Thursday, July 24, 2014

HPU Summer Study Abroad 2014

Part II – Uganda

The second half of the study is finished, and the students have all gone home. Our second destination contrasted the conflict in northern Uganda between the LRA and the UPDF (formerly the NRA) and the conflict we experienced in Rwanda. But before we could do that, we had one stop to make on our long bus ride between Kigali and Gulu.

We stopped in Mbarara, the quickly becoming the second largest city in Uganda and also the home of President Museveni. Just outside the city, perhaps a few hours, is the refugee settlement of Nakivale, and every year, hundreds and sometimes thousands of Rwandan refugees flee from the country to take up refuge here, in this rudimentary and extremely dusty camp. The existence of the camp was not surprising, but the recent refugee status of many of its residents shocked us. We knew that supporters of the former Hutu Extremist government had taken refuge in Congo, Uganda, and elsewhere, and while the government has tried to bring them back to face justice, this process is met with mixed success. Where the post 1994 refugees came from, I had no idea. Until they told their side of the story.


These refugees told a story of a different Rwanda than the one we had been shown in Kigali. They told us of a Rwanda where 'tribe'-based killing continued well belong 1994 perpetrated not by the government but by Paul Kagame's RPF. They were frustrated and understandably nervous. By speaking up, they put themselves in danger. No real activism had ever come from 'Westerners' hearing their stories leading to an almost complete lack of awareness outside East Africa. But the Rwandan government knows of their existence, and the refugees told us of a time when the RPF, partnered with the Ugandan Police Force, raided the camp and forcefully repatriated much of the Rwandan population. Those who refused, we were told, were shot and their bodies taken away.

It was shocking to hear their accusations of Genocide and the harrowing account of a widower whose wife and children were shot and their bodies buried and covered with a playground. Others told of how they first fled to Tanzania, and when they were brought back at the point of a gun, they fled again when the government raided their village. One woman told of how, when her husband spoke out against the government, he was imprisoned on false charges, escaped, and fled to the Congo. Rwandan officials came to her house to question her on his whereabouts, physically assaulted her, and left her beaten and forced to flee with her children.

Some of those we talked to were undoubtedly supporters of the Genocidal regime in Uganda. One implied he had assisted with the work without saying it outright. Others, however, were very definitely not. This made me question the accuracy of their stories, but I realized, even if their stories were half true, I couldn't trust the stories I was told by the Rwandan government either. It was a puzzling situation.

After the settlement, we continued our studies in the north, in Gulu across the Nile. We focused not only on conflict but on development. Gulu during the war was the most heavily populated region in the world for NGOs, and while that population has since moved on, the effects of their presence still influences daily life in Gulu. We met the King of the Acholi people, the largest ethnic group in the north, and talked on how ethnic identity helped to shape conflict.


We also heard from professors at the local college. They told us the history of Uganda from multiple perspectives, many which were highly critical of the government. You would not hear that in Rwanda. Uganda, since independence in 1962, has never had a peaceful transfer of power. Each has been at the point of a gun, and Museveni is proving no different. First he changed the term limit so he was able to serve beyond his 2 term limit. Now he is lobbying to change the age limit so he does not have to leave at 70, only a few years away.

We talked to those who were in Gulu as it was turned into an official displacement camp when the government rounded up all Acholi people and placed them in camps for safety against the violent LRA. These camps, however, served as a recruiting ground for the LRA and hundreds of children were abducted from these camps by the LRA to serve in their militia. Both sides used children in the conflict.

In Uganda, unlike Rwanda, no clear story emerged. We learned the war started in 1987 when Acholi began to be persecuted for their support of the former president, President Obote, himself deposed twice by violent coup. Uganda is divided along ethnic lines, and when a new President comes into power his home region prospers as the expense of others. Museveni is from south of the Nile, and as we traveled from the south to the north, the differences were stark.

