This post is written by Samali Mutazindwa about her personal experiences. She graduated in May 2014.
Studying abroad can be one of the greatest adventures one can ever take. Not only that, it screams with opportunity, reality and has its own set of challenges. I was only 19 when I first came to the United States to pursue my undergraduate career in Social Work. (I eventually added Justice and Peace Studies to my degree.) There I was, a Ugandan girl, almost a woman and naïve about a lot of things but I was encouraged to learn and return home and make a difference.
I grew to better understand the complexities of life. This was not taught in class. In fact, it was simply from those I interacted with and the challenges I faced. I learned from those that made me sad, those that only wanted the best for me, those that made me happy, and those that just didn’t like me and inevitably made my life miserable.
I learned the fact that “SILENCE is indeed golden” most times and one of the best ways to handle a lot of sticky situations. I learned too, that confidence is one of the best characteristics a woman can portray and it was never loud. Having that confidence simply meant letting go of all your insecurities, exploring all possibilities of life with passion and living a life filled with purpose using all the gifts you know you have and being willing to share them.
There was always the culture shock, and the loneliness. In the first few months of my freshman year, I was constantly calling home and crying to my mother and my aunts Robinah and Annette (bless their hearts) telling them I wanted to come home and how badly I was craving matooke and groundnut sauce. I started to appreciate my country even more; appreciating the culture and the people and just how beautiful life is at home. The simplicity of life is what I will admit I took for granted. For a moment there, I was humbled. All the things about Uganda and the general lifestyle I didn’t take time to appreciate. I suddenly craved the idea of visiting all the national parks and taking pictures with baby elephants. I also wanted to collect art to constantly remind me of where I am from. Every chance I had, I collected pieces and pieces of art that were proudly showcased in my apartment and made me smile every time I looked at them.
My greatest lesson was in fact learning to take care of myself and walk and live in confidence coming to terms with what it is I could contribute to the world, and especially standing up for myself. The first thing I challenged myself to doing was taking time to know me, to learn more about myself. It started by finding my inner peace. That started by letting go of all my fears, forgiving all those that wronged me in the past, disempowering all sorts of negative attitudes, and becoming optimistic about life. That only meant I had to be in agreement with even my loneliness which started to grow on me. I started to enjoy being alone and looked at it in more positive light. I thought of my period of loneliness as a time for me to “find my inner peace”. His Holiness Dalai Lama after all once said “We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make inner peace with ourselves.”
Things like money eventually stopped becoming an issue for me. I realized that all we ever needed in this life to be happy and at peace is LOVE and living a life full of appreciation and gratitude for what we have; allowing yourself to do something- small or big- you like and are passionate about while just completely being yourself. That to me, made the bigger difference and in that, I found my independence.
Year after year, I started to see my priorities slowly change. I stopped caring about what others thought about me or my actions. I stopped letting small issues bother me by thinking about world events that could possibly be worse. My faith grew and became one of my biggest priorities. I started looking for churches I would fit in really well. Thanks to a lady I met called Lydia, I realized that it was never about the church and my church was simply my Bible. My future became more important to me than anything else. Finding something I was truly passionate about that would take me places is a journey I had decided to partake in and I am still on that journey but I am making great progress so far. I have grown to love myself with and without my flaws because after all, all God’s creations and by this, I mean the human race, I believe, are perfectly imperfect.
So on this little journey of mine that I have written for whoever is reading this, I have not only spent time trying to find inner peace but also learned many new things about myself. I have survived all the challenges and grown into the strong woman I would like to be, or at least I hope I am. I have grown to be a little more confident in who I am and who I have become and it’s a great feeling.
I will end by sharing a quote I saw somewhere which resonated with me. “Our true home is right in the here and now, within us. All we need to do is look inside ourselves and find that inner peace which we have been trying to find outside ourselves. We need to stop running away from ourselves and searching for something outside of us; we have to find our inner world, our inner peace.”
Editorial Note: Since Mon’s ideas are strongly tied to the diaspora and undergraduate experiences there, it gives us great pleasure to share this note from Samali with you. It is also our way of acknowledging all the Ugandan women who walked across stages in May and June, to get diplomas handed into their proud possession. You did good. We did good.