BLUFFTON STUDENTS SPEND FALL SEMESTER STUDYING ABROAD
Each Bluffton University student must fulfill a cross-cultural requirement before graduation. Most students fulfill this requirement by going on a cross-cultural experience while others complete the requirement by taking foreign language classes.
While Bluffton offers many three week cross-cultural experiences each spring some students decide to further stretch themselves by spending a semester abroad.
Senior Jill Schlabach (West Liberty, Ohio) and junior Hanna Mattingly (Hartville, Ohio) traveled to Uganda in the fall through an organization called Best Semester. Best Semester is a Christian organization which has cross-cultural experiences all over the world, but both became interested in the Uganda program after hearing about the positive experience of Mallory Riha ’09, who had spent the fall of 2008 with the same program in Uganda.
Both Mattingly and Schlabach spent the majority of their time in Mukono, Uganda. Together with 43 other exchange students, they attended classes at Uganda Christian University. The core class focused on religion and faith in Africa. It explored ideas about living as a Christian in the world and the challenge to consider missions work and what that looks like in a global context.
"Missions takes a lot of different forms," explained Schlabach. "It doesn’t have to mean going and starting a church somewhere." She noticed that in Africa, a lot of mission work is being done in areas other than just church planting. There has been a large focus on getting clean water within a close proximity to many communities.
One way that Schlabach and Mattingly were able to experience missions firsthand was on a 10 day trip to Rwanda. They worked to promote reconciliation for groups involved in the Rwandan genocide in the 1990s. Mattingly said, "People romanticize missions a lot. It opened my eyes to new definitions of what it means to be a missionary."
Both students lived with separate host families. Schlabach noticed the sense of community that existed in the neighborhood where her host family lived. In the morning, she would walk by the same people every day and on the way back those same strangers would welcome her back to the community.
There was also time for Mattingly and Schlabach to travel outside of Uganda. They traveled to Kapchorwa, a rural village in the mountains. Their host families’ house in Kapchorwa overlooked a valley with a waterfall within walking distance. Other weekend excursions allowed them to visit neighboring Rwanda and also go whitewater rafting down the Nile River.
While it was often difficult and uncomfortable to be away from home for a whole semester, both Mattingly and Schlabach felt that they learned so much about themselves. They enjoyed learning a different way of life that they can apply to their own lives back in the United States.
Photo: Jill Schlabach (left) and Hanna Mattingly stand at the overlook at their rural homestay in Kapchorwa, Uganda.
Evan Miller, public relations office, 2/12/10