The war was fought in the bush, initially with vast popular support. But as the war dragged on and the casualties mounted, support fell away. The first leader of the resistance failed at high cost, and her successor, Joseph Kony, vowed to do better. He let nothing stand in his way, and perpetrated horribly violent acts to stop informants, spies, and opposition. Soon the people of the north were being oppressed by both sides, and called for an end to the conflict. Neither had the power to end it, however, at it took the start of the War on Terror and US involvement on Museveni's side to end the conflict. The LRA was pushed out in 2007 and people began moving back home in 2008. As the records were tallied, it soon became clear that almost as many people had died in the camps as had died in the war, and civilian casualties perpetrated by both sides were astronomical. The King himself was abducted as a child, and it was only luck that saved him.

The LRA still operates to this day in the Congo, South Sudan, and the CAR. The government operates as well on a regional level, and while they have diverted some small relief aid to the region, aid is largely left to the management of local NGOs who have almost become the government in a sense. They are responsible for the welfare of the people, and without their help many would die or suffer extreme circumstances. The problem comes when these NGOs, as they are wont to do, pull out. This is the situation Gulu is facing today, and it is difficult seeing the situations which people are reduced to. Many would fall on their knees in the streets, begging for anything we could give. They have nowhere left to turn.

This is but one of many facets of post-war Acholiland. Another is the resurgence of traditional peace-keeping methods which try to bring ex-militia back to their families. This process has mixed success, and serves to strengthen the ethnic ties which bind people together, but also pull people apart.

We finished out study in Busiya, on the border with Kenya. We reflected on what we had learned over the past five weeks, and took a much needed break. Peace and Conflict, it seems, are never as cut and dry as they might at first appear. Everything plays a role in war, including development aid. Economic scarcity and ethnic division may lead to conflict, but ethnic ties and severe economic stress can solve it too. I will be processing what I've learned for some time to come, and while I expect no clear answers, at the very least I will know I must become aware before becoming involved. I would argue that there are no truly neutral positions in conflict, and blind support of one side or another can have disastrous consequences.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

South Korea, Summer 2014

안녕하세요!!!! (Annyeonghaseyo) I arrived in Korea last week Sunday, July 13. I am posting a bit late because we don't have wifi in our dorms. I am currently studying abroad at Konkuk University and I must say it has been a blast! There are so many things I want to see and do! I have been in Korea for about a week now and I can proudly say that I have adapted pretty quickly. Overall the ISP program here at Konkuk is very rewarding and safe. The student volunteers are awesome mentors and great life-time friends. The foods here in Seoul are also amazing. Korea is very safe! I was surprised at how easy it was to get around by subway. My only advice for future study abroad students are too be careful when crossing or walking on the streets, the drivers are pretty crazy! Other than that, I highly recommend coming to South Korea and experiencing life here. I am learning a lot and making new friends from not only Korea, but also from around the world. Until next time!


Friday, June 20, 2014

HPU Summer Study Abroad 2014


 My name is Jason Bunderson. I am a graduating senior in International Relations at HPU and am finishing my program during a 6-week study abroad program in the Lake Victoria basin. As part of the study, I will be involved in a peace and conflict seminar focused on the 1994 Genocide and the ongoing Northern Uganda NRA-LRA conflict. I will be based in two major cities: Kigali and Gulu. My program began on June 11 2014, and for the past week I have been settling in to the city. I am also furthering my own personal study while in the country, and will reference my work occasionally. However, the majority of these posts will be focused around the program itself: how it functions, what we learn, and how peace and conflict can be defined in the context of the East African community.

Part I - Kigali

Kigali is like no city I have ever had the chance to visit. Large, modern skyscrapers surrounded by typical wall-to-wall shopping centers dominate downtown, but 10 minutes away you are surrounded by cornfields and adobe huts. There you are jostled by all sorts of people carrying large woven baskets of vegetables on their heads, but well-dressed university students wearing headphones and texting on their iPhones walk on the same streets. The city itself is built on a series of red hills, with marshy wetlands in the valleys between. The roads switchback up one side and down the other, and while many are paved with wide sidewalks, there remain neighborhoods connected by nothing but dirt tracks.

