The STEP project I chose to go to was the Uganda Global May trip. In this class we studied and visited different areas of Uganda that were struggling, and exceeding expectations, with the aspect of human security. The course defined human security as food, economic, health, communication, political, environmental, and personal security.
I have never visited any country in Africa before this trip. I had no idea what to expect before the trip and I talked about it with my classmates while on the flight. None of us knew what was going to happen for the next month or what to expect. Once we got to Uganda, all of us were amazed. I was so curious and loved everything about the country. I learned that there is nothing wrong with being more outgoing. I am usually very shy and lack the confidence to go out and talk to people and make new friends. This trip changed that part of me. I now enjoy going out and meeting new people and learning their stories. I think I was like that because of the culture here in the U.S. People here are usually on their phones and have headphones on and ignore everyone else while walking in public. People in Uganda love to conversate. While out on the street, one can notice so many different conversations going on. I noticed that there is still some hope in having conversations with others. I learned that there is nothing wrong with reaching out and talking to a stranger that you are sitting next to on the bus.
I also learned how we are very much alike. It does not matter if you live in Uganda, the United States, or Mexico we all feel the same things. I realized how we tend to divide ourselves from others that live in foreign countries. I do not know why we do this; we all are pretty similar if we get to know each other. It is horrible how we have these stereotypes of people around the world that do not even apply to the people once you meet them. I think this was my biggest lesson while in Uganda. I learned to love others and accept others. I did this by ignoring any of the physical traits of a person. I did not care how they looked, how they dressed, or how they smelled. I wanted to learn about them and who they were. I think this is something we could do more of here. How we look and dress are traits that pretty much define us as who we are in the United States and that is not something we should keep doing.
I learned those two things throughout my STEP project. The first lesson, about reaching out more to people, was something my professor encouraged me to do. She knew that I was a shy person and struggled with public speaking. She helped me overcome that fear by encouraging me to talk to others and giving me tips about the language and how I could use it to meet locals. When having conversations with others she included me in the conversation by asking me how I felt about a topic they were discussing. Dr. Fouts is one of the best professors I’ve had the honor of having at Ohio State. It is a shame that I was only able to learn from her for a month, but it was an amazing time because she truly cares about her students and really wants to see us succeed. My host family also helped me overcome this fear of being outgoing. They welcomed me from the first day and started conversations about family and politics and what my interests were. I learned so much from them and I am so happy I was able to stay with them. The last relationship that helped me learn how to be more social was the one I had with the whole group. All of the students that were on this trip were some of the best people I have met. We bonded from day one and kept a positive mindset the whole trip. We all learned from each other and helped each other grow and I am so grateful I spent a month with them.
The second lesson, learning how we are all alike, I learned by doing the site visits and talking to strangers. We did a lot of site visits, we went to a children malnutrition center, a refugee center, and a microfinance center. Those three had the most impact on me because I got to talk to people in those centers. I think my biggest and most moving conversation was one that I had with a refugee from South Sudan. We talked while he was showing us his house, we talked about his life and what the future holds. He told me about his biggest fears and how he did not really have any hope for the future of his country, and I tried telling him to not lose hope. At the end, he thanked me for giving him those words and thanked the group for visiting the center because it reminded him that there are people out there that truly care. Apart from his tragic story of fleeing his home country to reach Uganda, I learned that we are very similar. He reminded me of my dad and how they both thought very alike. I think it is going to be a conversation I will remember for the rest of my life.
There are so many more events and interactions that helped me change and develop as a person throughout that whole month. The biggest thing that impacted me were the people. From my classmates, to my professor and the staff, to the people of Uganda. They are all beautiful people that made this past month a remarkable time. The people of Uganda were so kind and humorous. We met people that have nothing but yet had way more happiness than most of us on the group. We met people that lived just like us, and sometimes even better than us, and it showed me how we have the wrong image of Africa embedded in our minds thanks to the media and stereotypes. We met super intelligent humans that planned to study engineering in Canada and others that started their own organizations to help their communities. The people and the interactions were my favorite part of this project and I hope to be back one day to see all of them again.
This transformation I went through during this trip will help me out in my future and my career. I plan on working with NGOs and help the people that truly need help. I realized I can have more of an impact now since I learned that reaching out to others is not as hard or as embarrassing as I thought it would be. I learned how to connect and bond with people that live on the other side of the world and how it is not as difficult as I thought it would be. Learning how to be less of an introvert will help making networking easier and that way I can have more connections in my field that can help me out. I can voice my ideas better and not struggle with showing people what I truly mean. There are so many ways that this trip has transformed me into a better person, and I cannot wait to see how this past month will impact my life in the future.