Thursday, 11 February 2016

USP Program Assistants

A lot goes on behind-the-scenes at USP. It’s an exciting place to work, and every today is different from yesterday! In today’s blog we are highlighting our Program Assistants, lovingly referred to as our PAs. Every semester the three PAs – one Ugandan and two Americans – work closely with each other and the rest of the staff to keep things at USP running smoothly.

Martha (Ugandan PA 2015) and Courtney (current US PA)
hiking Sipi Falls during Rural Homestays debrief 

PAs do everything from organizing field trips to baking cookies, from restocking our med kits to having deep conversations with students about cross-cultural living. They work in the office planning events, sitting at the front desk, preparing sack lunches for road trips and drinking lots of tea! But not all their work is in the office – you can often find them running errands in Mukono, chatting with students over smoothies at one of the campus canteens, tagging along for a class field trip or visiting students at their homestays. Even outside formal work hours, they’re still on the job – living in the same dorms as our students, eating the same food, shopping at the same supermarkets and sharing plenty of laughs and stories and adventures with students.

Our PAs are reeeeeally good at making PB&Js!

Present and former PAs agree that this is one of the most incredible job opportunities out there! It’s not everywhere that you get paid to build relationships and deepen your own faith and convictions through mentoring others in a cross-cultural experience. Plus, the PA position holds a lot of potential for professional development, regardless of what fields PAs enter post-USP. 

Former PAs Brenda, Innocent, Katie, Jones and Andi
at a PA reunion last weekend in Kampala
Here’s what some of USP’s PAs have to say about the job:

“I loved being able to share in the same life changes, difficulties, excitements, and emotions of students coming into this program… It was a huge blessing to be able to walk with them through that, to share with them so they felt heard and understood, as well as to spur them on in the midst of these experiences to keep serving the Lord for whatever he was calling them towards… 
– Molly Summers, American PA 2010-2011

Current Ugandan PA Gilbert Nuwagira making a stop at the
Post Office while running errands in Mukono town

When I think about USP, I think about the students. While working at USP both as PA and later on as permanent staff, my experiences with students confirmed my aspirations for this job. Since then, it is now often said that ‘at USP, the students are our joy’.” 
– Jones Ahabwe, Ugandan PA 2010-2011
"The best thing about being a PA is being back in Uganda (of course). The next best thing is being around the USP staff - they are truly fun, enjoyable, dedicated people who make the office atmosphere hospitable and friendly. I was always happy to go to work every day at USP... And the next best thing is being able to engage with students as they start to find their place at UCU and in Uganda. It is a great job all around... Through my experience at USP, I learned how interested I was in intercultural study abroad education, and I have shaped some of my work in my soon-to-be-finished master's program accordingly to allow me to better pursue this path. I also became more interested in teaching and more interested in understanding the process of forming students beyond the classroom."
- Jordan McGurran, American PA 2011-2012

Innocent (Ugandan PA 2013) at tea time with student Michaela

I’ve always heard it said that you learn and understand concepts best through explaining them to others. I wanted to come back as a PA because I wanted to deepen my understanding of the values of simplicity and presence that I learned as a USP student. This job has given me so many opportunities to not only guide students but also to join them as learners while we observe and talk through the realities of the world we see around us.” 
– Prudence Gordon, current American PA

Prudence (current US PA) checking up on one of the med kits

When I think of being a PA for the Uganda Studies Program I think of friendship. This position, over and above being fun and enjoyable (although it was definitely that) was an important position for me – in my thinking, in my being, in my loving and in my ever-growing. It is important for us to learn from people and places that are dissimilar to us – and not just learn from people, but find that we can also be truly friends with those that are different, and not-so-different-after-all than us.” 
– Hannah Groves, American PA 2013-2014

Martha and Prudence make sushi at Rachel's house during Christmas break

The beauty of being a Program Assistant is that the experience is both meaningful and exciting, as well as an incredible opportunity to grow and develop as a professional. I have found myself over and over again being challenged in leadership, organization, character development, and cross-cultural engagement. USP is the perfect place to develop professional skills in a safe and supportive environment, all while engaging in the lives of those around you and building truly valuable relationships.” 
– Courtney Beiler, current American PA 

The application and complete job description for our 2016-2017 PAs are now available on our website!

Monday, 1 February 2016

Mukono Homestays

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.