Cultural Exchange - My Family Travels

Sitting outside the dormitory and laughing with the students, I realized how much this cultural exchange will affect me in the future.  Looking back now, this incredible experience has changed my perspective and over-all level of appreciation.  Ever since I was chosen to travel for two weeks over the summer to Southern Uganda, I’ve felt extremely motivated to change the financial circumstances and educational availability for the students of St. Andrews, also changing the way that I live my life in America.

Excited for the opportunity to help students my age in another country, I became involved in the Uganda Sister-School Club at my current high school, Southridge.  The Harambee Center ( matched Southridge with St. Andrews school a few years previous to my attending.  The club focused on creating fundraisers to help support our twin’s classrooms and supplies.  Upon learning this, I was pulled in, devoting my time to attending the meetings and volunteering at fundraisers.

During my sophomore year, I was presented with the opportunity to join, along with other students and teachers interested, on a trip to our Sister School. 

My 10th grade brain nearly exploded at the thought, and after persuading my parents, I was on the plane to Uganda.  Our goal was to bring supplies for them to use in their new science lab.  I soon found that I would take a lot more from this trip than that, starting when we learned we would board in the school for the 11 days we were in town; circulating right into the students’ every-day lives.

Before I knew it I was thrown into the mix of dancing, singing and attempting their chores.  Within the first few hours of our arrival, I was already creating memories with people who hardly spoke the same language as I did.  As I grew to know the girls, I began to recognize similar hobbies and passions shared by my friends and I back home.  Communicating in broken English, I learned that a girl named Easter loved to play netball (equivalent of basketball in the States), while Gertrude loved to sing hymns.  I never would have imagined that on the other side of the world, these kids were doing the exact same things that we were. 

I learned more about what we didn’t share, too.  I found that nearly all of the students that I met had at least one, if not both parents, die of AIDS complications.  My heart sunk hearing their stories.  Fred Sebatta, a young groundskeeper, told me that he was the last one in his family to be directly unaffected by AIDS, which has taken all of his siblings as well as his parents.  Judging by his friendly, smiling face I would have never guessed that he has lived through such tragedy.

As I returned home with my group, I promised myself that I would remember these stories and the people that have told me them with such an appreciation for everything that is available to me in America.  Seeing my family waiting for me at the airport, I felt absolute gratitude and energy to do everything in my power to bring the same fortune to people like Easter, Gertrude and Fred.  Though not at all like a vacation, my experience in Africa made me feel lucky just to have been able to learn about a culture and a people who are plagued with a set of different, generally more valid, hardships.  I can only hope that the stories and experiences I’ve brought back can inspire other people the same way it has me.


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