Hello, I am David Ocan, a researcher with VET AFRICA 4.0 and working on the Gulu case study. On the 25th Feb 2020, I made a maiden trip to the UK which was the first time I was travelling outside Africa and the second time I was making a trip on a plane in two months after travelling to South Africa in January. My second trip was exciting and nerve wrecking at the same time as I was travelling alone, unlike the South African trip where I travelled with the whole team.So, this UK trip was the first time in many ways: first time travelling alone, first time travelling long distance, and first time travelling to a Western country. When I shared with some of my team members my fears I was offered various advice like “Heathrow is a very huge airport and it is easy to get lost in it”, and “many people travel so when the plane lands you may not even see the person who will welcome you in the airport”.One team member said I should not talk to anybody apart from the authorities as bad people tend to smell first time travellers and they can put drugs inside your bag, and I will be arrested by the authorities! I was careful to observe all the cautions, but my trip was made simple by the meticulous planning of the UK team spearheaded by Simon McGrath and Jo-Anna Russon.
I arrived in the UK on the 26th Feb 2020 in the morning aboard Ethiopian Airlines and it was a smooth travel, but I was welcomed by the rain and cold and it was the coldest weather I had ever experienced. I wondered if I will really survive the weather condition, I could feel the biting cold deep in my bones, right from my toes to the hair of my head and I had brought even cold weather clothes but they were nothing compared to the extreme weather I experienced.When I went through the immigration it was easy as the officer saw Simon McGrath’s name on the invitation letter and said this man has been instrumental on international engagements and bringing people to the UK, I was like Simon McGrath is a VIP then! So, I also got a portion of the respect he has. As soon as I stepped out of the immigration, I was like, this is it, the son of a peasant is finally in the UKand Jo-Anna Russon had me covered as she was there to welcome me and taste Café Nero coffee and off we left for Nottingham city.
Personal experiences within the UK.
I was very happy to be in the UK though I never really got the time to let all the new experiences sink in as the bodily adjustments of entering a different time zone of minus three was kind of hard and arriving in the morning made it even worse to adjust but the presence of Jo-Anna Russon balanced the equation as the visits I made to her dad’s home and visiting Peterborough Cathedral all helped to acclimatise me, though the weather was a different plate of food all together as I was freezing all over. I think my brain was thinking where the hell are we? As that was the only part not freezing and Jo-Anna had to borrow me her gloves and heavy jacket and when we finally made it to Nottingham city and checked in at Jubilee hotel,another shock the automated doors, revolving doors were kind of confusing to me as in Africa we are used to opening and closing the door yourself, and I stood at the reception waiting for my room keys and yet all along I had my room key in my hands which was a card and I said son of a peasant you are in trouble. But the hotel staffs were very friendly and I enjoyed my stay at the Jubilee conference centre and their food was nice too, apart from trying new fruits of strange colours that would make me feel funny and nonetheless I kept on trying new food and fruits just for the thrill and experience despite the negative consequences sometimes and that was basically the start of my real experience in the UK.
On another note the cultural shock of most people minding their business and seldomly talking to a stranger, appearing to be so self-centred was hard to take, as I am used to greetings. More especially greeting elders and strangers and I was feeling guilty passing elders without saying Hello, how are you? But even the elders never gave a thought, so gradually I got used to the new order of minding your business, but nonetheless I often wondered then how people really get help if they are suffering from stress, depression and anxiety and how would you know someone is suffering if people don’t really talk to each other. But I was told if you are suffering you call friends or family or help lines. But all in all my trip was really eye opening, full of new experiences and shocks as well, and I was told I came at the wrong time of the year as it was Winter,if I was to come in spring or summer I would have enjoyed much more.
- Attended Voices from Below exhibition workshop, University of Nottingham Jubilee campus
Was the first workshop I attended when I was in the UK and it was an exhibition which brought to life the stories, knowledge, and artifacts co-created by miners and the stakeholders aimed at co–producing sustainable mining features in Taita Taveta Kenya. I found similar approaches to our own research interms of life stories, knowledge and involvement of major stakeholders in vocational education and training to promote sustainable vocational education and training.
