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Exploring New Horizons: Studying in Uganda

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Liz Hoey will never forget playing with children in the Ugandan village of Kamuli, where she studied for three weeks last summer with the UVM Travel Study program.

“The children loved having their photos taken and they would just laugh seeing themselves,” Hoey says. “Because many of the children do not have a mirror at home, they aren’t used to seeing their reflection.”

For Hoey, an Environmental Studies major with a concentration in Environmental Health, studying in Uganda heightened her interest in personal and academic pursuits.

“I wanted to study abroad in a location that was different and more adventurous than going to Europe,” she says. “When I heard about studying with UVM in Uganda, I knew that was exactly what I wanted to do.”

Studying in Uganda with UVM

Studying in Uganda was clearly different from classes on campus. Students spent three weeks immersed in the country’s culture, participating in service projects in the villages, working with a non-governmental organization called the 52 Kids Foundation, visiting schools, and enjoying a three-day safari. Working side by side with community members was one of the most memorable and rewarding aspects of her journey abroad.

UVM students in the Uganda program each took part in job-shadowing with a community member who worked in their area of interest. While some students observed a Caesarian birth at the hospital. Hoey worked with a local botanist, who taught her how to plant coffee crops.

“Everything just really came to life because we were there living it,” she says. “I think I didn’t even realize how much I was learning at the time. It’s difficult for me, even now, to express how much I learned.”

Students stayed in a guest house and worked with the 52 Kids Foundation, which supports youth orphaned by HIV/AIDS. For Hoey, who is interested in public health, the work offered an inside look at community health and advocacy.

Returning from the trip resulted in some culture shock for Hoey, which is common for students returning from non-traditional, study abroad locations. “When I got home, I found everything to be a little less exciting and just normal in comparison to my weeks in Uganda,” she says. “I found myself not caring too much about technology, and I was choosing to ignore my cell phone or social media for more human interactions.”

A New Outlook on Life

The real-world experience of Uganda helped Hoey recognize a new side of herself – just as the young children did when they saw their own reflections in photographs.

“I was that person who was unsure about studying abroad,” Hoey says. “But I’m glad I took this opportunity because it helped me to expand my perspective and gain some experience in a different setting.”

Her advice to other students unsure about studying abroad? “If you don’t explore the opportunities available to you, then you could be missing out on the chance of a lifetime.”