Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Rural Homestay Reflections

by: Eddie Tokpa, USP Homestay Coordinator

Janelle walking home with her family. 
USP encourages learning through experience-- through doing, and with that in mind, takes students on a variety of educational excursions throughout the semester. This weekend we returned from our Rural Homestays in Serere, where the students live with Ugandan families for one week, to experience and learn about life in rural Uganda. Since most Ugandans are subsistence farmers and live in small, rural villages, this gives them rich new insights into the country’s cultural and family values from a rural perspective.

At the beginning of the week, students are both excited but also nervous and unsure; by the end of the week, they have relaxed into the experience and their new environment, which allows them to learn a lot about the culture that could not be learned in a textbook. We encourage our students to leave their comfort zone and experience Uganda through Ugandan realities, culture and ways of life. This involves living in a house with no plumbing and no electricity, trying their hands at farming, preparing and eating new and different foods, and learning the traditions and customs around greeting, visiting and roles within the family. Slowing down, accepting and enjoying these new realities provides all kinds of insights into the bigger questions of life. Students often begin to internalize the reality that material wealth is not the key ingredient for a “rich” life.

Reflecting on the two best things about her rural homestay, one student said, “Being immediately welcomed and included in the life of the family gave me a sense of belonging and the feeling that my homestay would be safe and rewarding. I particularly enjoyed evenings with the family, which included prayers and a word from my host parents every night."

As I reflect more on student’s evaluations of their rural homestay experience, I noted that this experience creates the opportunity for a lot of growth and maturity; living in the village can be physically and mentally challenging for students, but pushing into these new realities, choosing to stay present and learn from them is where the growth happens.

Throughout the week, students participate in household activities such as cooking, gardening or 'digging,' and helping around the compound. These activities also prepare students to live in community and help them appreciate shared responsibility.

Ellen meeting her host family
Helping with dinner preparation
Like any community in the United States, all of our rural homestay communities are different, none of the the families identical. But within that difference, all of the families are committed to providing a caring, and secure environment for students within their homes and communities. Monica Knaak (Gordon College) has this to say about her experience: “My family loved me and protected me like a daughter, granddaughter and sister. I was a guest the first day and after that I was a family.” 

Monica helping her host mom and sister make juice from fresh squeezed oranges.
Monica peeling dried cassava with her family.
Melody meeting her host family
Melody helping her host mom make and sell pancakes
Rebecca learning to make chapati with her host mom and sister. 
Finally, on a personal level, one cultural lesson I’ve learned from the people of Serere is the importance of greeting and acknowledging the people around you. As one host parent said to me, “not greeting people and giving them food to eat upon their arrival to your house, office or shop is an insult equivalent to deeming the person unworthy of your attention.”

The USP staff accepting the generous hospitality of families by
taking tea on one of their many visits throughout the week. 

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