Student stories

Work term as teacher in Uganda is eye-opening for biochem student

Celina Gazel

International Christian Medical Institute in Uganda

Biochemistry and microbiology co-op student Celina Gazel traveled to Mukono Town, Uganda to volunteer as an assistant teacher for the Ugandan Christian University. She taught courses for the Bachelor of Health Administration and was able to combine her volunteer experience with amazing opportunities to explore Uganda.

Celina was the recipient of a Graham Branton Endowment Fund scholarship, which supports work experiences that provide amazing learning opportunities but little remuneration.

Read on to learn about her experiences.

1. Who is Celina Gazel?

I am originally from Stratford, Ontario. I initially went to University in Calgary, Alberta and had some friends I met in residence who were from Victoria and they were moving back and had great things to say about the University. I therefore transferred to UVIC and the biochemistry/microbiology direction seemed appealing.

2. How did you hear about co-op?

Rozanne Poulson, the Biochemistry/Microbiology Co-op Coordinator, came to one of of my labs to speak about co-op. I wanted to gain practical skills, so I applied for co-op.

3. How many co-op work terms have you completed?

I've done two work terms with Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, one volunteer co-op work term in Uganda, and now I'm doing my final work term at the Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo, BC.

4. Why did you choose to work for an international employer?

I love to travel and was planning my next trip when I learned that I could use volunteer experience as a co-op work term. I was provided with the opportunity to volunteer in Uganda as an assistant teacher for the International Christinal Medical Institute. I was fortunate to receive funding through the Graham Branton Endowment Fund to help make this a reality.

5. What were you responsible for during your work term?

I arrived at the Ugandan Christian University in Mukono Town in early September where I immediately was welcomed with open arms. My primary role was an assistant teacher for the Bachelors of Health Administration. I began teaching only a few days after my arrival. The class I was teaching was composed of 25 students; all mature working professionals whom had returned to receive their Bachelor’s degree in Health Administration. The students, although much older than myself were extremely welcoming to me. Every morning was commenced with Morning Prayer. This was very different from University in Canada but taught me a lot about their culture and beliefs. I taught the Bachelors of Health Administration for 3 weeks along side another professor. Certain days I was responsible for the entire 3 hours of lecture. This was an entirely new experience for me, as I had never taught a class before. I learnt a plethora of information about health administration, leadership, management and management theories.

6. What were the challenges of working abroad?

The culture is completely different and understanding cifficult customs and cultural ways of life can be difficult. I was also out of my comfort zone in that I was the other North American student, which was lonely at times.

7. What was the biggest surprise about your work term?

The language barrier between me and the students was the most difficult thing. I had to talk very slowly to get my ideas across. The students were so focused and dedicated and were eager to stay in class all day, unlike other students I've had who can't wait to get out of class.

8. How did this work term help you in your career journey?

I volunteered in a hospital in my spare time and was able to experience things in this hospital that I would never have the chance to experience in Canada. I became very interested in the health field, particularly nursing, while I was there. I've now applied to a fast-track nursing program at UBC for next year.

9. How did you use your international competencies in the workplace?

I was able to bring a different way of thinking from a totally different background, which helped in the way I performed different tasks.

10. What advice do you have for other students interested in working for an international employer?

I highly recommend this opportunity to anyone who is interested. It's completely different from any co-op you'll get in Canada and you have the opportunity to experience a whole new culture.

11. What are your plans for the future?

I've finished my course work and am wrapping up my final work term. I'm hoping to get a full-time job in April and begin a career. If I'm accepted into the nursing program then I'll hopefully become a nurse in the next few years. I hope to eventually return to Uganda and volunteer in another hospital.

12. Were you able to explore Uganda during your work term?

Yes! I had a two-week break where I went to the mountains to do some hiking in Mount Elgon National Park. I hiked through amazing waterfalls and learned about the surrounding cultures and way of life. I also took a coffee tour in the area and learned about the beginning to end process of making coffee, plus I was able to taste the best coffee I've ever had. I also volunteered in the Mukono Medical Centre and Sanyu Babies home. I worked in the AIDS clinic once a week as well. It was amazing to have the chance to brighten up the childrens' day when I visited.

More about Biochemistry and microbiology co-op