USP staff, 2012
To my understanding, I am in an unique situation among the USP Program Associates/Assistants (PAs) in that I was not an alum of the program prior to taking up the position; I came to USP not knowing any of the staff (except having meet Rachel Robinson once) and having only been to UCU once before (my experience in Uganda prior to my USP position was from Wheaton College’s Human Needs and Global Resources Program (HNGR) which was also how I was connected to Rachel; her father was the Director of the HNGR Program during my time at Wheaton). The PAs typically have large shoes to fill as the staff often rhapsodize about the great deeds and antics of the previous year’s PAs; the comparisons with both your predecessors and your co-PA can be slightly wearing, but little by little day by day PAs build their own presence and reputation. The weariness of the process was doubly so for me as I was a newcomer to USP, so I was not sure how I could fit in well with the USP organization, but overtime I found a place in the mix of it all and I grew confident and I begin to flourish as my time in USP continued.
As PAs, we start our time excited and nervous about the impeding student arrival. From prepping for student arrival by organizing phone and supplies chests to preparing med-kits and student databases, the beginning of the Fall semesters seems to be a wild rush of anticipation. The semester itself can seem like a race with this or that situation, activity, event, etc., calling your attention from preparing rides for practicums, to doing homestay visits, to this student having malaria or that other student who never answers her phone. By the end of our time, when we are buying the schistosomiasis medicine for student who went swimming in Lake Victoria and ensuring the meals are ready at Mary Reparatrix , we enter into the lull of good-byes, reflection, and plans for the future.
As PAs, we go through small pains throughout the semester - sometimes there is too little sleep, sometimes there is difficulty with students, sometimes you are trying to figure out where you fit in it all – student/staff/friend/authority/etc., and sometimes you are trying to figure out how to make people like you. But the enjoyments trump the pains. I am not sure if USP students know this (maybe they do), but it is incredibly fun to work at USP. Despite the small pains, the busy schedule, the lack of sleep, etc., it is simply great to play our role at USP. We usually end up at the end of the semester hoping against hope that maybe Mark will say that “Yes, you can come back next year and work with again as the PA”. But then when we get older, and maybe wiser, we can look back and think that it might have been wise for him to allow us to pursue something else the next year and to use the skills and experiences we learned for other endeavors of life (maybe). But whatever happens, I think we end up valuing our time with staff and students in the midst of the great program call USP.
These posts are about how USP has shaped us, and well, for me, there is a lot to say:
Vocation: I found USP vocationally orienting and solidifying. USP solidified both my interest in working in the future within study abroad education as well as my interest to aid Christian disciples to pursue human flourishing in ways that are full of faith, hope, and love rather than ways that exacerbate sinful structures and practices in the world. USP also gave me the opportunity to continue to live in the context I love: Uganda.
Forgiveness: I grew stronger in my understanding of the power of forgiveness and the knowledge that my shriveled soul does not often tap into the possibilities available for forgiveness through the Gospel. This, for me, was shaped most through the experiences we have in Rwanda.
Presence: "Africans believe that presence is the debt they owe one another" (John Taylor, The Primal Vision, pg 135); the omnipresent idea of “Presence” is of course important as I think about my time with USP; I have learned as I progress in my life that presence is a hard and difficult orientation of self, but a necessary skill for Christian living.
Enjoyment in work: I have learned that the best place to work is a place in which you both enjoy what you are doing as well as enjoy your colleagues.
Professional skills: USP provided me my first venue to gain post-college professional skills. I gained skills as a teaching assistant, administrative assistant, and resident assistant.
Intercultural skills: Intercultural awareness and cultural hybridity were important parts of my life at USP as I lived betwixt and between the life of a Ugandan and an American. USP gave me a deeper chance to delve into this topic both in a personal as well as an academic sense (including opportunities to pull out my Ugandan English accent, which is fairly good I might add).
Intercultural Wisdom: I have recently been reading an account of the missionary-anthropologist Maurice Leenhardt called Person and Myth. In the book there is a quote which I repeat here in a modified version to reveal the essence of the statement:
When a person has been living for two or three years among other peoples he is sure to be fully convinced that he knows all about them; when he has been ten years or so amongst them, if he be an observant man, he finds that he knows very little about them, and so begins to learn.
- L. Fison, missionary in Fiji
USP helped me realize that for all the knowledge I did have about the context there is a lot more for me to learn that is deeper, less obvious, more rare; I appreciated being around people, such as Mark and Abby, who had lived for a substantially longer time that I had in Uganda, as I had a sympathetic audience to share some of my ideas and impressions of the context. Wisdom concerning intercultural living comes, in part, in the knowledge that humility is needed and an understanding that a short time in the context provides a powerful glimpse but likely not a full picture of what is happening around you.
Reflection: USP provided me the continued opportunity to examine how to live in the multicultural world as a disciple where global and local connect in complex ways. We are shaped to continue to ask ourselves: “how do Faith and Action connect as we live in this beautiful creation that is also a deeply fallen world?”
So there you have it, USP helped me learn about vocation, forgiveness, presence, enjoyment in work, professional skills, intercultural skills, intercultural wisdom, and reflection. What a great program, huh?
Whether dealing with the protocol of Ahabwe Jones, the playful antics of Rachel Robinson, the dry humor of Gwyn Jones, the wise efficiency plans of Mark Bartels, the positivity of Julie Darcey, the insightful stories from Shankule Philo, the teasing of Koma Lydia, the laughter of Ndagire Brendah, the popularity of Margaret Opol, or the intense demeanor of Mujuni Vincent, USP was a great place to work and a great time in my life. It was not without its bumps and bruises along the way, of course, but such is the way of life I think, the difficulties only make that which is most worthy all the more vibrant and poignant.
Currently, I am working on a Masters in Evaluation Studies (think monitoring and evaluation) at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. My topical concentrations are in the evaluation of international development programs and study abroad programs as well as non-profit management and teaching. I still think about my time at USP regularly as I live here in Minneapolis; this reflection is not just about the Mukono balmy weather versus the Minneapolis “polar vortex” , but about all the fun I had, the skills I learned, what I learned about Uganda, and the people I shared life with.
So if you are considering applying to spend a semester with the USP, know that it is a great program and it is worth pursuing; if you are an alum/na of the program, continue to spread the word about the great program that is USP. I am thankful to God for my time at USP and how I was shaped to be a better disciple through my work with the program.