Studying abroad naturally takes a bit of open mindedness and an adventurous spirit, regardless of where you choose to go. However, some locations are far enough removed from the typical study abroad experience that they require just a little bit more effort and curiosity. Enter Uganda, an East African nation that isn’t found at the top of most study abroad wish lists, and yet it offers some fantastic opportunities for international education. If a nontraditional experience is what you’re after, study abroad in Uganda is an inexpensive, beautiful, and thoroughly fascinating choice to consider.
Since study abroad programs in Uganda are often not conducted in a university setting, but rather in the field or in multiple settings, the best location for study abroad in Uganda varies by the field and program. Most study abroad programs in Uganda are centered around a specific topic and will consequently be taught in the most appropriate location (or locations) for that subject. Of course, there are still some areas of the country that are more appropriate for international students than others. The larger cities tend to be the “home base” for most study abroad programs in Uganda, so the following cities are where students typically call home.
Like a strong cup of chai, Kampala is seeped in multicultural and multi faith history. As the largest city in Uganda, and the capital, students will surely never be bored. Students in Kampala will have unique opportunities to rub elbows with humanitarians and politicians alike; many international humanitarian organizations, such as USAID, have headquarters in Kampala.
The smaller, further-flung city of Kabale is an excellent option for students who really want to get into the thick of it. Located in the southwest, Kabale is close to the border of Rwanda and near to infamous gorillas. Since it is a much smaller town, foreigners are few and far between. There is no better place for students interested in a truly authentic and immersive Ugandan experience to study abroad in Uganda than Kabale. Added perk: it’s high in the mountains, making malaria and mosquitos hard to come by!
The towns of Entebbe and Jinja, both roughly 50 miles in opposite directions from Kampala, are also popular for study abroad in Uganda. Entebbe is the port of entry and situated on Lake Victoria, the third largest freshwater lake in the world by area and one of Africa’s Great Lakes. Unfortunately, it isn’t very safe for swimming, but the shoreside botanical gardens make for a perfect afternoon picnic (and monkey watching!).
Jinja, alternatively, is the most touristy town in all of Uganda. Why, you may be wondering? The headwaters of one of Africa’s most famous natural resources calls Jinja home: the Nile River! If you have a penchant for adventure or go ape for delicious coffee, chilled-out Jinja will easily become the coolest place you ever went to “school.”
Studying Abroad in Uganda
Study abroad programs in Uganda will not provide a traditional experience, but by no means should that deter students. Since study abroad programs in Uganda don’t typically operate through universities, students get to spend essentially their entire time in-country in the field, studying their preferred subjects. Programs focusing on specific topics take students right to where the point of interest is happening, exposing them to real world examples of the issues they are confronting. In this way, Uganda makes for an excellent experiential opportunity in several different fields. Program providers will also frequently consult with local academic institutions, sometimes even bringing in lecturers or experts from these universities to instruct a course, but are accredited through an institution in each student’s home country rather than one in Uganda.
Uganda has had more than its fair share of war and conflict, since gaining its independence in 1962. Since then, the Ugandan government has undergone several radical shifts in power, a handful of dictatorial regimes, and multiple wars, both civil and international. The current state of affairs in the country is better than it has been in the past, but still not ideal. This decades-long period of instability presents a fascinating opportunity for students interested in political science, conflict and peace studies, and even anthropology. Study abroad programs in Uganda focused on these subject areas allow students to have direct contact with Ugandan academics who have not just studied these conflicts extensively, but have actually lived them.
Another popular area of study in Uganda is public health. Despite success in several aspects of public health care, healthcare services in Uganda are still lacking, especially in rural areas. Public health students will be able to get right into the heart of villages where issues like malnutrition, infectious disease, and maternal and child health conditions continue to detract from the citizen’s overall quality of life. For students looking to make a tangible impact through study abroad in Uganda, public health programs will most definitely provide just the right opportunity.
