Rebecca Hanks spent her final semester as a UW undergraduate in Uganda interning at Health Access Connect, an international NGO cofounded by a UW alum. She majored in International Studies and Political Science with a certificate in African Studies.
For the past few months, I have been a Data Monitoring and Evaluation Intern with Health Access Connect. Health Access Connect is a non-profit organization that seeks to link remote communities in Uganda to government health services through monthly outreach clinics. Most of my work (which I am now doing remotely) consists of analysis, management, and visualization of data from those clinics.
What were some of the most important things you learned from this experience and how you think it will impact your professional life?
This experience really brought me out of my comfort zone and taught me how to successfully navigate new environments, a skill that is crucial to both personal and professional growth! I’m excited to take on new challenges in the years to come and am more confident in my ability to manage them.
You found yourself in a unique situation this semester having to navigate a global pandemic. How did this impact your experience abroad, and what have been your major takeaways from it?
The threat of this pandemic colored my experience abroad from the very beginning. As I watched the case numbers rising across Asia and Europe in January and February, I became increasingly nervous and stressed about what the coming months would bring. It was an unfortunate situation, but it certainly taught me that I can’t take any experience or moment for granted! It made me try to appreciate and enjoy my experiences in Uganda even more deeply.
I didn’t think that culture shock would affect me as strongly as it did. I was surprised by the feelings of loneliness and isolation that washed over me in my first weeks in Uganda and then, just a month later, was equally surprised by the sense of belonging and satisfaction that I felt at the end of my experience. It made me realize that I need to travel more, to experience more of the world in order to truly grow. I don’t think I really understood how important this is before my time abroad.
What kind of preparation was helpful?
It was most helpful to talk with previous interns with Health Access Connect and especially those with similar backgrounds to me — that is to say, those with minimal travel experience! It can be extremely challenging and frustrating to immerse yourself in a new culture and country for the first time. Because of this, it was really encouraging to hear that although others had this experience as well, they ultimately enjoyed themselves and gained a lot from their journies abroad.
What will you most miss about Uganda?
I’m really going to miss the priority placed on developing and maintaining interpersonal relationships in Uganda. Coming back to the United States, life feels so much more rushed and distant than it did when I was abroad. That said, I hope that I’ll be able to bring some of this back with me and use what I’ve learned from Ugandan culture to change the way I interact with those around me.