When I applied for USP way back in the spring of 2007, I remember asking Mark Bartels what alumns did after their semester abroad. I really wanted to know that there was something big and important about being in Uganda that changed students’ lives, that caused them to choose new career paths or to move to Africa for good. What proved true for me is that what mattered most about being in Uganda was something very small, the simple act of welcoming.
When I returned to the US, I promised myself that I would do my best to extend the generous welcome I received in Uganda. Even though it felt strange and uncomfortable at times, I sought out opportunities to be with people who might be experiencing that bewildering feeling of being a stranger in a strange land. I took a young man from Entebbe, Uganda who had just moved to the area to explore the mountains of Nevada. I invited an undergraduate student from Bulgaria to have tea in my apartment. I helped a group of Bhutanese refugees apply for Social Security cards and Food Stamps. Over and over again I tried to share a piece of the welcome I had been given as a foreign student.
Being with these newcomers in the years since Uganda has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I have found that the more energy I give to helping others feel at home here in the United States, the more I am enriched. They share with me their cultures, their faiths, their languages, and their dreams for life in a new land. Whenever I enter a newcomer’s apartment, I think about that quote from The Primal Vision, “Our first task in approaching another people, another culture, another religion, is to take off our shoes for the place we are approaching is holy.” As I enter the lives and homes of refugees and immigrants from all over the world to offer a hand of welcome, I’ve found that something truly beautiful, truly holy is always waiting for me.
Kelly Cohen-Mazurowski, far left, with a group of Iraqi refugees at a recent cultural event