Arizona professor lives his research dream in Uganda
Originally posted at: https://www.ugandapartners.org/2020/01/arizona-professor-lives-his-research-dream-in-uganda/
By Benezeri Wanjala
Relaxing at his new home-away-from-home on the leafy, expansive Uganda Christian University (UCU) in Mukono, American Professor David Hodge talked about his life. He is a social worker, researcher and teacher. He is married to Crystal, and they have two daughters, Esther and Rachael, ages 15 and 12.
A lecturer of Social Work at Arizona State University in Phoenix, USA, he’s here for a year – through June 2020 – as a Fulbright Scholar, he says. His specialty is spirituality and religion.
As we chatted, Mrs. Hodge offered me a beverage. Their children were away at school.
Hodge outlined the process of obtaining the scholarship: “When you apply for a Fulbright, you have to come up with some sort of plan that you will execute. Then you go through an extensive review process, which is evaluated by external reviewers who decide whether it is a good fit or something they want to support.”
He teaches a Master’s in Social Work class at the UCU Kampala campus. The program classes are condensed into three days – Thursday, Friday and Saturday. This arrangement is typical for advanced degrees, he says, because it enables students to work during the rest of the days in a week. His particular class in religion and spirituality takes place on Thursday evenings.
However, teaching is one of two components of his yearlong Fulbright scholarship. The second is research. He is developing tools and approaches to help social workers tap into clients’ spiritual strengths. His research project involves making the tools “consistent and congruent with Ugandan culture.” The research tools are qualitative in nature, as opposed to quantitative.
“I will take the questions and approaches, and I’ll ask social workers how I can make them more consistent with cultural norms,” he says. His previous writings have evolved around Christianity, Islamism, Hinduism and some indigenous tribal religions.
“My career has been focused on helping social workers work with clients’ spiritual and religious strengths in an ethical and professional manner,” he continued. “My academic work pretty much all revolves around spirituality, religion and culture.”
He obtained his PhD from one of the most respected schools of Social Work in the United States, the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. Thereafter, he did post-doctoral research at the University of Pennsylvania. In 2005, he joined Arizona State University, one of America’s largest universities. Ten years later, he became a full professor. He also served as head of the PhD program for six years before stepping down to pursue the Fulbright scholarship opportunity. The Fulbright at UCU was attractive because of the East African reputation for spirituality.
“It is a faith-based school and its mission is to achieve excellence in the heart of Africa,” he says. “When you look at the demographic data, Sub-Saharan Africa is the most spiritual and religious geographic area in the world. For my work, you can’t think of a better environment.”
Additionally, Hodge has found fascination in the food, wildlife and other cultural aspects of Uganda.
“There are all kinds of monkeys that jump around in the compound and on the roof,” he remarks with a smile. “We don’t have that in America. The monkeys there are in zoos. Here they are out swinging in trees. So I took some pictures and sent them to my parents, and they found it interesting.”
He has enjoyed all the Ugandan food he has tasted so far.
“I haven’t had rolex yet, though,” he admits. Rolex is a Ugandan street delicacy, composed of eggs wrapped into a bread called chapatti. He says he likes the vegetables in particular and he buys them from the local market.
He also likes the weather. “You can have your windows open all the time. That’s a real luxury. In Arizona, it’s desert. It goes as high as 40 and 50 degrees Celsius during the summer. In the winter it goes down to close to zero.”
The transition to Uganda has not been without challenges. While they have made new friends, his daughters are finding it slightly harder to adapt, especially at school. They study at an International School, which is on the Northern Bypass of Kampala and involves a lengthy transport time from their home on the main UCU campus in Mukono.
“They had only been to one school their whole life before they came to Uganda,” he said. “They have to go to bed very early and wake up early as well. I am lucky because I only need to go to Kampala once a week.”
Land transportation in Uganda is a challenge for the entire family. Hodge and is wife do not have international driver’s licenses. Traffic jams are commonplace while traffic lights and drivers with licenses for the cars, taxis and motorcycles are not.
He has found the difference in the standards of time interesting. While Americans are extremely time conscious, Ugandans are not.
“My Ugandan friend says, ‘People from the West check their watches for the time, but Ugandans have the time’.”
He continued: “The way I look at it is different. People prioritize values differently. For example, Americans tend to prioritize efficiency over relationships. Ugandans prioritize relationships over efficiency. Societies are structured differently. And that’s one of the things I like about Ugandans. They are warm and friendly, but that means when you’re talking to someone, you might not be able to make it for your next meeting. It’s hard to optimize all your values simultaneously.”
Prof. Hodge is looking forward to the rest of his time in Uganda, both professionally and personally.
“On the personal end, I am looking forward to learning more about the Ugandan culture,” he said. “And I’d like to see some of the wonderful sites in the country like Lake Victoria and the source of the River Nile.”
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