I remember participating in both of Insight's pre-departure orientation sessions before leaving for the Fall 2016 Semester In Development program. Through these sessions, us participants were informed about the list of things we'd need to do before departure, as well as what to expect upon arrival in Kampala. One particular phrase that was mentioned in one of the sessions was “manage your expectations." This statement was repeated throughout the duration of the program, but the first time I heard it, I had no idea what it meant.
What Does it Mean to 'Manage Your Expectations'?
Concisely and simply described, this means that a new experience may not be a perfect experience, but it will be an experience nonetheless. We participants were told that despite being ecstatic about going to Uganda, we also needed to be cautious not to romanticize the experience.
It took me until about midway through the program to understand this notion. A few weeks in, I began to connect the dots and better understand what “manage your expectations” meant. We were essentially being told not to expect experiences that are strictly fun, exciting and adventurous. We quickly learned there are obstacles to living in a developing country, and some days are harder than others.
There were several days where I was frustrated with Uganda's anti-corruption efforts, because it felt like the impact my host NGO was making was not substantial enough. There were days where I felt sick and the heat outside exacerbated my symptoms. Other days would be met with hours' long power cuts which made it impossible to have a warm shower or surf the web.
These exact moments encapsulated the idea of managing your expectations prior to travelling abroad. Funnily enough though, when someone asks how my experience in Uganda was, I rarely mention these obstacles; rather I delve into the positive experiences and explain how much I have learned and how motivated I feel after coming back, because these were my greatest takeaways.
How do you Manage Your Expectations?
Managing your expectations is similar to keeping an open mind. Prior to your semester abroad, take some time to understand the negative experiences that may arise while being away. Managing your expectations, however, does not just include the negative experiences, but it includes all of the experiences and routines that are different from what you might be used to.
Understanding the difficulties of being an intern in a developing country, especially dealing with complex concepts that are not as prevalent in North America, is something I wish I had better prepared for. This is not to say that you should not be excited for your semester abroad, rather it means you should assess your excitement and mentally prepare for the bad days as well as the good.
Take advantage of videos and resources online. Thankfully, Insight carries a variety of resources to help you transition into life in Kampala. I was able to read about previous student experiences, as well as watch videos and read guides that detailed the realities of living and working in a developing country.
Talk to someone who has travelled to that country. Beyond that, I was also able to talk to a student studying abroad in Vancouver who is originally from Kampala. I visited her and we talked for over two hours on what it was like for her to grow up in Kampala. She described it as fun and carefree, but also told me about the relevant differences between life in Vancouver versus life in Kampala, to help me prepare.
Expect the unexpected. Managing your expectations prior to going abroad ensures that when you get there, you are not stunned or surprised by the occasional bad or unfamiliar experiences. Instead you are prepared and ready to work through whichever obstacles are thrown your way. Expect the unexpected, but don't dwell on the details as travelling is a thrilling experience!