Elotu: How I coped with life in a foreign country

By Kefa Senoga
Once Uganda Christian University (UCU) student Elotu Mercy set foot in the Netherlands, one of the first things she did was locate a church where she could pray during her five-month stay in the European country. She got the church — Vineyard Church — as well as acquaintances who would become instrumental in her social and spiritual life in the new country. 

In the church, Elotu met three Nigerian ladies, one of whom had received a Bachelor of Laws degree from UCU. The three Nigerians, Elotu and another UCU student, Milly Mercy, formed a quintet that for the next five months took time off their studies to tour the Schengen region.

Elotu Mercy with a friend from the Netherlands
Elotu Mercy with a friend from the Netherlands

Elotu, Mercy and three other UCU students were in the Netherlands in 2021 for a resume-building exchange program between UCU and the Hanze University of Applied Sciences. The exchange program is part of a collaboration that started between the two institutions of higher learning in 2017. 

So far, more than 30 students have participated in the collaborative, with eight Ugandan social work students studying at Hanze University of Applied Sciences, and their Dutch counterparts also coming to UCU to carry out field work training in Ugandan agencies. Also, since 2018, annually, two UCU faculty have been invited to offer guest lectures in social work at Hanze, and the same has happened with Hanze faculty at UCU.

Elotu said her Nigerian friends advised that to enjoy touring other European countries, she needed to work so that she could save money for trips. Two months into her stay in the Netherlands, through an agency that employs international students, Elotu got a housekeeping job, where she worked for 16 hours a week. In the Netherlands, work permits for international students do not allow them to exceed 16 hours per week. 

“We would work for two to three hours per day during weekdays. On Saturdays, we had opportunities to work in hotels, which was usually six hours,” says Elotu, the eldest of the five children of Joseph and Anne Grace Elotu. Her parents are both community workers.

Elotu during a visit in Paris
Elotu during a visit in Paris

Once the pay came in, Elotu and her student colleagues took advantage of their off-days from school to tour. In one of the trips, they spent four days in Paris, France, and a couple of hours in Belgium. Most of the trips were made possible by a less-demanding school schedule. In a week, Elotu says they had up to three classes at school.

While in the Netherlands, Elotu says she struggled to adjust to the food. 

“In Uganda, we have three heavy hot meals in a day. However, while in the Netherlands, we only had one hot meal in the evening. Our lunch in the Netherlands was usually bread and soup, even in most of the homes that we visited,” narrated Elotu, the most senior member in the group that traveled for the program.

Elotu, currently pursuing a Master of Social Work at the UCU main campus in Mukono, was the only post-graduate student in the team that traveled. As an undergraduate student, Elotu had been selected to benefit from the exchange program, but the visits were canceled because of the lockdowns at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. So, Elotu missed the opportunity. When the visits were resumed, Kasule Kibirige, the head of UCU’s social work department, encouraged her to re-apply. 

While in the Netherlands, Elotu says she continued her Ugandan master’s classes online. For the course she undertook in the Netherlands, Elotu returned with a Diploma in Applied Positive Psychology of Hanze University of Applied Sciences.

Participating in the exchange program broadens the worldviews of students, and many of them gain broader insights into professional practice, according to Kasule. He said participants report greater interest in personal exploration and increased professional growth. 

“More academic networks have developed through regular meetings between faculty members during guest lectures,” Kasule elaborates.

Elotu is currently working in the eastern Uganda district of Soroti, with Destiny Community Development Initiative, a non-governmental organization. 

Before joining UCU, Elotu attended Joy Christian Primary School in eastern Uganda for his primary education, and then St. Joseph’s SS Naggalama for O’level and Nabisunsa Girls School for A’level. Naggalama and Nabisunsa are found in central Uganda.