Interning in Uganda gives student new perspective on career plans

Lonnae Hohman
Lonnae Hohman visits Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda.

By Lonnae Hohman ’19
Major: Health, Exercise & Sport Science
Home: Humboldt County, California

My experience here in Uganda has been very interesting and eye-opening. I’ve always been interested (slightly obsessed) with learning more about different cultures throughout Africa, so I jumped at the opportunity to intern in Uganda when it arose.

I’m here with Chris Yankowski and Brianna Tracy interning for the Uganda Bureau of Statistics.

When we first arrived, we spent time acclimating to the area, something anyone coming to Uganda should do as the culture and surroundings here are very different than in the U.S.

uganda dinner
Lonnae and Brianna Tracy try out fried grasshoppers in Kampala.

For me, the best part of this “vacation time” was seeing Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth National Park. It took us about 12 hours to travel through rural Uganda to see it.

However, during that trip we also got our first look at Uganda’s poverty. On some level, I’ve always known how bad conditions here could be, but I can promise that it doesn’t really sink in until you witness this kind of poverty firsthand. Still, they seem almost happier than a lot of Americans. Now I have confirmed firsthand what I’ve always told myself, which is that there are people worse off than me.

It’s not just adults. Even very young children of extremely carry heavy buckets of water or herd cattle and yet they still get so excited to see you and learn about you. I’ve had the opportunity to see different physical conditions — clubbed feet, Lordosis, or curvature of the spine, and different skin conditions — that I’ve only learned about in textbooks. My life plan has always consisted of finishing school with a doctorate in physical therapy and then spending time in places like this to help people with these extreme disabilities. Seeing these living conditions and disabilities in books or in the media can pull at any person’s heart strings. Living in the area for two months and witnessing different hardships each day is completely different, though. It only solidifies what I hope to do in the future.

We worked for the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, helping on research projects. I’m going to be completely honest here; I did not fully process within myself what this would entail. Not only was the home sickness starting to kick in, but I felt like I didn’t know how to do my job and was afraid that I might fail both my professors and future students that would come on this trip. But talking with Dr. Jensen and the other interns helped me realize that this was supposed to be part of the experience, and I wasn’t the only one feeling this way. If the job was easy, then I wouldn’t be learning anything and that’s a big part of going on this trip.

So, the best advice I could give someone going on this trip next year would be to prepare for this feeling and talk about it with their fellow interns and professors. This trip is not easy, so no one expects you to be perfectly fine the entire time.

I have gone through every emotion that I think is possible on this trip, from the initial excitement of being here to extreme homesickness. We’ve had to deal with the craziest issues that can be so frustrating all you can do is sit down and decide whether you’re going to laugh or cry. I am ambushed every day by children sent to stand on the sidewalks begging for money.

No matter how frustrating, sad, chaotic or crazy things get here, there are so many things that I will miss once I’m back home. The food, culture and welcoming feel you get here is nothing like home.

I know coming home will be both exciting and difficult, but I’m happy to know that I will share my experiences with family and future interns. I hope they will learn just as much about themselves and the world outside of the United States as I have. And I hope to learn more.

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