UCU students say International Desk relieves loneliness

By Gloria Katya

Joining Uganda Christian University (UCU) in 2019, Garcia Bwale’s major challenge was the language barrier. Since she is from a French-speaking country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), she was not fluent in English.  Contributing during class discussions was one of her major challenges.

With the little English she knew, and spoken with a French accent, most of the Ugandan students found it funny whenever she raised her hand to contribute in class. This lowered her self-esteem.

“Whenever I was contributing in class, I noticed students laughing silently and the lecturers, too, found it hard to interpret what I was saying,” Bwale says.

International students pose for photo after a 2020 food gala at UCU

International students pose for photo after a 2020 food gala at UCU

However, from the UCU International students’ desk, Bwale discovered a solution. The desk provided her with a language mentor as she journeyed in her academics.

Once she solved the language issue, her fears were greatly diminished. She is now a confident journalist in the making who also has served as Minister on the International Students Association.

Another student, George Caleb from Nigeria and who is in his second year studying law, faced a similar obstacle. Interacting with locals especially when buying food and talking to transporters in case he had to move around had become a serious challenge for Caleb because he didn’t speak any of the Uganda local languages.

He, too, was helped by the International students’ desk to get Ugandan friends who gradually taught him survival skills.

“The desk linked me to some Ugandan students who helped me and life became easier,” he says.

The International students desk, headed by Mr. Edgar Kabahizi, was established in 2011 by the university management to help mainly with international students’ welfare. This desk serves  students from the time they step in to the time they exit.

Usually a friendly and welcoming face, Kabahizi awaits to be of service to fresh international students from the time they arrive in Uganda for their studies at UCU.

“Studying away from one’s home country and family is always challenging and at times creates a lot of anxiety not knowing what to expect,” Kabahizi said. “Most times, it’s the local culture and language that is most perplexing for the foreigners so students need help.”

To simplify life for an international student, Kabahizi does a lot of things for them.

“I follow up on the students from the time they are admitted by the University until they are settled and begin to progress academically,” he says. “Students that face linguistic problems are incorporated in mentorship classes under the Uganda Studies Program where they learn English.”

Kabahizi’s office also makes sure that international students have the necessary paperwork that enables them access to living in the country.

“We are there, when the students are sick, struggling academically and when facing any challenge,” he said, “This office is their first reporting point.”

With 7% of the UCU student population from outside Uganda, the Director of Students Affairs Bridget Mugume K. Mugasira says the university created the desk to better serve those students. International students at UCU come from such countries as Nigeria, DRC, Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan and the USA.

When an international student arrives at UCU, he/she is led to their place of accommodation that is already organised for them by the International Students’ Desk. The students are then oriented the next day by introducing them to other international students.  They are also given class timetables and briefed about the Ugandan currency and its exchange rate.

The students also are informed about the dos and don’ts in Uganda, Ugandan culture, and UCU norms.

“The International Students Desk is a serious relief to foreign students as it brings them together such that they don’t feel lonely on campus,” Kabahizi said.

International students are not left out in the different co-curricular activities on campus such as the cultural galas, food galas and politics. International students are engaged in many fun activities on campus including dinners, picnics, trips, food galas, celebrating their country’s days of Independence, among others. The students also are represented with the guild government.

“Our last trip last year with the International students was in Queen Elizabeth National Park in Kasese and Bundibugyo before the Coronavirus pandemic struck,” Kabahizi said.

Covid-19 that has affected education across the globe has interfered with the desk, but UCU is not ready to compromise any of its services. Throughout the Covid-19 lockdown in Uganda, the University took full care of the international students without asking them for additional financial contributions.

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