Adjusting to a new culture is an important life lesson

The children of palace workers stare back at a flock of strangers outside of the Lubiri Palace in Mengo. (Nicole McPheeters | The Media School)

Today is our 10th day in Kampala, and while the culture may still be noticeably different from home, we have begun to adjust to most of the oddities.

We know that when our families wake up, our work day likely is coming to an end. We have swapped our perfume and cologne for bug spray and know that we have to coat ourselves in approximately 12 layers of it before stepping outside. We know that curry-themed food is what’s for dinner (and it’s delicious). We know that the traffic in the city is a mess of patterned chaos, and we know that the “Uganda crow” is actually called a Hadada Ibis.

One thing we haven’t adjusted to, or at least I personally have not, are the looks. While Indiana just celebrated the greatest spectacle in racing, Uganda is analyzing its newest spectacle: us. The looks are not uncomfortable, and they definitely are not threatening. They’re more inquisitive, or confused. What are a dozen-plus mzungu with cameras doing in the capital of Uganda?

Residents in Kampala’s Kibuli Slum are curious about visitors. (Nicole McPheeters | The Media School)

It is hard to understand what it is to be a minority until you become the minority, if only for a brief time. Back home, I and most of my peers are easily within the majority. In Uganda, we are a group of tourists who unintentionally make a scene almost anywhere we go. We are easily seen and misunderstood; and that is okay.

Putting yourself in a place that is out of your typical element is healthy. It is important to step away from yourself, and away from personal ethnocentrisms. Traveling to cultures outside your own is an ideal way to clear your mind and open your eyes to the differences around you, even if it comes with the negligible price of a little embarrassment and a lot of stares.