Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Alum Post: Jordan McGurran

USP staff, 2012

August is warm, but not too hot in Uganda, or at least that was how I felt when I stepped off the plane in early August 2011 into the hot fragrance of Entebbe Airport. Getting off the plane brought back many memories for me from my treasured time in Uganda in 2009.  I slowly worked my way through the non-resident line to get the visa, bought the tourist visa, and then waited for my bags in at the quickly moving carousel located in the middle of the airport. With my bags in tow, I begin to walk out of the glass doors towards the bay where the mob of drivers wait to find the people they are meant to drive to the next destination. I did not see anyone I knew as I entered the room, but as I walked out of waiting area’s large glass doors, I glimpsed a vaguely familiar face, Rachel, and I went back in to the bay area to meet her. She greeted me with a laugh and a hug and told me she had not quite recognized me as I walked past. I found out she was with the other program associate, Julie, who I greeted with the sort of awkwardness that says “I do not know you now, but I know we will be working together closely very soon”. Then we grabbed my bags loaded them onto Kayemba Samuel/Simon’s large gray van and started the journey to UCU, and the larger journey of my time as the USP Program Associate.  My name is Jordan McGurran and I was the USP Program Associate for 2011-2012.

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.

Julie and Jordan restocking medkits 

 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. 

Jordan and Rachel making Kale salad with an Nsenene garnish for Iron Chef Mukono!

Monday, 17 February 2014


This past weekend USP took a trip to Gulu in Northern Uganda.   We learned about the history and current 'goings-on' of northern Uganda through three different organizations that we visited.  GWED-G (Gulu Women Economic Development & Globalization) is a grass-roots organization working for "peace building and human rights concerns of WOMEN and people who are returning or have returned to their local communities after displacement." They have an incredible number of projects including human rights education, HIV prevention and maternal health and psychosocial support for war victims.

The second organization is called The Recreation Project.  Their mission is to "inspire youth to overcome fear and patterns of war through active healing experiences."  The organization is nestled in a forest in Gulu stocked with ropes, pulleys and climbing walls.  All of these tools are utilized in team building exercises 

Finally, we visited Amani Ya Juu, a women's sewing cooperative where women deeply affected by the war are able to process their experiences together while also learning to sew and supporting their families through the sale of the beautiful products they make. 

The students (all 18) had a great time in Gulu...but don't just take my word for it.  Here's what students had to say:

"The Recreation Project 

challenged me and helped me 

to overcome a fear."

 "The whole trip was amazing.  

I learned a lot plus 

it was a great re-union 

with USP people."

"I enjoyed seeing a new part of the country."

"Hearing from the women at Amani really opened my eyes to just how powerful having hope is." -Abby


"The incredible juxtapositions of the ladies at Amani are the things that struck me.  I will remember their horrid experiences, but more than that, their strength and resilience." - Tita

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Alum Post: Kelly Cohen-Mazurowski

               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.

In Uganda I was continually welcomed. I couldn’t go anywhere without someone saying, “Karibu! You are most welcome.” Whether I was out running on the dusty road around campus, riding on a matatu to Kampala, drinking tea with my host mom, or wringing out my dirty laundry in the little field across from Sabiti, I was made to feel at home.  I remember there was one student who would invite me every Sunday after church to eat biscuits and sing hymns and carols with her. Even though she was herself being sponsored by a parish priest and had little to share, she always went out of her way to welcome me.

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.

The experience of working with newcomers has caused me to re-evaluate who I want to be and what I want to do with my life. After graduating from Duke Divinity a few years back,  I was lucky to get a job working as the Community Resource Coordinator for Church World Service Immigration and Refugee Program here in Durham. Every day I greet families who’ve just arrived in the United States, assist them with learning about American culture, and work with volunteers to create events which engage refugees and community members. I have even started a running club for refugees as a way to teach healthy habits and bring in volunteers who wouldn’t otherwise meet these newest neighbors. More on that here.  In my day-to-day work I am lucky to be able  to share the kind of hospitality I received in Uganda and to have the opportunity to teach the work of  welcoming to hundreds of others in my community.  It’s my hope that in all of this, I am giving back just a little of what I received as an American in Uganda. 
Kelly Cohen-Mazurowski, far left, with a group of Iraqi refugees at a recent cultural event

Sunday, 9 February 2014

A Weekend of Events

Last weekend was packed with events for students.  Honor's College welcomed back on-campus students with a party on Friday night. We also welcomed Jean as a Program Assistant and said farewell to Innocent.  Here are a few pictures from the party.

On Saturday, Honor's College hosted a Sports Day for all of USP and Honor's College.  We began the day off with a run around campus and then more students joined for various games in the afternoon. We played soccer, ultimate frisbee, volleyball, tug-of-war, had egg races, and even attempted a human pyramid! The day was complete with more fruit than we could eat. Let's just say we were all sore the next day.

Sunday evening the USP students traveled to Kampala to watch Ndere Dance Troupe.  This group shows different attire, music, and dances from various districts in Uganda as well as bordering countries.  It is always interesting to experience how diverse Uganda is!

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Ever wonder what being a Program Assistant with USP is like?

Our two current American Program Assistants, Hannah and Ashton, give their insights:


We love being Program Assistants for the Uganda Studies Program…legit.

            The job of a USP program assistant is primarily to help meet the emotional, spiritual and physical needs of the USP students.  We do this through planning events, engaging in intentional conversation and participating in the spiritual lives of students. Another part of our job is to work alongside staff in the office, handling many administrative tasks needed for the program.

Some things we like about our job: 
-       Working with the USP staff – a group of professionals and friends who are passionate about college students.  We have grown a lot this year through their mentorship and wisdom.
-       Working with USP students – some of the sweetest college kids from all over the U.S. and Canada
-       Working with and living alongside Ugandans – We feel so blessed for the relationships that have continued since our time as students or begun for the first time.  Some of our dearest friends are here. 
-      Living in Uganda – we enjoy year-round warm weather and a slower pace of life.
-      Traveling with USP – we are thankful for opportunities to see and learn about many parts of Uganda and Rwanda.
-      Worshiping with a local body of Ugandan believers that blends both African and Western styles of worship

Of course, some of the greatest joys of our position can also be some of the most stretching challenges and we want to be real about that. 
More things we like:                                     Things that stretch us:
- late nights with students                          - late nights with students
- dorm life                                                     - dorm life
- living simply on a small budget              - living simply on a small budget
-fresh, local food                                          - limited food options                                  

As with any job, there are tasks and responsibilities that some days we would rather not do.  Program Assistants WORK and we work HARD. Through it all we are learning:

- how to work as a team, utilizing strengths and demonstrating grace and
   humility in weaknesses
- to develop professional skills
- to listen and to share
- when to bust out a Ugandan accent
- to put the needs of others before our own
- to not be in such a hurry all the time…to take time for people
- to chill out and be flexible…all day, everyday

We truly love this job and are continually thankful for the opportunity to live and work in Uganda.

Some other photos of PAs hard at work:

A Ugandan birthday tradition--soak 'em!

Taking tea with a student and their rural host family.

Supper time!

Just hanging out

...or not so hard at work

Organizing packages for students...

Jam session on the bus!

Apply now for the position of Program Assistant for the 2014-2015 academic year! You can find more information on our website.