- Attended the celebration of the International Women’s Day conference, University of Nottingham Jubilee campus
I was happy to be among the few men who were inattendance. With the theme for the celebration, “a diverse and equal world is an enabled world” I really enjoyed the presentations from the guest speakers who all talked about overcoming challenges and empowerment.We were divided into groups to discuss the common biases women experience in the world of work and taking actions for diversity and equality in the workplace. I shared my Ugandan experience on the biases the women go through and I was surprised it was all too similar to the stories in the Western world.
- Meet up for journal writing platform, Prof Andrew Townsend, School of Education, University of Nottingham
I had a wonderful opportunity to meet with Prof Andrew Townsend who shared with me his life stories and aspirations which were all very inspirational. I also shared my life stories and aspirations and I told him I would want to write books, articles and journals and make the world a much better place for everyone and he told me those are noble courses. He offered that whenever I have any interest in writing a journal, I should not hesitate to contact him for assistance and we are in contact, which was a wonderful experience to get a platform that can further my interest of writing.
- Attended a workshop on the changing face of community adult education in the midlands, Nottingham Mechanics
I was able to meet a few inspirational adult educators who had vast experience working even in Africa.The workshop was informative and one thing that stood out for me was that the adult education in the UK comprises mostly of senior citizens while the adult education in Uganda comprises of mostly middle aged citizens and I was able to exchange contacts with some of the leaders of the adult education network in the UK as they were very interested in the state of adult education in Uganda and I made a commitment to give them the necessary feedback when I come back to Uganda.
- Visited a community library for the visually impaired, Hyson Green Library
I was thrilled to see the world class technological enhancement for the visually impaired the reading radio, pen and book and the access to the place is top notch. I shared with one Sarah Akroyd the challenges that disabled persons go through to access these gadgets and she said it is quite expensive for the average person. I took a tour around the library and made contacts for future references and experiences.
- Data analysis training with Prof Simon McGrath
I was able to hold 3 sessions with Prof Simon McGrath on the basics of data analysis and he was able to share his skills and experiences in qualitative data analysis. We dwelled on coding and coming up with themes and he introduced me to coding techniques, stating that codes are basically words of meanings or issues you see coming out of the transcript and those groups of words make up themes and we had to code one transcript and we compared the codes coming out and it was a new experience to me as I had never coded before but he made it very simple .
- Social skills ecosystem approach in the rural setting: write-up with Prof Volker Wedekind
We held two meetings with Prof Volker Wedekind and discussed on what social skills ecosystem theory is and I think our point of contention is what constitutes a rural setting, and do we look at it geographically or in time and space. I agreed that the social skills ecosystem model is a very fundamental model as it explores connections between the working, living and learning environment and the vertical facilitatory mechanisms. The horizontal connectives at angle 45 give different landscapes of intersection, and the rural communities and the local government and the state all intersect at various angles.
- Attended a football game between Arsenal and Westham united with Jo-Anna Russon; visited the Sherwood Forest with Simon Mc Grath; toured around Nottingham city with Volker Wedekind
In between the busy schedules in the two weeks I was in the UK I was able to visit the Sherwood Forest with Simon McGrath who took me to the countryside and it was a wonderful experience and were able to follow the legendary story of Robinhood and the Sheriff and also saw the oak tree that used to be the hiding place for the outlaws that stands so prominently in the forest.
I was also able to take a visit into the city centre with Volker Wedekind. We went to the town centre and visited the oldest house in Nottingham and even went to the underground caves and took a free bus ride using a book (on World Book Day).
Lastly, I was also able to watch an Arsenal match with Westham from the Emirates Stadium and I was able to see the stadium for the first time and experience the game atmosphere which was really wonderful and there was no violence among the fans.
In conclusion, it was a life time experience to have gotten the chance to travel in the UK and it was a wonderful experience as well as a learning experience, though the weather was something else but the food was nice and the people are also hospitable people and much thanks goes to Jo-Anna, Simon McGrath, Volker Wedekind and the hotel staffs at Jubilee Conference Centre for making my UK experience a success despite the unforgiving weather.
Written by, Ocan David
Researcher, VETAFRICA4.0. Uganda.