Ugandan teaching experience inspires study abroad
Irene Vogel (second from left) stands on a hilltop outside the city of Jinja with a group commemorating her summer of teaching at Ugandan schools.


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9:51 a.m., Sept. 14, 2010----Irene Vogel, professor of linguistics and cognitive science, returned from a summer of teaching in Uganda with all the experiences she had hoped for -- and an idea for how her students at the University of Delaware could share those same experiences.

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In addition to interacting with local students and teachers, and exploring the culture of the east African nation, she was able to develop the basis for a study-abroad program next summer that will combine linguistics and filmmaking.

Vogel, who traveled to Uganda through the teacher-exchange organization Teach and Tour Sojourners (TATS), taught linguistics and English at the college, secondary and primary school levels during the summer. While at Kampala University, she met professor and filmmaker Andreas Frowein, and the two decided to offer their students the opportunity to work together in creative teams producing documentaries.

Frowein, a native German who teaches in the film department of Kampala University and is married to Ugandan filmmaker Winnie Gamisha, recently received a donation of state-of-the-art video equipment, Vogel said, and he was eager to put it to use.

“That's what inspired us at first to come up with a study-abroad program for Delaware students,” she said. “We decided we'd match up UD students with Ugandan film students in small groups, and they'd make a documentary on a subject of their choice having to do with language and culture.”

UD students interested in joining the program aren't required to have filmmaking knowledge, Vogel said, because the documentary will be a collaborative effort where the students learn from one another. The professors expect to learn from each other as well.

“I never thought about doing anything involving film, and I don't think that [Frowein] ever thought about linguistics,” Vogel said. “But as we talked, the whole idea just fell into place.”

Plans call for the UD students to be in Uganda from about June 4 to July 10 and to take two, three-credit linguistics courses during the program. Instead of a term paper, they will produce the documentary.

“This project will give the students the opportunity to create something that will be a lasting record of their experience abroad,” Vogel said. “And it will let them get to know their Ugandan counterparts and to have some really in-depth involvement in the subject they choose.”

During her own stay in Uganda, in addition to visiting schools and teaching classes, she was invited to lecture on a subject the nation is wrestling with -- how to determine a national language. Uganda, Vogel said, has 30-40 different local languages, and resistance from various groups has prevented any one of them from being designated the national tongue. English remains the official language of government and business, but Ugandans very much want to choose a national language that represents their culture. In her talk, Vogel suggested that one possibility might be to consider the model of Switzerland, which has three national languages.

“Uganda is very interesting linguistically, but I loved my whole time there, meeting other teachers and getting to know the country a bit,” she said. “I expected it to be great, but it was even better than I expected. Now, I'd welcome the opportunity to go back and to bring students with me.”

The first of several meetings for students interested in the program will be held at 5 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 22, at 46 East Delaware Ave. For more information and the dates of other meetings, visit the program's website.

Article by Ann Manser