More amazing volunteer abroad culture shock moments

A few months back I wrote a post about the best volunteer abroad culture shock moments. It was compiled from submissions from our former volunteers. You can read about them here. Since it was popular, and my readers love hearing from actual volunteers, I’ve put together another. And some of these are really hilarious. I mean, check out Zan and these chickens:

volunteering in Uganda is a great way to learn about new cultures and meet people from around the world

Its important to stress that there’s no way to fully prepare yourself for volunteering abroad. However, taking a realistic approach toward learning new ways of doing things is a great way to get started. Some days are hard, tear filled, and frustrating. Some days are amazing, inspiring, and life-affirming. And some days are just bizarre. You can’t begin to understand life until you’ve experienced a whole range of ways to live. Volunteering and immersing yourself in a new culture will give you that exposure in ways traveling simply can’t.

Let’s begin with our newest volunteer, Cat. She’s just completed her first week of a 6 month stay. Here’s what she has to say:

“I am waved at by every single person in the street. And realizing that these kids live with very few things yet they are grateful and happy. What a first week lesson!!”

Thank, Cat. Can’t wait to watch you grow to love Uganda over the coming months.

“Buying a friend a duck as a gift… It was put in a bag so I could take it to Mukono… during the matatu ride people asked me when I planned to eat my duck, and the looks of utter confusion when I explained it was going to be a pet for a friend were epic. The duck then bit a small child while she was sleeping on her mother’s lap and started quacking at everyone… then an older man grabbed the duck by the beak and told me: “you must get control of your duck, mzungu”…. now that should be a MasterCard commercial… duck in a bag – priceless.” Sarah 2009

“Coffin on the back of a motorbike…got me every single time.” Ian

Gwen, I thought THIS would be your favourite culture shock moment!

“I took a couple of the kids from the school over to the clinic because we suspected they had malaria. It took forever for the kids to be seen, and when they were, I was told they needed hypodermic needles in order to get their blood tested, and they don’t have needles at the clinic. The children took me to where we could find the needles… In the middle of a field, way off the road in a mud, stick and thatched-roof hut. They sold only ginger beer and needles. About 8 US cents each. I found it funny that things like AIDS medication was free but they don’t have needles. The needles seemed to be sealed. But they were one size fits all.” Gwen 2013

“Riding into Jinja to white water raft and your matatu hits a monkey. Nothing you can do but gasp with your fellow Ugandan riders.” Caroline 2006

“First day in the village and I helped a goat give birth…or the time I spent hours trying to catch a hen and then a 5 year old came and caught it in less than a minute!!” Gustavo 2016

Volunteering in Africa is adventure filled but also teaches you new ways to view life. Cultural immersion and volunteering are great ways to travel Africa and Uganda.
Gustavo and friends

“The welcome reception done by the elders when we arrived at the village, with the ladies all wearing beautiful traditional dresses (I felt so under-dressed!)… the fruits, the colors, the smiles…seeing how handicapped children/teens are thrown aside by their families, and given no chance to show they can be great contributors to the society.” Margarida 2014

“There was a moment when I took a bodaboda (motorcycle) to the village to charge my mobile when I realized that for the first time in my life I was the absolute minority. I remember clear as day taking a deep breath and thinking to myself this is freaking awesome!!! Everyone was lovely!!!” Cathy 2015

Hey Cathy, Grace Daycare now has solar power and everyone can charge their phones on sight!!

Cathy learning to make banana pancakes

“When some visitors came to the project they brought gifts- out of the trunk of a sedan they pulled out a large bundle of bananas, a chicken, as well as a very pregnant goat…” Margaret 2014

Nandini in the garden

“Getting halfway through my 10:30pm dinner only to realize I was eating silverfish!! Since I was so hungry, I thought it had just been veggies and rice and didn’t notice all the small eyes for a while, but it gave me quite the shock once I did.” Nandini 2016

 “Coming home and realizing with a great sense of shame that we literally pee and poop into clean drinking water.” Lori 2014

“Riding a bodaboda comfortably sandwiched between two others (or hanging off the end and gripping the seat with white knuckles), as we navigated rutted and dusty dirt roads, struggled up hills, passed waving, cheering kids yelling “muzungu,” and sailed across vast oceans of sugar cane fields in the cool morning mist.” Renee 2014

“The rainstorms on the tin roofs of village houses! I recorded it and listen to it every time I need a fresh awaking to man vs nature! A sound you never hear in most USA houses…” Staci, 2011

Staci teaching in Buikwe

Staci, I’m just the opposite these days. Every time we have a light rain shower in Uganda, I sing “Rain on the Roof” by The Lovin’ Spoonful. The sweetest tune ever.

