Summer School in Uganda!

Sapphire Metcalf, BA Politics student, shares her experience at the Natural Resources and Development Summer School of Kyambogo University, Uganda, after successfully being awarded an Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) Summer School grant through Birkbeck. Birkbeck undergraduate students are encouraged to apply for the 2020 ACU Summer School Grants by Friday 28 February 2020, please see the full details below.

July 1st, 2019, I landed in Kampala, the capital city of Uganda, to begin the summer of a lifetime studying in Africa.

I remember applying for the scholarship in early 2019 through Birkbeck and envisioning how incredible it would be to study for one month in another continent with students who may have completely different perspectives to me on common issues, due to cultural differences, life experience, and access to resources. A few months later I was informed that I had been put forward by Birkbeck to the final stages of the selection process and subsequently in early April the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) congratulated me on the success of my application and to begin preparing for the incredible journey I was about to embark upon in Uganda!

When you are awarded the grant by the ACU you are then free to apply for one of the host universities available in that year. There were summer schools being held in stunning places such as Canada, India, Australia, and China however, I was instantly drawn to Kyambogo university in Uganda due to its focus on natural resources and development. My area of interest is centred in international development, climate change and environmental policy and the course Kyambogo offered boasted many insightful topics including; conservation planning and practice, climate change effects, gender and resource management, oil and gas, parks and wildlife and environmental development; which furthered my excitement for this unique experience.

From start to finish the summer school and all its staff and organisation managed to exceed my expectations, as I felt so welcome and at home, I almost forgot I was in Africa. The classes were thoroughly engaging from the academics at Kyambogo and I learned a lot, it was also incredibly interesting to engage in cultural aspects of learning as well, such as entering classes without shoes and saying a prayer before commencing. As well teaching from academics we often met with industry professionals such as the National Environment Management Authority, National Water and Sewage Corporation, and Bold Energy, a social enterprise. Lessons ran from Monday to Thursday, with Fridays reserved for day trips out of the university campus.

In preparation for our first outing we were given some local language to use and a local Buganda name, which all have a meaning; mine was Apalat which means laughter. We were then taken on a tour around Kampala and visited the famously hectic street markets, the largest mosque in the country, the King’s Palace and my fellow Ugandan classmates led us to try to local brew, which is a socialising activity for men and women within communities and is consumed through long bamboo straws. Other Fridays we ventured to the Ndere cultural centre to watch performances capturing the lives of a wide variety of African tribes, as well as the town Jinja, where we took a boat ride to witness the source of the River Nile and enjoy a delightful Ugandan delicacy; Tilapia. Some of us later returned to the River Nile to take part in some white-water rafting activities which was an altogether exhilarating experience especially on one of the most famous rivers in the world.

The summer school included a week long field trip to Murchison Falls National Park, which will always remain one of my most cherished memories. Our first day in the park began at sunrise, which was already beautiful enough, then we embarked on a jeep safari with a very knowledgeable and passionate tour guide. Along the way we saw giraffes, herds of elephants, buffalo, antelope including the Ugandan cob, warthogs, baboons, blue tailed monkeys, and many types of bird in their stunning natural habitats. Following the land safari, we travelled by boat where we spotted spectacular views of kingfishers hunting, hippos, and crocodiles and of course the magnificent Murchison Falls. Just when we thought it had all come to an end, we disembarked the boat by the Falls and hiked by foot to catch a close up of the waterfall, in fact we ended up so close that we were splashed by the force of the water. It truly was the most spectacular day of my life.

During the rest of the field trip we met with Ugandan Wildlife Authority where we discussed human and wildlife integration and interacted with local communities within the park. We also stopped at Total, the Oil and Gas company, to witness the effects their oil rigs are having on the park.

I would once again like to thank Birkbeck and the ACU for this opportunity, it has been such a unique and inspiring experience that will hugely enhance my career prospects and motivation to return to Africa. If you wish to spend your summer at university meeting wonderful people and making great contacts and visiting another remarkable part of the world and immersing yourself into the culture all whilst enriching your knowledge, then I could not recommend applying for summer school enough!

Birkbeck undergraduate students are encouraged to apply for the 2020 ACU Summer School Grants by 28th February – see full details and criteria. Complete the application form and return it to student-communications@bbk.ac.uk by Friday 28 February.

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