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!

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