From luggage conveyer belt to higher beds, UCU student discovers America
Originally posted at: https://www.ugandapartners.org/2019/05/from-luggage-conveyer-belt-to-higher-beds-ucu-student-discovers-america/
By Ruth Rose Akongo
My first time in New York City (NYC) – this American city’s John F. Kennedy airport to be precise – my suitcase disappeared. At least I thought it did. In a panic, I watched my black bag holding clothing that I purchased mostly used from Ugandan street vendors go around a moving belt and up into a hole.
My African-beaded shoes, white tops, jeans and more were gone, I thought. Or maybe my bag was being confiscated for suspicion of drugs that somebody planted inside. I didn’t know whether to run away or stay in place and scream. It was with relief that the bag came back, which everybody except me apparently knew would happen on an airport luggage conveyer belt.
This was my first experience in the United States of America. Actually, this was my first time out of my country.
It’s writing things like this that got the attention of Dr. Angella Napakol at Uganda Christian University and, therefore, in October 2017, my selection for a four-month writing program at King’s College in the heart of NYC the following year. The opportunity came as a surprise.
“Ruth, follow me to my office after class” were the words of Dr. Napakol after a mass communications research session. Just like with my bag in NYC, I feared the worse. Was my research question wrong? Or did I write an article that offended the department?
With sweaty hands and pounding heart, I faced my professor and heard the words: “You have been chosen for the exchange program in NEW YORK CITY.” My professor told me how having more than 10 story bylines won me the place.
It took about 15 minutes to convince the truth of the miracle to my family. It was such a big deal that when I went to the Entebbe airport in August of 2018, three car loads of family members came along to see me leave.
So what’s it like going from a Third World Country to a developed country like the United States? I’ll try to narrow my experiences and what I learned academically to five areas each.
- Land transportation – In Uganda, you pay a taxi conductor in cash just before exit. And growing up here, I know where to get on and off and if I don’t, I know the person to ask. In NYC, you need a GPS, which I didn’t have, for walking and riding. And you need tokens to place into a machine. The trains are confusing.
- Different beds – In America, the beds are higher and softer than in Uganda. When it came to nightfall, I hurried for my comfortable bed, covered with black sheets under a colorful green flowered bedcover for warmth in this much colder climate. The happiness didn’t last long as I found my leg right stuck behind the heater in our room. When I slept closer to the other side, I fell out – twice. After a bruised leg and arm, I started sleeping on a couch that was lower.
- Friends in NYC– People are the same everywhere. Some will like you; some won’t. I found the best friends like Princess Jones, Kennedy Peacock, Brooke, Janna Millar, among others. We enjoyed special moments from work places to the different parks (Central Park), and the other side of the city (Brooklyn, Queens, Lower Manhattan, etc.).
- Friends in Ohio – Diane Ross, an American who I met in Uganda, invited me to a few days in Ohio where there is less traffic and noise than in NYC. This was refreshing compared to the awakening noise and limited fresh air in the city. The natural beauty, fewer buildings and more vegetation brought a sense of home back.
- Friends in Boston – Although most of my time was spent inside in NYC due to the bitter cold and where the learning took place, I got the opportunity to bond with few Ugandans in Massachusetts through a birthday party. It had not crossed my mind to find so many Ugandans living together in one community in the USA.
As I sit back in Kampala, reflecting on my learning and how to apply it, I condense the experience to these five.
- Narrative non-fiction techniques – curves and structures used to fully build out a story line.
- Different books – I’m not afraid of books anymore for those that looked like medicine turned out to be my best friends.
- Religion reporting – Maintaining faith not just in church but also through the media enabled me to embrace Christianity in a different, stronger way.
- Combining journalism and business (entrepreneurship) – Thinking these had to be separate was not the case. I realized you could be an innovative writer for business.
- Editorial skills – My experience with Providence Magazine further equipped me with editing skills. Correcting the errors improved my English language in understanding and speech as well.
As American journalist Ellen Goodman says, “There’s a trick to the ‘graceful exit.’ It begins with the vision to recognize when a job, a life stage, or a relationship is over — and let it go.”
My journey to the United States was a stepping-stone towards my career as a journalist. The overall life lesson was that being number one is of little value if there are no other numbers. I will keep working my way up.
Ruth Rose Akongo is a 2018 graduate of Uganda Christian University.
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