What My Homestays Taught Me About Uganda and Myself

My homestay families, in Kampala and Kapchorwa, have taught me far more about Uganda than any textbook or lecture ever could. For six weeks, I will be residing in Kampala, the capital and largest city of Uganda. For one week, I conducted a rapid rural appraisal and rural homestay in Kapchorwa, near the Kenyan border in eastern Uganda. Despite the social and economic differences of these two regions, my experiences engaging with local families have reinforced some of the lessons.

“Balancing matoke and firewood on your head while walking is an art that I will always appreciate but never master.”

Here are five things I learned about Uganda through my homestays in Kampala and Kapchorwa:

  1. Climate change is hindering the livelihood of many Ugandan farmers, as they are unable to grow crops and feed their cattle.
  2. The privatization of schools has caused many Ugandans to spend a significant portion of their income on education fees.
  3. There is a pressing concern for youth unemployment; many graduate the university with no job (this sounds uncomfortably familiar).
  4. There is an increase of Chinese citizens in Uganda because 1) Chinese labor for is used for infrastructure projects and 2) growing Chinese-Uganda tourism partnerships.
  5. Collectivism and shared goals are the backbone of a household, a village, and the country.

Beyond the things I learned about Uganda, I also learned a lot of things about myself. I have been able to challenge my pre-existing notions and push myself outside of my comfort zone.

So, here are eight things I learned about myself through my homestays in Kampala and Kapchorwa:

  1. Inconsistent electricity, basin water baths and using latrines (or “squatty potties”) are not as bad as they sound. In fact, I actually enjoy it.
  2. My Ugandan family will never believe them when I say, “I am not hungry.” There is no such thing as too much matoke (a variety of banana), irish (potato), chapati (flatbread), beans or groundnut sauce.
  3. Balancing matoke and firewood on your head while walking is an art that I will always appreciate but never master.
  4. Corny soap operas definitely do grow on you!
  5. Thoroughly hand-washing clothes is quite the work out.
  6. I don’t have as much rhythm as I thought I did. I could never play the drums the way my family does.
  7. Butchering the local language will almost always be met with warm smiles and genuine laughter. The effort will always be appreciated!
  8. I will always have a home in Uganda to come back to.

My homestays have provided me with a safe learning environment to delve into and unpack the material I have learned in the classroom. I have been able to engage more fully with the culture and customs around me. Despite the abundance of global “experts” that discuss economic structure, cultural norms and areas of concern of Uganda, I believe families are the real experts of their country.

Nancy Nguyen is an honors student studying sociology and public administration. She is studying abroad in Kampala, Uganda for an entire semester.

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