Originally published in the Fall 2007 issue of Abroad View magazine, a student-produced bi-annual publication about study abroad and international cultural exchange.
It may not rank in the top 10 list of study abroad destinations, but Uganda has become a veritable hot spot for students looking for a non-traditional education experience.
“The country is viewed as being stable and welcoming to foreigners,” says Mary Lou Forward, the director of African Studies for The School for International Training’s Study Abroad Programs. “It has an excellent university system, and an engaged population interested in its own country’s development and sharing it with other people.”
Forward says she has noticed increased demand for study abroad programs in the East African country, known for its stable economy, stunning visual landscapes, and development issues. Shifting politics in the region may have something to do with the increased student interest. After the United States issued travel warnings to Kenya in 2002, many students were re-directed to Uganda and other countries.
Since the 1990s, the nation has long been praised for its public health awareness programs, especially its AIDS prevention campaigns. Politically, Uganda is seen as a friend. And the armed conflict in the north, though largely neglected in the international political community, has become a champion cause for activist groups.
“There has been increasing media attention that has illuminated a tremendous need, and I think students are responding to that need,” says Alex Michel, the outreach director for the Foundation for Sustainable Development (FSD), a San Francisco-based organization that works with community partners in developing countries around the world, including Uganda.
He reminds students to get a reality check before they study abroad in a nontraditional location. “I think they’re in for a bit of a shock,” he says, pointing out development issues, such as threats of malaria, dysentery, violence, or oppression. “There’s no way to shield yourself 100 percent from those aspects.”
Despite the challenges U.S. students face when studying abroad in nontraditional locations, FSD’s programs in East Africa, specifically in Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania, filled up first this year, compared to other programs. “The promotion of awareness—no matter whom it comes from—at the least encourages a worldly perspective, and the U.S. needs that more than any other country in the world,” Michel says.
Abroad View would like to introduce you to several students who traveled to Uganda and came home with their own new perspectives. Aspiring journalist Merritt Watts researched AIDS prevention campaigns in Kampala and discovered a story about female empowerment; activists from the University of Notre Dame launched a worldwide campaign for peace; and a youth-led group from the University of Illinois at Chicago found power in pictures with their photography exhibit. Their stories serve as an inspiration to all who look to take study abroad a little farther.
Read the rest of the series of Destination: Uganda.
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