into the semester and have undergone orientation, started classes, and are a few days into their practicum experiences. 
Last weekend the 17 on-campus students were taken to their host families within Mukono, to get a two week urban family experience. The students have opened up to the living experience, as well as appreciated the assortment of cultures and food which Uganda has to offer.
Some snapshots of the start of our Spring 2018 semester:
Morgan, the USP Program Assistant posing with the first students to arrive at Entebbe Airport in Uganda.
The Faith & Action retreat at Vision for Africa

Having a meal at the UCU Dining Hall

The students ready to climb Monkey Hill

Our 8 homestay students ready to set off to meet their Ugandan host families

Becky, our Ugandan PA teaching the students how to hand wash

The Social Work students meet their supervisors for the first time

The on-campus students are half way through their two-week homestays, where they too, are getting a taste of what it feels like living with a Ugandan family in an urban context. There was mutual excitement between the students and their host families as they met for the first time:

Chesa meeting her new family 

Janelle and Mama Odetta

Abby with her new Mukono host parents! 

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Farewell Fall 2017!

One of our favorite USP traditions is the farewell dinner. After the last of the exams has been taken and papers written, the USP community (staff, students, host-families, practicum supervisors, Honours College roommates, lecturers and various members of the UCU administration) gathers together to celebrate the accomplishments of the students and the completion of the semester. In true Ugandan fashion (all protocols observed!) the event is kicked off with speeches from several different individuals who speak briefly (or perhaps not-so-briefly) about their time with USP, and what it has meant to them. Hearing about the relationships that have been formed, the lessons that have been learned and the memories that have been made over the course of the semester is powerful. The journey is not an easy one, but pausing to look back and reflect on the semester together is immensely good. It is pure joy and satisfaction, being together and celebrating as one big community before the students leave to return home. 

The speaches are followed by the presentation of certificates to the USP students and a big Ugandan buffet dinner. The USP students take the opportunity to serve the food to all the guests, as a gesture of appreciation for the love and hospitality they have been shown in so many ways throughout the semester. The evening is brought to a close with the cutting/eating of the cake. Again, as per tradition, the cake is ceremoniously cut by all who made speeches earlier in the evening, before being served to the guests. 

We are so grateful for a fantastic semester, for a terrific group of students, and for all the people who make up USP, from host moms to roommates, to drivers, to lecturers and supervisors-- webale nyo!! 

Fall 2017 Farewell Dinner 

Sam, Paige, Brianna, Jamie and Lauren ready to celebrate!
Paige, Benji and Morgan, our Program Assistants and the MC's of the farewell dinner
Megan Beam arriving with her host family, the Magera's.
Rachel Land with a co-worker from her practicum site, Off Tu Mission.
Julianna Kabakjian delivering her speech on behalf of the General Studies Emphasis 
The social work cohort, thanking Lisa Tokpa, the Social Work Coordinator.
Joanna Hipple with her host mother, Mirica Kisitu, as she receives her certificate of completion.

Alexa Bragg with her host father, Mr. Kavuma, receiving her certificate from Dr. Musinguzi.
Jessica Fox with her host mother, Jacquline Mugabe.
Students serving dinner to the guests.
The cutting of the cake by all the speech givers. 

The USP staff, grateful for Fall 2017! 

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Student Takeaways

As we enter into the last weeks we are encouraged to look back over the course of this semester. Students entered into the challenges and joys of life here in Mukono, Uganda. Through engaging with their host families, roommates, practicum sites, travel, and studies they have gained new insights and understanding of the world. While USP is definitely not about easy answers tied up in pretty packages (just ask any USP student ever), students learn, grow and see God at work throughout the their time in Uganda in some pretty profound ways. Here are some insights that our Fall 2017 USP students want to share with you.
Jamie and John in their matching kitinge outfits.
“There is so much importance in living into your community, wherever and whoever that may be. Love comes like a hurricane when you stop holding on so tight to individualism and let others in”.   - Jamie Gendimenico (Eastern University)

Mr. Odwagacen, Alexa, Megan and Joanna on field trip to the Buganda Parliament for Politics.  
“It is honestly hard to string together words that will encapsulate this semester, but in all this I have learned that true community isn’t just about getting coffee or passing by a familiar face on the street. I think it goes back to not only a recognition of human brokenness, but the universality of pain across all individuals and cultures”.    - Alexa Bragg (Gordon College)

Jessica Mount participating in an ice breaker at The Recreation Project in Gulu. 
“In Uganda, I've learned to live in the tension. I've been able to break free from unhelpful black and white realities. This is an invaluable lesson that I'll carry with me in my career as a social worker and my everyday life when I'm back in the states”.                                                                                                                  -Jessica Mount (Point Loma Nazarene University)

Rachel Phillips baking for carmel rolls for our USP Thanksgiving.

