The sophomore cohort of the Br. Francis Blouin Global Scholars program recently spent 10 days traveling throughout Uganda in an immersive global learning experience that combined educational inquiry with the exploration of the diverse Ugandan culture and traditions. Under the guidance of Blouin Global Scholar cohort faculty advisor Dr. Amanda Gradisek and Dr. Bradley Beach, the group of 16 students toured the country, met with local leaders and visited sites relevant to the cohort’s themes of education, equity and opportunity.
For sophomore Allison Anderson, the experience was transformative.
“This experience was an eye-opener for our group,” said Anderson. “We had meetings with a number of school boards and teachers to learn about the Ugandan school system, which to our surprise has similar issues to the American school system but just on a larger scale.”
Walsh students and faculty have been visiting central and northern Uganda for study, research, service, and the sharing of culture since 2007. Considered Walsh's most immersive program, students have the opportunity to live and work with Ugandan counterparts at Kisubi Brothers University College near Lake Victoria and the University of the Sacred Heart in the Archdiocese of Gulu in the north.
“Global learning helps you get out of your comfort zone in the best way possible,” said Anderson. “Learning about culture in person is so much better than learning it out of a book. You never truly understand a country's culture and way of thinking until you visit it.”
Highlights of the trip included meeting with local tribal leadership as well Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe from Saint Monica's Girls' Vocational School and the Archbishop of Gulu John Baptist Odama.
“I found it meaningful that these students, who are non-education majors, spent their experience studying education. We were not only researching how education works in Uganda, but also how education intersects with equity, opportunity and diversity,” said Dr. Gradisek. “For instance, how is education working after the Ugandan Civil War? What are the challenges now for people who grew up in internally displaced persons camps? And while English is the official language in Uganda, there are 65 tribes that speak local languages. How is that addressed in education? We wanted to see what has happened to the local indigenous culture as a result of these initiatives.”
Leading up to the trip, the Blouin Scholars studied about the history and culture of Africa and Uganda.
“Nothing could really prepare us for going there though,” said History and Government and Foreign Affairs student Max Kelby. “The people were the best part. I’ve never experienced such great hospitality and self-sacrifice just to impress guests. But in a genuine kind way, not with the goal of trying to get something in return.”
During their stay, the Blouin Global Scholars visited Murchison Falls National Park which sits on the shore of Lake Albert in northwest Uganda, and participated in traditional Ugandan dances with a professional dance group and students from the University of Sacred Heart.
“This was my first trip abroad. The experience, as cliché as it sounds, was life changing. It gave me a perspective on the world that I did not have before. Being immersed into a new culture was an experience I will never forget,” said Anderson. “I learned a lot about the education system in Uganda and how it operates, but I learned most simply through observing and talking with local Ugandans. It surprised me how carefree everyone in Uganda was. They have so little but gave so much to us.”