Ashley studied abroad in Northern Uganda and Rwanda through SIT. She is hoping to pursue a career in education abroad.
Where did you go to school?
When and where did you study abroad?
Spring 2010 in Northern Uganda and Rwanda through SIT (School for International Training)
What was the BEST part about studying abroad?
My study abroad experience truly changed my perspective on the rest of the world. I don’t mean just on the surface, like “I never knew what Africa was really like” but rather in a much deeper context. I went to Africa knowing that I might be confronted with astounding and depressing levels of poverty and illness. Instead, I was and still am amazed at how much we can learn from those living in developing countries. Even without the basic tools that we in the “developed” world consider absolutely necessary in life, they make it work. They go against all odds but still come out happy, supportive of each other, and motivated to make positive change in their lives and communities.
That isn’t to say I didn’t see my fair share of utterly sad and overwhelming situations. The summer before I studied abroad, I traveled to southern Uganda and worked at an orphanage through the Foundation for Sustainable Development’s partnership with my school’s Center for Public Service. I cared for children who were severely malnourished, and who suffered from disease like Spinal TB. But that is not how I view my experience. Rather, I like to focus on and share with people how happy these children were. Most of the time, they were normal, rambunctious, adventurous and playful 2 years olds, fascinated with their white “mzungu” friend and running around with the biggest smiles you have ever seen in your life!
My experience in sub Saharan Africa is not your typical study abroad, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It was extremely difficult at times, but I have come to realize how important those experiences have come to be for me, and how much they have actually shaped my world views and influenced the person who I am today.
What did you learn about the rest of the world from studying abroad? What did you learn about yourself from the experience?
I learned that I am much more resilient than I thought. My study abroad experience has given me the confidence to know that I can handle a lot more than I tend to give myself credit to.
Studying abroad, especially in Africa, takes a lot of courage! Life takes a lot more effort and is so 100% completely different from life here in the US. There were days when I felt so utterly depressed by my surroundings and couldn’t get out of the funk because I felt so isolated from the rest of the world and especially from my friends still at school in the US.
What got me out of these feelings of despair? Realizing that everyone else around me was probably in a much tougher situation and they still got up in the morning and smiled at their neighbors and cared for their children. Life can be pretty rough there, but the people are ever resilient, unbelievably positive, and so supportive of one another. Despite the weight and difficulty of our studies (post genocide and post conflict transformation) my little group of fellow study abroad students began to operate in a similar fashion. We all had our hard days and tried to help and support each other through them. I try to take that lesson of helping each other with me where ever I go.
We all share one big global community, so we might as well work together and help each other out!
What was your BIGGEST challenge while studying abroad and how did you manage to handle it?
The biggest challenge I faced while abroad was not letting the isolation, homesickness, and sadness ruin my day. It took a constant effort to look at the positives of everything I saw and everywhere I went. In much of Africa, you are confronted with poverty, illness, political failures, and a whole lot of burning trash (literally). But next to that, you have the people and the beautiful land, the music and culture, and the success stories. You see the way these people live and manage daily life and are amazed that life goes on.
Any study abroad student is going to feel homesick and isolated at some point in their experience. The important thing is to remember that there are positives surrounding you too! Take a walk and try to look on the bright side of things…chances are you’ll see something amazing.
How did studying abroad change your life?
After almost three years of reflection, I have come to realize that my study abroad experiences have probably been the most influential on my life to date.
I always pictured myself at a big non-profit, helping to make the world a better, safer, and more peaceful place. After a few internships and a whole lot of soul searching, I realized that the best way for me to do that was to share my experiences with others, sort of like a pay-it-forward concept. I want to help other students have similar experiences and I believe that study abroad can teach you things that life and schools in the US can’t. I am now pursuing a career in study abroad!
Aside from the major life changing experiences I have had, I also worked on my french, and learned a little Lugandan, Acholi, and Kinyarwandan. I met some amazing people and even learned how to make a few wicked African recipes!
What are your future plans?
I am in the process of pursuing a career in study abroad!
I have been on the job hunt for a few months now and unfortunately the job market is a little rough right now, so I am also considering graduate school. The fun twist, I may even go abroad for my MA…surprised?
What’s your BEST piece of advice for someone who is thinking about studying abroad?
Don’t be afraid to do something different, because the reward will be that much sweeter!