Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Getting Ready - A Message from Dr. Trish

Tomorrow morning, 8 students in the 2011 GSSAP team will meet at the Knoxville airport to embark on our journey to Uganda. The other four will journey separately, coming from Canada, New York, Montana via Amsterdam... As one of the faculty leaders, I am enormously excited to take part in what I know will be a transformative experience for this amazing group of young people. Rather than choosing to spend a summer in a location like Paris, Florence, or London, they have decided on northern Uganda. And that will make all the difference in the world.

More than fifteen years ago I stood in their shoes as I departed for the country of Eritrea with Operation Crossroads Africa, to participate in a very similar international service learning program. It is not an overstatement to say it changed my life. Living and working in the village of Nefasit, alongside Eritrean high school and university students; learning firsthand about the history of political conflict and its impacts on individuals, communities, and the nation; feeling the intensity and energy of post-conflict reconstruction, led me to pursue graduate studies in anthropology and ultimately doctoral fieldwork in Eritrea. My life and my career were indelibly shaped by that one summer experience. Among the most important and longest-standing relationships in my life are those formed with Eritreans I met that summer and in subsequent years. While the path has been challenging every step of the way, it has enabled me to use the opportunities, skills and resources at my disposal to work effectively with Eritrean people, and through that, enrich my life with meaning and direction. It has taught me commitment, responsibility, and the power of human connection across differences of language, culture, politics, religion, and economic disparities.

I want to say to my GSSAP 2011 students: this summer experience may or may not change the course of your life. But it will forever shape the way you think about the world and your place in it. You will grow in ways you can't yet imagine - and some of it will be painful as well as joyful. You will return home more critical in your thinking, more empathetic, more inspired, and perhaps a bit disillusioned as well. You will form friendships that may last the rest of your life, both with one another and with the Ugandans you meet. And hopefully you will leave something equally important behind, something you co-create with Ugandan friends and mentors - the sense that human solidarity can always transcend the arbitrariness of our birth and nationality. From that realization great things can follow.

My final word of advice before we depart. (You'll get a lot more of my advice along the way whether you want it or not - isn't that my job?). Be yourselves. Be who you are. Be students. Submit yourselves to the experience and soak up everything. Listen before talking. Observe before judging. Shed your skin and grow it anew.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share this experience with you!

See you in Uganda!


  1. My dear friend Trish, thank you for sharing your experiences with the rest of us here. Hopefully, we can also grow new skins, vicariously through you and your students' adventures. GOOD LUCK AND SAFE & HAPPY TRAVELS!
    Suzanne Dismukes

  2. I spent the wee hours of this morning reading through the syllabus and schedule for this trip and was amazed. As a UTK proponent of service-learning and community engagement, I have some idea of how much work it takes to build the relationships to support that level of programming, and I am humbled and so very grateful that you would do that for our students. They will, indeed, be forever changed by it. Truth in advertising: I also happen to be the parent of one of those students, which is why I was reading your syllabus at such an hour! Anyway: THANK YOU and SAFE TRAVELS, ALL!!