Costs & Affordability
While the Ugandan shilling may not be in the running for the strongest currency in the world, it is a top contender for the prettiest. Fanning out your collection of yellows, pinks, greens, and blues never gets old, and the 50,000 shilling bill with the gorilla on it makes for a nice souvenir.
Students will find their life in Uganda to be relatively affordable. In fact, many of your purchases will be negotiable, which is a good reason to start practicing your bargaining skills now. Dala dala rides, your kitenge fabric, a piping hot bowl of posho and beans or peanut stew, all of these will cost you less than $1 if you're savvy enough. Those who have decided to study abroad in Uganda would be wise to brush up on their Lugandan or Swahili to not only challenge stereotypes of foreign tourists who don't appreciate the local culture, but to also avoid being up-charged at the market!
If you opt to indulge in familiar western comforts, like coffee, be prepared to fork out a considerable amount of money though. While a cup of joe may still be cheap compared to your home country, it is pretty weird to consider that the single cup of coffee could be equivalent to a day or two worth of food on a local's salary!
Accommodation & Visas
Living arrangements for international students in Uganda frequently come in the form of organized homestays with local Ugandan families. Students who choose this living arrangement will live, eat, sleep, and work within the home during their time away from studying and receive excellent exposure to what everyday life in Uganda is actually like. Homes in the urban areas of Uganda will have some of the amenities students are used to in their home countries, but will likely be lacking a few comforts.
Running water is available in a large majority of homes and is safe to drink. Access to electricity is also common, especially in urban areas, although many homes rely on a combination of public electricity and generators. Internet access has come a long way in Uganda in recent years, but students should not expect the same level of reliability and speed as they would find at home. Emails home might be a much better choice for staying in touch than video streaming services like Skype.
As for paperwork, those who want to study abroad in Uganda will likely be required to obtain a visa. Students can obtain visas for a small fee through a Ugandan embassy in their home country. Program providers will be able to provide students with all the information they need to obtain the appropriate visa. In addition to a visa, international students will need a valid passport, as well as proof that they have been inoculated against Yellow Fever, a large health concern in many East African nations.
Benefits & Challenges
Study abroad programs in Uganda are equally focused on education as they are on student safety. Participants are housed in local homestays with highly trustworthy families, well away from areas experiencing any sort of conflict. Most study abroad program providers in Uganda have successfully operated there for decades and have exemplary safety records. Smart and informed decisions by students combined with a respect for the local way of life is just about all that is needed to safely study in Uganda.
Uganda is not a common destination for study abroad, but that’s what makes it special. Students in certain fields can find the educational opportunity of a lifetime in Uganda, with countless chances for hands-on learning and in person training. Getting your hands dirty doing rhino conservation, community development projects, or working with handicapped children will teach you lessons a book never could.
Culture shock may certainly be a challenge in Uganda, given the very foreign nature of Ugandan culture compared to Western societies. On a similar note, those studying abroad in Uganda will be hard pressed to find all of the creature comforts of home, but it is exactly this lack of comfort and convenience that highlights the differences between the experiences of a Ugandan citizen and their own life back home. Students will leave Uganda not just with a highly educational experience within their field, but a greater appreciation for a way of life that is very different to their own.
Uganda is actively making strides to move into the 21st century while retaining their British colonial roots, something that is still highly evident in the architecture of historic buildings in the major cities. In one day, your sights can vary from the 20-story tall Stanbic Bank Tower casting its shadow across countless shacks and shops, all accompanied by a chorus of honks from an endless stream of taxi buses (dala dalas). Older women (nnyabo) selling chapati, a traditional form of unleavened bread, operate their small stands beside electronics shops. You may even find shoeless individuals be busy texting.
Despite a recent history of conflict and war, Uganda is doing all that it can improve the quality of life of its citizens and to catch up with other developed nations. Efforts in economics, health, and even renewable energy production have had great success in recent years, and have moved Uganda to the front of the pack in many respects with regards to the development of other countries in the region.
You-ganda-love it, we promise! Kick your studies up a notch and take them to East Africa for the learning experience of a lifetime.