By RACHEL WENTE
Elephants. Snow. New cuisine. Best friends. Students involved with the Uganda seminar program often experience this and more.
The Uganda seminar program started 13 years ago through Drake University Professor Jimmy Senteza. Senteza is from Uganda, and he dreamed of bringing a group of students there.
Throughout the 13 years, some unlikely friendships arose. One in specific was between Jess Hoffert and Provia Kesande.
Jess Hoffert graduated from Drake University in 2011 with a B.A. in journalism and mass communication. He took the Drake Uganda seminar in May of 2009, where he met Provia Kesande.
“[Provia] reached out via Facebook and informed me that she had a daughter when she was 15 years old… she was also determined to provide a good education for her daughter,” Hoffert said in an email.
Hoffert’s friendship with Provia Kesande led him to sponsor her daughter Racheal Achola through school. In April, Hoffert will be traveling back to Uganda for the first time since 2009 for Achola’s graduation from secondary school.
Hoffert expressed his gratitude for the experience he received through the Uganda seminar.
“Making connections and building relationships with [Provia and Racheal] has been such a life-affirming experience that I wouldn’t have had without this Drake opportunity 10 years ago,” Hoffert said.
Hoffert is not the only person to have made strong connections. The past year found strong connections between the Makerere University Business School and Drake students.
Students from Drake travel to Uganda through the May-term course and learn about sustainable development. In February, students from Makerere University Business School travel from Kampala, Uganda to the United States to learn about leadership.
Tiara Jackson, Drake sophomore and marketing major, coordinated the “fun” activities for the Drake side of the exchange program.
“I listened to them [the MUBS students] and all the things that they were curious about,” Jackson said. “I wanted to make sure that they got to see and do all the things that they wouldn’t be able to do in Uganda or that would be hard to understand when you haven’t really experienced it.”
Reymond Nkata, a MUBS student earning a degree in finance, also found important friendships because of the exchange program.
“The friendships that I’ve made here I feel are really going to be beneficial people,” Nkata said. “Most of them are young, younger than me, which is really interesting… they have great ideas. I add value to them, and they add value to me.”
The relationships between Ugandans and Americans is not only limited to the students. Debra Bishop, professor of practice in Management and International Business said that the Drake faculty – herself, Senteza and Professor Heath Henderson – are all good friends and have worked on adding more faculty to the trip.
“When I go back, now, I have friends,” Bishop said. “Not just acquaintances or colleagues, but I have built some friendships over 13 years.”