Sarah Nieburg '15
Randolph-Macon College student Sarah Nieburg ’15 is an
international studies and sociology/anthropology
major and political science minor.
Nieburg has a passion for traveling—and for learning about other cultures.
The Charlottesville, Virginia native recently spent a semester abroad in Uganda.
The experience was offered by World Learning’s Study for International Training
(SIT) and coordinated with the help of R-MC Professors Scott London (anthropology)
and Tom Badey (international studies),
as well as Tammi Reichel (office of international
education). Nieburg examined development theories from Ugandan perspectives,
explored the historical context in which current development is taking place, and
engaged with local practitioners.
Nieburg, who was based in Gulu, experienced a one-week “rural home-stay” in a region
bordering South Sudan, and she took a three-week excursion to Kampala and Rwanda.
In Kampala she learned about the Ugandan government and its role in antagonizing
the conflict in Northern Uganda; in Rwanda she researched the effects of genocide.
Nieburg has always been fascinated by other cultures. She was 11 years old when
she and her family traveled to Vietnam, where her adopted brother was born. She
has also traveled to Italy, Tanzania, Costa Rica, and Guatemala. In addition, her
father, whose work in infectious diseases often sends him to other countries, “always
comes back with stories and pictures that have captivated me,” she says. “I have
always wanted to explore and work in Africa not only because it’s a cultural mystery
to me, but because I have a desire to help those in need.”
Challenges and Rewards
Although Nieburg’s semester abroad was not easy, it was incredibly rewarding.
“My ‘home stay’ house didn’t have running water or electricity,” she says. “Our
classes were held outside, and we sat under trees and took notes. We also learned
a bit of the local language, Acholi. Those things were challenging, to be sure.
But the difficult part of my trip was realizing the amount of abuse the people of
Uganda and Rwanda had experienced. Many of the Ugandan families I interviewed had
either been captured by the Lord’s Resistance Army—a guerilla group—or they knew
people who had been. My trip to Rwanda was especially difficult because we saw evidence
of the carnage that occurred there in 1994 when we visited genocide sites and memorials.”
A chance encounter with some Rwandan children reaffirmed Nieburg’s faith in the
“Our group was pretty down because we had just visited genocide sites and had seen
some atrocious things,” she recounts. “We were on our way to visit a group of widows
and wives of genocide perpetrators. While we were waiting for them to arrive, we
were greeted by more than a hundred school children who were taking a recess break.
We ended up playing ‘Simon Says’ with the children and kicking soccer balls with
them. Their smiles and laughter made me realize that the human spirit prevails,
no matter what.”
“Sarah’s brave adventure is a reminder that the opportunity is within reach for
our students to learn about other cultures and to make a difference with people
facing unique challenges,” says London. “Her experience also illustrates the great
range of possibilities available to those interested in study abroad, whether they
are looking for a one-time journey to enhance their education, or to lay the groundwork
for an international career.”
Nieburg, a member of the Yellow
Jackets soccer team, is the recipient of several scholarships, including
R-MC’s signature Presidential
After graduating from R-MC, she hopes to work for either the United States Agency
for International Development or the United Nations.
“Working for the United National Human Crisis Relief is my ultimate goal,” says
Nieburg. “I know one thing for sure: I want to continue to work abroad, specifically