“We were doing outreach in Namakuma. There was a big billy goat who got an erection, licked it until he ejaculated, then proceeded to eat and lick up all the semen. I am still traumatized…” Lee 2006

Lee, I don’t have words…

“The giant cockroaches that came out of the “toilet” hole while you squatted over them. Still having nightmares about those.” Jennifer 2008

“The night sky without electricity (not a culture shock as such but AWESOME). Also I offended some folks by wearing trousers to church on my second day, it was really a miracle I was in church at all. The food was a culture shock- but a good shock- I had such great food, crispy pork, fried fish, lovely chicken, and I loved all the stodgy stuff that came with it. Very comforting.” Dawn 2008

Thank you Dawn, Jennifer, Lee, Staci, Renee, Lori, Nandini, Margaret, Cathy, Margarida, Gustavo, Caroline, Gwen, Ian, Sarah, Cat and Zan for coming to Uganda, jumping in with both feet, having fun, and sharing it with us. Being a fish out of water may not be comfortable, but it is indeed memorable (and often quite rad).

Want to experience the joy, love and craziness that is volunteering in Uganda? Check out our website and read about what we do and why we do it. If you like what you read, fill in our online application form. We want volunteers ready to join in on what ever the &%*# is happening in our lives and communities!



19 thoughts on “More amazing volunteer abroad culture shock moments

  1. These are all such an eye-opener. The culture and tradition is so different and yet so similar. I don’t know how to explain it but I just felt like it is. The duck as a gift floored me and I kind of felt sad about the fact that we poo and pee into clean water. 😦

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Even after reading these experiences I can still hardly believe they are true. I know they are but some stories are just so crazy! I think volunteering will land you from one surprise into the next. This is great preparation for people who want to volunteer abroad!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I love these! I always try to think of the humour in things like this that have happened to me while travelling. We need to enjoy the moments that are different and not crave for each place to be just like home.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Haha, some memories are so funny and such so heart melting. I also think that the less you have the more you enjoy what you have (not always though) and it is great to hear that they are still happy. I wish I had done a volunteer year after schools (well, it might still come🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s never too late! Most of our volunteers are well into their 30s and even in their 60s. Which is why we have flexible options to suit all schedules.

      Short stays can still be beneficial because volunteers act as a link in a chain.


  5. I love their stories and how they learned a lot about the society and themselves, good or bad. Volunteering is so rewarding! I would love to see the welcome reception, it must be beautiful. Do you have a video maybe?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Maja. Our Instagram (@TheRealUganda) has all kinds of video. If you scroll back to June and July, there is some great welcome singing and dancing from women’s groups and schools we work with.


  6. I love hearing these stories, sounds like some fun memories. Buying a duck as a gift and people asking if you will eat it….ohhh boy! And helping a goat give birth…wow. What interesting volunteer and culture shock moments. Thanks for sharing, I love it!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. It was in a rural village in the DRC not Uganda but I had a funny experience because of a language barrier. I had been working and tore the sleeve of my shirt out at the shoulder seam. I know how to sew and was using baby pins to hold it together until I got a chance to fix it. An older woman comes up to me and starts emphatically gesturing and talking really fast in whichever one of the native languages it was. My interpreter was nowhere in sight and she rolls her eyes and starts to unbutton my shirt. As she got the shirt off of me and headed away from me, my friend who spoke the local language came back. They talked and he goes “She says she is going to fix her shirt for you”. I asked him to tell her that was not necessary because I could do it. This evoked a burst of laughter from the half dozen or so women present.
    “What’s so funny?”
    “They are laughing because you are a man. Men, to them, do not sew.”
    “It’s not really necessary. I don’t want to be a burden”
    The woman who has my shirt apparently heard enough and she started talking even faster, pointed at me a couple of times and then pointed at the machete laying on the log next to where she was sitting.
    “Hey…. I got that message loud and clear. No need to translate other than to tell her thank you very much”.

    After the shirt was repaired and thanks were expressed (along with finding a more practical way to repay her kindness), there was a little discussion about where I was from. It just struck me as so odd that my knowing how to sew was considered weird and worthy of a bunch of questions. Then again, I loved the response when they learned that I was 29 at the time and had never been married. I basically got scolded in a loving way. LOL


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