BestSemester Uganda Study Leads to Unique Opportunity

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Ruth Berta and several UCU/USP staff members enjoy Sezibwa Falls, near Mukono. BestSemester offers a number of unique overseas learning opportunities.
Ruth Berta and several UCU/USP staff members enjoy Sezibwa Falls, near Mukono. BestSemester offers a number of unique overseas learning opportunities.
Group photo of UCU/USP staff during a retreat day.
Group photo of UCU/USP staff during a retreat day.

UGANDA—Ruth Berta wasn’t thinking about Uganda when the Messiah College senior was researching ways to fulfill her social work degree requirements.

Berta studied in Thailand her junior year and was planning to return as a senior to complete her 450-hour senior field placement project. But when that program’s social-work accredited supervisor relocated, Berta’s plans had to evolve quickly. Instead, she spent the last semester of her college career studying social work in BestSemester’s Uganda Studies Program (USP).

One year and one bachelor’s degree later, Berta, who graduated from Messiah College in May 2012, is now rounding out her third academic semester in Uganda and the end of a one-year position as USP’s program assistant.

“USP was hard,” said Berta of her senior semester as a student at USP. “It required a lot of learning about myself, God and social work. I had great interactions with the program faculty and staff. They helped me see social work through new eyes.”

According to USP program director Mark Bartels, the program assistant position is usually advertised to alumni. In Berta’s case, though, program staff approached her about the position in the spring of 2012, while she was still a student in the program.

“Our former social work coordinator was leaving that semester and [current coordinator] Lisa Topka was joining us for the fall 2012 semester,” said Bartels. “We felt that Ruth had the maturity and experience to help throughout that transition.”

As program assistant, Berta’s job is 60 percent student care and 40 percent administrative work. She lives in dorms with USP students and serves as a mentor, helping students navigate the cultural and academic challenges of the program. Topka said Berta is also tapped as a resources in USP’s social work emphasis track since her undergraduate degree is in social work.

According to Topka, Berta’s presence during USP’s faculty shift last summer has proved invaluable during the 2012-2013 school year, helping ensure a smooth transition between social work coordinators. This semester, 10 of 38 USP students are studying in the program’s social work track.

“Ruth helps lead discussions in the junior-level social work seminar, bringing an important perspective based on her experience and recent USP practicum at Hospice Africa,” said Topka. “She also gives insightful feedback to junior and senior social work students, both informally and through the student's weekly journals, which are a valuable tool that helps them process their various practicum experiences.

“This semester, Ruth has been especially helpful with the junior social work students,” continued Topka. She is their practicum site's liaison with USP – helping students with logistics, nurturing relationships with field supervisors, taking part in the evaluation process of students, and problem-solving any challenges that arise.”

According to Berta, the best part of her job is interacting and living with students and hearing their joys and struggles. She cites her return to Uganda as a crucial step in developing and deepening her passion for, and understanding of, social work – a career path that will intensify with her return to the U.S. this summer and goals for grad school soon after.

“Being in Uganda this time around has been eye-opening,” said Berta of her year-long position at USP. “I’ve been able to learn a lot more about the culture and deepen friendships with people that I had just started to know when I left last time. I’m so blessed for the opportunity to be here now, and I’m not looking forward to it ending!”

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About BestSemester: The Council for Christian Colleges & Universities offers 12 off-campus study programs, collectively branded BestSemester®, which expand learning opportunities for students from CCCU campuses and are designated as culture-shaping or culture-crossing programs. Culture-shaping BestSemester programs are: American Studies Program (Washington, D.C.); Contemporary Music Center (Nashville); Los Angeles Film Studies Center (Los Angeles); and Washington Journalism Center (Washington, D.C.). Culture-crossing BestSemester programs are: Australia Studies Centre; China Studies Program; India Studies Program; Latin American Studies Program; Middle East Studies Program; Programmes in Oxford; and Uganda Studies Program. Visit www.bestsemester.com for program details.

About the CCCU:  The Council for Christian Colleges & Universities is a higher education association of 172 intentionally Christ-centered institutions around the world. The 118 member campuses in North America are all fully-accredited, comprehensive colleges and universities with curricula rooted in the arts and sciences. In addition, 54 affiliate campuses from 20 countries are part of the CCCU. The Council’s mission is to advance the cause of Christ-centered higher education and to help our institutions transform lives by faithfully relating scholarship and service to biblical truth. Visit www.cccu.org.