Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Alumni post: Emilia Martinez!!

USP Alumna, Emilia Martinez was a senior social worker in the Social Work Emphasis in Spring 2015. She has since returned to Uganda as a Peace Corps volunteer, and is currently working in Gulu, Northern Uganda. 

As a USP student, I repeatedly heard how the experience had the ability to change my life.  While I believed it to be a generally true statement, I did not know exactly how my semester in Uganda really would change the course of my life.   

We learn a lot of concepts as USP students - one degree changes, development, flexibility, social justice, humble learning, cultural conflict, minimalism. There are plenty of opportunities to put these concepts into action throughout the semester, especially in host homes or practicum sites, but I was eager to dive in deeper; the semester was not long enough for me to truly understand the concepts in the way that I had wanted to learn them.  Upon returning home, I did the one thing that I knew I could at the time:  trust the process.  And I needed all the trust I could get as a senior who had no plans after graduation.

USP social work cohort of Spring 2015. 

Emilia with Ugandan friends, Innocent and Lawrence during her semester abroad.

I began to explore options to continue the learning that felt halted at the surprising end of my semester. It was important to me to find a way back to Uganda because I had developed a strong connection to the country. But it is not easy to find international work without international connections. This is how I learned about the Peace Corps. I had heard about the volunteer program before, but I had never truly understood it until after my experience with USP. If I were to become a volunteer, I would have the opportunity to put into practice those USP concepts and continue my desired expansion of knowledge.

Emilia spending time in her community as a Peace Corps volunteer.

Fast forward two years after the end of my semester, I am well into my Peace Corps service in the-one-and-only Uganda. It was a lengthy process to get to the place I am at today, but well worth all of the struggle. One of the reasons I picked Peace Corps over other opportunities abroad was its commitment to community development. During my USP experience, I was convicted by the way people used international funding for the sake of "development". Now, I am practicing hands-on community development in a meaningful, tangible way and it is much more difficult than I could have imagined. My learning is not limited to the workplace. It was also important to me to learn the meaning of minimalism and fight the American instinct of consumerism. Every day I live with less and have tested ways to purposefully minimize my consumption.  

Emilia practicing the local language with primary students during her time in the Peace Corps.

My time as a Peace Corps volunteer is exactly what I needed to allow me the space to further process my USP experience. And my time as a Peace Corps volunteer would likely not have happened without my time as a USP student. All of the knowledge that I have gained and all of the personal growth I have endured is a result of the foundation that I built during my semester. 

At the end of my Peace Corps service, I will be satisfied with what I came to do and will leave Uganda again, but with much more peace of mind this time around. For the first time in two years, I have a plan and feel good about it. I would not have been able to reach this place had I not let go of my sense of control and learned that not all is lost when life doesn't work out as planned.  

Emilia with her host family.
I almost did not do USP because I was afraid. But thanks to a special friend (shout out to Clara Williams) and some courage, I took a leap of faith. Now, I seek to live boldly every day. Many call me brave for this commitment, but it is merely a response to what I learned as a USP student; meaningful education changes us. I used to wonder how USP would really change my life and I don't have to look back very far to see just how it has changed me. It is no longer a question I need to ponder, only one that makes me excited for all that the future will hold.  

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Rural Homestays: Serere

Every semester the students spend a week in a Ugandan village doing a rural homestay. Each student lives with a family for the week, learning about life in a rural Ugandan context. This gives students the opportunity to learn about a different culture and way of life within Uganda. This semester we went to warm and beautiful Serere, in eastern Uganda.  

Driving to Serere - almost there! 

Some students have the opportunity to stay in grass thatched huts

Olivia meeting her new host mama

Bryson embracing his new host mama

Paige being welcomed by her new host grandmother

Jenna with her new host family
Their Experiences
During their week, the students stepped outside of their comfort zones by trying and learning many new things, including language, food, work and living environments. Since every family is different, each of the students had a unique experience. Some students had the opportunity to milk cows, while others learned how to kill a chicken. Some students swept the compounds, while others learned how to fetch and carry water on their heads. Some students tried digging in the garden, while others learned how to shell groundnuts. Each family provided their new son or daughter with many things to try and learn. 

Maya shelling ground nuts (peanuts) with her host family

Rebecca learning how to fetch & carry water on her head

Hannah learning how to kill a chicken!

Caitlin dressed up in a gomesi, the tradition Ugandan dress for women

Debrief Retreat
After picking up the students from their families’ homes, we then traveled further east to Sipi Falls, a breathtaking place in the foothills of Mt. Elgon, for debrief. We spent time reflecting on and processing all the students experienced during their rural homestays. We then hiked to three waterfalls and took an in-depth tour of one of a local coffee farm. On our last morning we had a sunrise worship service from a beautiful spot overlooking the plains below. It was a wonderful weekend spent together, debriefing rural homestay experiences, and enjoying one another. 

One of the beautiful Sipi Falls waterfalls

Being up close is when you see can just how big the falls are!

Hiking in Sipi Falls

Hiking in Sipi Falls
Learning about the coffee process from start to finish: picking, roasting and 
grinding the beans to making and drinking a fresh cup of coffee!

Sunrise worship time on top of a little mountain
Glorious views...