Every USP student does a homestay with a Ugandan family here in Mukono, whether that is for a short two-week stay or for the entire semester. Living in a home with Ugandan family members is often one of the most valuable experiences of the semester. 'Ugandans' become family members, brothers, sisters and parents. It brings Ugandan culture off the pages of our books, giving shape and life – and sometimes challenges – to concepts about Christianity and culture we can only attempt to diagram on the classroom blackboard.
Our host families in Mukono are as diverse as the families our students come from back home, so each student has a unique homestay experience. Here are a few of the lessons our students are processing after spending a couple weeks with their host families:
Presence: Many of our students are realizing that, in their Ugandan homes, ones presence is more important than their accomplishments. Waiting several hours for supper to cook is a daily evening activity in many Ugandan homes, since cooking and waiting together are as important to family life as getting food on the table. Sometimes the majority of the weekend is spent sitting on the couch with the family, watching music videos or soap operas, not really doing much but simply being together. While this can be a shock to our time-conscious Western mindsets, the magic really happens when our students start making the choice to sit with their family members – not necessarily to talk or to help prepare dinner, but simply for the sake of practicing presence.
Hospitality: In many Ugandan homes, familial relationships are much more fluid than they are in the West. Household members include many people outside the immediate family. Grandparents, nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles and oftentimes people not even related to the family are in and out of the house. Sometimes they stay a few hours and sometimes they stay for months at a time. These families are beautiful models of hospitality, always inviting guests in and insisting they stay at least long enough to take tea!
Expecting the unexpected: As is always the case when you’re in a new place with new people, there are plenty of surprises when living with a Ugandan family. A lot of flexibility and a strong sense of humor help in cultivating an expectation for the unexpected! You never know when you might find a chicken trying to lay an egg on your bed, or when you might discover your family has a fish farm on the property behind their house, or when your host mama will dress you up in a gomesi and whisk you off to a family friend’s wedding!
As our on-campus students move back to their rooms in the UCU dorms, they have a lot to ponder from the last two weeks, and they’ll continue to add to their observations through sharing life with Ugandan university students. In the meantime, our semester-long homestay students will build deeper relationships as they continue to live with their families for the next three months.