His long-standing commitment to service is one of the main reasons sophomore Anna Koeberlein of Louisville, Kentucky decided to attend the University of Notre Dame.
The summer immersion challenges rising sophomores to “think hard about injustice, engage with communities around the world that face it, and consider their responsibility for the common good during their time at Notre Dame and beyond.”
And that’s how she got through the summer.
Studying Accounting in the Business Honors program at Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of BusinessKoeberlein lived and served in Jinja, Uganda, from May 31 to July 28.
She taught English every day to young students at Holy Cross Lake View School and volunteered twice a week at St. Ursula’s, a boarding school for Ugandan children with special needs.
“I have a twin brother with severe cerebral palsy,” she said, “so I knew I wanted to serve in a place that worked with people with special needs. I wanted to help others like him who may not receive the same amount of love and support that he has in the US
“I also knew that I wanted to serve abroad in a Catholic place because I wanted to grow in my own Catholic faith by witnessing Catholicism in a different cultural context.”
With no teaching experience, Koeberlein was assigned to her Holy Cross Lake View English class under the assumption that she would co-teach with a teacher from the school. At the last minute, she found out that the teacher had quit, and she would be teaching everything from shared reading exercises to grammar lessons to 60 seventh graders herself.
“Fortunately, we ended up teaching in pairs and found fulfillment in knowing that we were teaching English to students who otherwise might not have had a teacher.”
Koeberlein lived and taught with three other Notre Dame sophomores – Celia Faroh, a finance and accounting double major; Avery Njau, African Studies with Pre-Health Minor; and Justice Walker, premed biology.
Each day started and ended early for the group with many new experiences in between.
The four “podci” lived next to the St. Christopher brothers and seminarians, who were also temporary teachers at the school. They attended morning mass every day. The laundry was washed by hand. Mosquito nets covered the beds. There was no air conditioning and the electricity often failed. And Koeberlein tried a Ugandan delicacy – roasted or fried grasshoppers.
In addition to teaching, she and her colleagues managed other activities with the school’s 1,400 students. They started a spelling bee and played soccer, volleyball, basketball and basketball with the kids. Netball is similar to basketball but with different rules and equipment.
Koeberlein, who studied Spanish at the University of Notre Dame, tried to learn some of Uganda’s tribal languages, though she said there wasn’t much of a language barrier because most everyone spoke English.
From Holy Cross Lake View, Koeberlein went to St. Ursula’s, where many of the 50-60 students had Down syndrome, autism or cerebral palsy.
“There was so much joy there,” Koeberlein said. “And it made me miss my brother.”
This year, 118 Notre Dame students participated in NDBridge, with 63 deployed to 16 different sites in 12 countries. Students have previously completed a course that helps them develop an understanding of the common good, the ethics of working with people on the margins of society, and systemic injustice. Before the dive began, they developed a research question to be explored over the summer.
For Koeberlein, it was the role of culture in the educational system and Catholicism in Jinja.
“I enjoyed reading it Anna’s blog and the thoughts of others in her group in the journal,” said NDBridge Co-Director Felicia Johnson O’Brien. “I witnessed their growth as they adapted to a very new culture and learned that being present is perhaps the most important way they can make a difference.”
Koeberlein admits her first trip to Africa was humbling.
“I was surprised at how little people complained,” she said. “Students wake up at 4 a.m., eat beans and posha — tasteless food that looks like mashed potatoes — every day, twice a day. They don’t have phones, use toilets without seats, take tests with very high failure rates, and live away from their families at ages much younger than most people in the US, but they rarely complain.
“Their joy and appreciation for life despite their schedule and environment amazes me when I think about how quick many of us Americans are to complain when we have so much more.”
As classes begin at Notre Dame, Koeberlein prepares for a busy sophomore year, including activities for the Business Honors Program; Committee of St. Andreja, who helps welcome new students to Notre Dame; and the Student International Business Council. She also serves as a seminar and small group leader on campus and as a lector for the Lyons Hall liturgy group.
She hopes the public speaking, communication, leadership and problem-solving skills she honed in Africa will help her not only at Notre Dame, but also in the business world after graduation.
“Mendoza’s motto is ‘Grow the Good in Business,’ which reflects our belief that thinking hard about one’s moral purpose not only reflects Notre Dame’s distinctive educational mission, but is also critical to a life well lived,” said the NDBridge mentor. James Otteson, faculty director of the John T. Ryan Jr. Professor of Business Ethics and Business Program. “One of the ways we reach students with our distinctive mission is through the NDBridge program, which provides another means by which we can help them succeed.”
Koeberlein says she was forever changed.
“It definitely deepened my respect for family,” she said. “You don’t always have to travel 7,500 miles to love others as Jesus taught us. As Mother Teresa of Calcutta reminded us: ‘If you want to make the whole world happy, go home and love your family.'”
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