“At ACHERU, I have seen how connected faith is to healing. The staff often remind each other that "We do the work, and God does the healing”".  - Rachael Phillips (Westmont University)

Dr. Opol, Brooke, Jenna and Julianna visiting a mosque for their
Contemporary Religions in Uganda class.
“I learned the importance of admitting I need help. When I was vulnerable and shared my struggles with others, I was overwhelmed with an acceptance and support than couldn't have come from any other place. We all like to be strong and have it all together, but I think when we lean on others we recognize that we are dependent creatures, and it's a humbling experience”.                                                           -  Julianna Kabakjian (Messiah College)
While the semester is coming to a close, we are excited for our end of semester debrief retreat where we will process through the experiences our students have had and insight's they've gained as well as discuss how to integrate their experience here into daily life as they look ahead to  re-entry into the US. 

Friday, 17 November 2017

Love Language

The following is a journal written by Jenna Comstock, psychology major from Azusa Pacific for
the class, Cross-Cultural Practicum ( Jenna is at the practicum site, Salaama
School for the Blind, a site that USP has partnered with for over 10 years.

 At my internship with Salaama School for the Blind, I am constantly exposed to a group of people whose circumstance I am foreign to. They are blind and I am not. In the early days of my internship, I wondered if I would eventually be able to relate to these students and staff members. An answer came in the form of a bundled bunch of perforated papers bound with string: the language of Braille. Yet, without a local who was willing to invest in me, I would have never arrived at this conclusion. 

Without a student who was willing to invest the time to teach me, I would not have found a satisfactory way to relate to my Ugandan friends at Salaama. Titus, a member of the Primary 7 class, has spent much of his free time teaching me how to read, write and type Braille. One day, during our third Braille lesson, Titus instructed me to write a story using the Brailler and to bring it to him when I had finished. I was able to recall certain contractions and letters with such an ease and efficiency that even I was surprised by. Sure, the story was riddled with mistakes, but it was a story written in Braille. It seemed I was approaching literacy. The surprise that turned into delight in Titus’ reaction to my prompt completion of the task filled my heart with much needed measures hope. I could tell how much it meant to Titus that I bothered to learn the language that he communicates with. This is when I understood that Braille is something I can use to bridge the gap between myself and “them.” 

Teaching me Braille, Titus was an exemplary manifestation of a Monk. According to Cavanaugh’s Migrant, Tourist, Pilgrim, Monk: Mobility and Identity in a Global Age (2008), a Monk is someone who remains stable in a host culture. Monks welcome visitors into their homes. Essentially, Monks allow visitors to authentically experience their host culture, to the extent that it is possible. Titus inviting me into his world and culture through teaching me how to read and write in the same way students at Salaama do has prompted an authentic participation in the community than I ever could have created on my own. I am enduringly grateful for the considerate efforts of Titus.

From this experience, I have also gained further insight to the welcoming aspect of
Ugandan culture. Uganda is filled with people who are overtly welcoming. I experienced this from the moment I stepped off of the plane. Not only this, but they are willing to help me better understand their ways of life. Titus teaching me Braille is a paramount example of a Ugandan taking the time to not only get to know me, but to also teach me how to communicate with other Ugandan students and staff members at Salaama. Through learning Braille, I have become more aware of how willing Ugandans are to put in the effort to include and teach visitors in their community. I have learned what it means to welcome someone into your family.


Cavanaugh, William (2008). Migrant, Tourist, Pilgrim, Monk: Mobility and Identity in a Global Age. 340-356.

Salaama supervisors  Lawrence Tusiime and Francis Kinubi

Former USP student, Deanna Shaub, learning braille at her USP practicum