An African Adventure

An African Adventure

For Lauren Theiss ’10, of Wheaton, Ill., a summer study abroad program gave her more than just an opportunity to see a new place and exposure to a new language. The senior, who is an elementary education major with minors in music and English as a new language, had a life-changing experience through her participation in Saint Mary’s Uganda Summer Practicum with the Sisters. “I spent six weeks in Kyarusozi, Uganda, living with the Holy Cross Sisters, teaching kindergarten and first grade, and being an active member in the Kyarusozi community,” she says. Although she was able to put her elementary education expertise to use, teaching Ugandan children was not without significant linguistic challenges. “I was able to learn some Rutooro, the tribal language spoken in Kyarusozi, but the language barrier was definitely evident,” Lauren recalls. So she had to get creative! “It was very difficult to communicate with the students,” she asserts, “but by using lots of hand motions and facial expressions I was able to teach the students, as well as form great relationships with them.”

Each day, in addition to being in the classroom, Lauren spent countless hours with the Ugandan children. “Every day at four o’clock the children would come and rattle the gate. I would then walk out of the house, with a soccer ball in hand and some sweets in my pocket, and the children would scream and start running towards me. We would spend hours playing, laughing, singing, and dancing with each other. Even when the rains came, we would move into an abandoned church and continue our game of soccer or tag,” Lauren remembers fondly.

The relationships Lauren formed are certainly for the long-run. In fact, Lauren’s time in Uganda has affected her in more ways than one. “It changed my life,” she says of her experience. “My eyes have been opened to a completely different lifestyle—a lifestyle that is all about the simple pleasures of life. My experience taught me to treasure the little things in life and to be grateful for all the opportunities that I have had and that await me in the future.”

Lauren’s post-graduation plans have been altered slightly due to studying abroad in Uganda as well. Although she has always wanted to be a primary school teacher, she now adds a specific location detail to her plan, saying, “I am hopeful that I will return to Kyarusozi, Uganda and teach at the Moreau Primary School.”

As she continues working to make this vision a reality, Lauren knows one thing for sure: she will always remember her time in Uganda. “I will never forget the smiling faces and beautiful voices of the Ugandan children,” she says reminiscently. “Their laughter is contagious and so are their smiles.” Perhaps, sometime in the near future, Lauren will again be able to see those smiles in person.

—Mary Elizabeth Ulliman ’10