Madison Stuart ’17, an English major from Owensboro, Ky., traveled to Uganda and Rwanda to study the religion and politics of eastern Africa with Assistant Professor of History Jon Earle and Assistant Professor of Psychology Jennifer Goetz. In this piece, she reflects on her experience, articulating her journey to become, what she describes as, an “educated and compassionate global citizen.”
I came into my first year at Centre College with an unrelenting desire to know: the right answers in class, the right table to sit at in Cowan, where I was going, how to get there. That was three years ago. Since then, Centre has helped me grow and learn in more ways than I could ever have imagined. But, above all, one facet of my Centre Experience that stands out was during the most recent CentreTerm when I spent a month in Uganda and Rwanda with amazing professors, local communities and fellow students learning “how to not know.”
Of course we read books and articles before our departure. We even took a multiple-choice test on our second day in Kampala. But part of what differentiates the study abroad experience is the profound lessons it provides outside the academic and beyond the concrete.
With each new day in Uganda and Rwanda, I discovered more and more that I did not know, and the results were not unsettling, as I might have expected, but were instead exciting and inspiring. The opportunity to engage with peoples, cultures, situations, languages and perspectives which were new and unfamiliar challenged me to give up the sense of control that comes with knowing and instead give myself entirely to listening, learning and understanding.
“No, I don’t know how to make atapa, I don’t know how to get water from the well, I don’t know how to dance ajosi. But could you teach me?”
I will be the first to admit that going into any situation without the preexisting foundation of what is “known” is intimidating. But this open-mindedness ended up being the most rewarding approach; a lesson that I think translates easily from the study abroad context to day-to-day interactions on Centre’s campus.
Throughout the month, I learned to put aside my insecurities in order to see the significant and endless possibilities that reside within the unsure and the unfamiliar. I found that the honest embrace of curiosity and questioning that comes along with the acceptance of not knowing is what fueled the real, truthful, vital exchanges between people that made this trip so memorable and extraordinary.
Following dinner on our last night in rural Tesoland, I sat outside under the stars with Dr. Earle, Dr. Goetz and my homestay family. As we talked, Dr. Earle remarked, “Even when a life is long, it is short.” My reflections on Uganda and Rwanda are wrought with similar paradoxes.
The world is big, but it is also small; life is complex, but it is also simple; there is so much to know, but there is also so much that is unknown. And that’s okay.
As I begin classes again at Centre this Spring as a junior who is increasingly unsure of my post-graduate plans, I admit the idea of a straight path opening up ahead is comforting. But when I consider the intricate web of genuine connection I made this CentreTerm with my homestay family, professors, fellow students and many we met along the way, I am reminded of how important the twists and turns of the unknown are in my development into an educated and compassionate global citizen.
by Madison Stuart ’17
February 18, 2016
Photos courtesy of Elle Enander ’16.