Embracing a new culture during your trip!
Updated: Jun 2
There is a plethora of reasons why you would want to study abroad, intern, or volunteer in Uganda. The cultural aspect of the trip is an important point of concern for many travelers. The anxiety and curiosity of a new environment is often unsettling and a lot of times reports are not accurate or based on facts. The truth of the matter is, you are not the first foreigner visiting Uganda, and actually very many visit and like it here! This section briefly discusses the cultural component of a volunteer trip but is certainly not exhaustive.
Studying abroad in Uganda will give you the perfect cultural immersion and engagement that is not only unique but also charming and welcoming. Uganda has a large number of different ethnic groups from across the country with different languages, clothing, traditional practices and food. In western Uganda like other regions, there are different tribes that speak different languages and have different traditional practices. For example, Mbarara is home to the Bahima people who speak Runyankole. Traditional practices in this region can mainly be seen in traditional weddings called Okuhingira, where women wear a Mwenda while the men wear a Kanzu. Traditionally, men would pay bride price as the groom is said to gain from marriage. This is because the gifts (the Emihingiro) that the bride comes with are more than those paid by the groom as bride price. For instance, among the Bahima, the aunties and uncles give cows to the bride during the kuhingira as a gift for starting their homes.
Other similar cultural events are carried out throughout the country with the pomp, enthusiasm and glamour that suits royalty. In central Uganda, the Baganda are one of the biggest tribes and belong to the Buganda Kingdom, one of the oldest and biggest kingdoms in Africa. The Buganda king (kabaka) is highly revered and respected and his popularity and fame among the youth is something to experience firsthand. If you come from a society that has no royalty, this cultural experience will blow you away!
During your stay in Uganda, as you get acclimatized to a new and unfamiliar culture, food will be an interesting topic for debate and consumption. Learning how local dishes are prepared using charcoal or firewood (especially in rural areas) will be an interesting activity to attempt. When was the last time you saw a meal being prepared using banana leaves and fibers? You’ll certainly enjoy the thrill and excitement that comes with a new kitchen experience – you’ll experience culinary innovation only unique to the Ugandan people. Your kitchen skills will remain forever challenged!
Lastly, having a smattering of the language will go a long way in establishing a deeper connection with the locals. Interacting and blending with locals is a great way to maximize inter-cultural exchange and to establish life-long connections with Ugandans. Your visit to Uganda is also a great way to share your home cultural experiences and practices, especially if you can do it in a non-disruptive and culturally-sensitive manner. You’ll quickly realize that Ugandans are special and have their own way of doing things, like time keeping! Overall, the cultural experience that comes with such a trip will lead you to deep personal reflection that results into greater self-discovery, growth and genuine cross-cultural impact.