Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Alumni Post: Emily Senff, Fall 2013

One-Degree Changes
I was a part of the Uganda Studies Program in the fall of 2013. I walked into this semester ready for what I thought would be a life-changing experience; armed with the entire book list in my bag, a new camera, and a suitcase I had finished packing the day before, I stepped into an experience I had planned for and prayed over for quite some time. Imagine my surprise when, during orientation, the director told us that if we were expecting a "life-changing experience” that USP would not be the program for us. In it’s place, we would discover one-degree changes - small, but significant, changes to the way we experienced life.

Several key experiences really shaped my time as a USP student in Uganda. As a daughter, I stayed with a family that treated me as one of their own: the Ssentongos always extended such incredible patience and joy my way. As a practicum student at Compassion International’s Mukono Child Development Centre, I was able to witness the groundwork of an organization I have always admired. As a traveler, I experienced incredible awe and wonder during the thunderstorms of Sipi Falls and the sunrises of Bushara Island. As a student of our cohort, I learned about the power of shared experiences and what resolving differences in community looked like. So while there were both highs and lows, both inspiring moments and challenging ones, a quick look back on my experience makes me think of the big picture - of the stories I have carried with me and the way relationships have developed since the time that seems like yesterday and ten years ago at the same time.

Now, after three full years, I find myself reflecting on what stuck with me from this semester. We all have moments of our lives, what I’ve heard referred to as ‘tent pole moments’ - times that mark the end of one season and the beginning of another, ones that we refer back to as pivotal in our journey as life continues to ebb and flow. For me, my semester with USP was certainly a tent pole moment. I look on the semester and see how incredibly it was orchestrated, from the timing to the people involved, from the culture to the travel. I see how God met me there in a way I could have never planned on my own. Uganda, for me, was a time that God chose to pull me out of my comfortable, quiet life, and drop me into a place and a time where I could only thrive if I stepped outside of my comfort zone and felt what it was like to really experience love and life in a whole-hearted way.

A lot has happened since then. I graduated from Trinity Western University in 2014 with my BA in Psychology and a Human Services certificate. I went on to work various temporary jobs within the field, and last year found myself in a really wonderful position as an Outreach Mental Health worker in Community Mental Health. While grad school and travel are always on the horizon - and, in fact, the not so distant future - I see the beauty in making a home and a place right where I am. And so every day, I walk with people as they journey with chronic mental illness and I get to experience alongside them what it looks like for hope to come alive in tangible ways. It seems that every day, with or without realizing it, I borrow from the lessons learned during my four short months in Uganda. I find that my grasp for presence in my community is ever changing and growing, and I struggle with newer and deeper questions when I reread Henri Nouwen’s Compassion (a core USP reading) at least once in a year. In the day to day, I see that it always comes back to presence and fully being with the people God has placed in my path. Moment to moment, I try to listen like Papa and exude joy like Mama (my Ugandan host parents) and act as a place for those in my life to find rest and strength and hospitality and forgiveness. And in the times where I am faced with the unknown and I wonder just what God is up to next, I think of how His plans for us are immeasurably more than we could ever imagine. I remember how He pulled through in a big way when it came to my time with USP, and that gives me hope and faith that He can - and will - do it again. Through these uncertain moments, I realize that one-degree changes are not as insignificant as I first thought they might be; in fact, I think that’s where life shines the brightest.


With my Mukono host family, the Ssentongos
On rural homestays in Serere.  
Fall 2013 group photo at the start of the semester. 
Our group of students has stayed connected in one way or another - the last big event was the wedding of
two of our own this past summer; half of us were able to reunite for the big day. 

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