A New Breed of Bulldog

by Catherine Cheney:

“My sister and I were up late one night under our mosquito nets talking about the difficulty of being one lone person in a part of the world you’ve never been,” Rebekah Emanuel, ES ’07, remembered from her summer in Kampala, Uganda. It was this conversation that formed the foundation for Bulldogs in Uganda, an internship program that will allow Yalies to travel as a group to East Africa as part of a new work and cultural experience.

An AIDS education performance troupe danced at the Hospice, where two Yale interns will volunteer.

Upon her return to the Yale campus in the fall of 2006, Emanuel met with staff at Yale Undergraduate Career Services (UCS) to share her idea. This dialogue led to the formation of Bulldogs in Uganda, a summer program that will send eight Yale students to the Ugandan capital for two-month internships in an array of fields. Emanuel coordinated the internship positions herself, deliberately selecting work environments that would allow Yale students immersion in the Ugandan culture. She began organizing the program in September, and by the February application deadline, ninetyseven Yale students had applied for eight internship offerings in journalism, health, government, and music. The interns will connect with Ugandan professionals, learn about the realities of daily life for locals in Kampala, and provide the framework for a continued partnership between Yale and Uganda.

Balikoowa Centurio, a Ugandan musician determined to record traditional music before it disappears, believes the interns will contribute to his project. “Ugandans will be proud of having [Yale students] working together with me,” he told The Yale Globalist. “I feel we are brothers and sisters who should share knowledge, ideas, experience [with] each other without fear.”

Bulldogs in Uganda is the latest of the many International Bulldogs programs that UCS offers undergraduates. The first Bulldogs program was instituted in 2003 with British Bulldogs, which places students in London-based internships, and was shortly followed by Bulldogs in Beijing in 2005. This summer, UCS will also offer Bulldogs programs in Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Ghana, Greece, Hungary, Japan, Mexico, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, and now Uganda. Philip Jones, director of UCS, focused on introducing the three Africa-based programs this year. According to Jones, the purpose of the Uganda program is “to give Yale students the experience of living and, more importantly, working abroad. If we mean anything when we talk about a global economy, we need to get students to go abroad and experience that.”

What distinguishes Bulldogs in Uganda from other Bulldogs programs, though, is the story of its inception. Working closely with Jones and UCS, Emanuel coordinated many of the logistics for Bulldogs in Uganda herself, making it the first studentdesigned International Bulldogs program. “I could have done this independently, but one of the reasons I wanted to work with Yale is so that [the program] becomes institutionalized and continues even if I’m not able to go every year,” she told the Globalist.

Emanuel, an Ethics, Politics, and Economics major, took a year off after her junior year to pursue research for her senior thesis at Hospice Africa Uganda, a medical facility in Kampala. She wanted to assess the “feasibility of pilot programs in day care and caregiver training and certification.”Emanuel worked with translators to conduct interviews with family caregivers of terminally ill cancer and AIDS patients.

While in Uganda, Emanuel constantly wrote in her journal, filling its pages with impressions and sketches of her surroundings. “I was in places where you notice the small things because they are different from your basic assumptions,” she said. Emanuel admits that the journals she has kept since her return to the United States mostly contain “to do lists.” She is eager to return to the self-reflection and exploration the Ugandan lifestyle allows her. “Where I live, there are a lot of resources and time is of the essence,” she explained. “For the Ugandans, resources are the limiting factor, and time is what you can use plenty of.”

Back at Yale, Emanuel is seated at a picnic table in a residential college courtyard with a zip-up sweatshirt and sneakers. She seems content in her comfort zone, but it is when she talks about Uganda that her eyes light up. Looking at Emanuel perched on the college picnic table, it is hard to imagine her boarding a plane with a suitcase stuffed with medical supplies or walking the streets of Kampala with a long skirt stained red from the dry ground.

The great response to the Bulldogs in Uganda program makes it difficult to imagine that this offering was only recently made available to Yale students. When Emanuel returned from Uganda, she met with Jones, who was skeptical at the outset. She recalls sitting in his office with a composition book and a magic marker. “He was about ready to throw me out of the office,” she remembered, laughing. “He gave me this really long list of all these things I’d need to set up to make it work,” she said. While Jones hoped this list might prevent any poorly planned proposals, Emanuel exceeded his originally low expectations and successfully met the challenges he posed. “The program has ended up being something he’s really built with me from the ground up,” Emanuel said with a wide smile. She emphasized that, while her idea sparked these early conversations, designing the program was very much a joint effort.

“[Uganda] would not have been my first choice,” Jones explained when asked about the program’s development. “I certainly had my concerns about it.” With a voice Emanuel fondly describes as a “lovely British manner of speech,” Jones insisted that the program’s success is largely a result of Rebekah’s proactive approach. “She effectively worked as our agent and really made herself available to students and went out of her way to promote this,” he said. “Her enthusiasm is so unique because so much of this project is her baby.”

Laura Zax, SM ’10, a redhead and guitarist from Washington, D.C., was hooked as soon as she saw a flyer on campus that read, “Are you interested in music and Africa?” Zax laughed, “It seemed like a joke, because those are my two primary interests. It could have said, ‘Are you interested in music and Africa and are a redhead from DC?’” Zax, a prospective African Studies major, will work with Centurio to record and collect music from rural areas. “Music really is this universal language that connects to what is most basically human which is our heartbeat,” Zax told the Globalist. “I’m excited that it is the medium with which I’ll be expressing myself to Ugandans and by which I will learn about them and their culture.”

Jane Edwards, associate dean of International Affairs, worked with UCS to ensure that the program would be both rewarding and safe. “You have to establish a situation in which talented young people who might not know anything about the country they’re working in can be helpful and gain from the experience, as well as contribute.” Edwards admires Jones’ open-minded approach to the project. “I think Yale should be proud and delighted that we have students able to come up with projects of such quality as the Uganda initiative. Philip Jones was able to look at this and say, ‘Yes, we’re going to do this and help students participate.’ This is a phenomenon that we at Yale should all be proud of.”

While Jones is optimistic about the Uganda program, he does not foresee future student proposals becoming institutionalized through UCS. Jones and his colleagues coordinate all other International Bulldogs opportunities, and are nearing their goal of 300 Bulldogs internship positions worldwide, which will allow a reasonable number of students to get involved while still ensuring that UCS can oversee the safety and quality of the internship experiences.

What started out as a simple meeting has led to an opportunity that will change the summers and trajectories of eight Yalies. Emanuel does not doubt the importance of independent work and research, but she is excited to return to Uganda this summer as part of an organized program. “When you’re abroad with other people who share your reference points, there’s a different kind of home base that happens,” she explained.

Emanuel was never certain that her idea would be established as a Bulldogs program, nor that UCS would sustain it for years after her graduation. “There was one point where Phil Jones said we needed to put some things in the [UCS] budget,” she recalled, smiling. “After that meeting, I called my parents and said, ‘Guys, I think this means I’m going to Uganda!’”