Uganda: Lots of languages and lots of walking

lion

A lion Chris spotted on safari.

By Chris Yankowski ’19
Major: International Relations
Hometown: Windham, New Hampshire

When Dr. Herrin of the School of International Studies mentioned that he would be taking a small group of students to Uganda this summer, I knew that I had to be one of them.

As an international relations major, I have always had a yearning to travel the world and experience many different cultures. This trip would be my first time leaving the country and would be an ideal way to implement the training I received in my Cross Cultural 1 class.

Chris Yankowski

Chris Yankowski at Lake Victoria in Uganda.

Furthermore, I knew the cross cultural experiences and knowledge I would learn on this trip would help me when I begin my study abroad experience, no matter the host country.

The first two weeks in Uganda were practically a vacation. I met Professors Jensen and Vaughan as well as the two other interns, Lonnae and Brianna. We spent the first two weeks exploring the capital city of Kampala and becoming comfortable with our new, temporary home.

We saw Parliament, the National Theater and the Art districts before settling into our apartment. Professor Jensen also took us to the nearby grocery store, the local market, the Statistics House and the Speke Hotel — all locations we would frequent during our time here.

The Statistics House is where the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) is located and includes our fifth floor office. The Speke Hotel is a short walk from the Statistics House and we often eat meals there and take advantage of the free Wi-Fi.

Our first day at UBOS was an orientation. Our supervisors then went on a retreat so our next day would not be until a week later on the following Monday. In the meantime, we went to Queen Elizabeth National Park, near the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to go on a safari! We saw many cool animals including lions, zebras, elephants, hippopotamuses, crocodiles, many different types of birds and gazelle.

Our official first workday at UBOS was typical. We were shown our desks where we would work and met all of our coworkers. We then attended a presentation by Professor Herrin to the UBOS research staff on work that he and Professor Amaral have been doing with UBOS data. The professors returned to America shortly after this and we three interns were on our own. That is when the real adventure began.

We come in each day and work on whatever tasks are assigned to us. If we do not have an assignment to do, we still keep busy by doing our own work while we are here. The other interns are working on research papers and taking online classes while I am assisting Professor Herrin with his research.

The worst part about working at UBOS is the walk to the Statistics House from our apartment. It is 1.67 miles each way with hills in Uganda’s humid climate. We usually arrive drenched in sweat and quite tired. Eventually we began walking to work in exercise clothing and bringing our work clothes to change into once we arrive. This is much preferred to sitting in sweaty work clothes all day.

A few things have surprised me during my time thus far in Uganda. I knew that English was one of the official languages in the country, and I expected most people to speak English, but that is not the case. English is the language of professional work environments, billboards and store names/signs, but it is not the common language spoken in the streets. People here speak Luganda, the language of the Baganda people in this region of the country.

Other Ugandan languages are also spoken because people from all over Uganda are in Kampala.  Some also speak Arabic and Swahili. Whenever anyone clearly does not want us to understand what they are saying, they simply switch to one of the other languages. Almost everyone here speaks two or three languages. Interestingly, we are often spoken to in languages other than English, especially by taxis and boda boda (motorcycle taxis) drivers. At first I thought that they just expect us to speak whichever language they are speaking, but then I learned that they don’t know English if they never went to school.  And a lot of them clearly never went to school.

Overall, I have had an amazing time thus far in Uganda. I have had my first cross-cultural experiences, learned to navigate a new city and assisted Dr Herrin with research. Anyone can read about what it is like to live in a particular place, but it truly cannot compare to actually experiencing it in person. This trip is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I am doing everything I can to make sure I get the most out of my experience.

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