While in Uganda, students were challenged to be open-minded as they explored the similarities and differences of Ugandan and North American culture. The community engagement focus of the program centered on students’ engagement with residents of Kampala, as they incorporated an African fable into a play with the Ndere Culture Troupe. In addition, students volunteered at orphanages and primary school, swapped stories and ideas with students at Kyambogo University, navigated marketplaces, and visited historical landmarks. At each day’s end, Melanie facilitated conversations with topics including colonialism, refugees, unfamiliar norms, and different value systems. Journaling was a required assignment for students, so they could reflect individually on their experiences each day.
One student wrote, “Melanie was an integral part of this trip; Melanie’s exceptional leadership skills allowed students to gain a deeper understanding of themselves, their own capabilities, and expand their cultural competence. Being far from home in a new and unfamiliar country with laws, norms, and values very different from your own is an intimidating experience. Without Melanie’s guidance of our surroundings and learning, we would not have grown and obtained such vast awareness of Ugandan life.”
Melanie challenged students to adopt a global perspective as they assimilated back to the Missouri State community. Her students continue to engage in local or international service as they pursue graduate studies, or work in their communities as citizen dietitians. Her Study Away program was a catalyst for teaching students about Ugandan culture, their own cultures, and how they interact with the world.