The people themselves are friendly, open, and a usually speak a little English or French. Everybody speaks Kinyarwanda. There are police stationed at every corner, and they are very helpful and good with directions. The military is also very good at patrolling the streets and keeping things safe, and Kigali hasn’t had any public attacks for over a year. The government has an ambitious plan set up for the city – they want to be wired for high-speed internet by 2020, and 4G wireless is already in place for some networks – and as a result, Kigali is one of the fastest growing cities in East Africa. The RPF rebuilt the country from ruins less than 20 years ago, and it has already created an efficient, well-maintained system of governance. Not everyone is happy with it, traditional landowners are being forced out of the city to make way for modern infrastructure (corn fields don’t work well in an urban environment) and the authoritarian government has some people on edge, but the vigor in the city is impossible to ignore.

Since I arrived in the city on Wednesday night, I have started my school program and have begun to acclimate myself a bit to local culture and mannerisms. The program is rigorous—school every day from 9 to 5—and I have little time to do my own work. This weekend, I hope to have time to put together my pre-conflict work and set up a study for this country. So far, I have focused mostly on the anthropological side of the country, and on getting to know the people and the local economy. Things are relatively inexpensive here. The bus charges 200 RWF (about .30 cents), a new phone and phone plan is about 7300 RWF (about $10), and you can get a buffet for about 2000 RWF (about $3). They eat the same thing for every meal, at least it feels that way. Everywhere I go, dinner is beans, rice, boiled potatoes, and either beef, chicken, or goat. Breakfast is untoasted bread, eggs (scrambled or fried), and/or cibati (a kind of deep fried pancake).

The next few weeks will be key to helping me understand the local climate and culture. My program is structured to give us until the beginning of July in Rwanda, and I will be living with a host family most of that time (starting last Sunday). The family is nice and the family environment is similar to most of the world. Both parents run a small phone shop downtown and are gone for most of the day while hired nannies take care of their four children: helping the girls get to school, cooking meals, and occupying the young twin boys. They have running water and electricity (most of the time), and their house is well kept.

As for the program, after orientation, the director of the program introduced us to the subject by taking us on a tour of the Genocide memorials in the country. The museum, built at the mass burial site for Kigali which still sees regular use, is unique. Apart from history, they have rooms dedicated to photos of the victims. Parents who lost children have created a room to honor them. Each child's photo is set on the wall, with a plaque underneath detailing their habits, favorite food, and cause of death. The number of children killed or forcefully aborted during the genocide is staggering, and the number of orphans, numbering in the tens of thousands, is impossible to comprehend. About 85,000 households were headed by a child under the age of 18 after 1994.

Following the museum, I was able to visit the churches in Ntarama and Nyamata. During the Genocide, the Tutsi population of these villages fled to the church for sanctuary. In the past, during the genocides of 1959, 1963, 1973, and the 1980s, these sanctuaries saved thousands of lives. In 1994, they offered no protection. It is estimated that at Ntarama alone over 5000 were killed. The churches were left undisturbed for several years as a memorial, and about 10 years ago the bodies were cataloged and their skeletons were set in endless rows as a gruesome reminder of those 100 days. In both sites, the cracked and bloodstained bricks where small children and infants were repeatedly thrown against the wall are still horribly visible. I took no pictures of these sites; the photos are freely available for anyone interested.

After this introduction, the class was visited by a local history professor who briefed everyone on the history of the country and the Arusha Peace Accords. I won't go into it here, but it is a fascinating study on internalizing a constructed external identity and speaks volumes on the nature of conflict and self-realization. This next week, the class will focus on Rwanda's response to the Genocide, their recent development, and their amazing recovery that ranks them among the most stable sub-saharan states in Africa.

To summarize, this first week has been hectic and harrowing. Rwanda is an endlessly fascinating country, and the people, culture, and history have me more engaged than any classroom could. I have learned more outside of class talking with locals than I have in the lectures, and the director is smart enough to bring that into play. As a study abroad, there is no place I can recommend more for understanding the nature of peace and conflict, and I can't wait for Uganda.


With the 2014 FIFA World Cup going on in Brazil, many are rooting for their favorite national soccer team, however that is not the case here in Australia. Apparently the Australian National Football Team has a historic habit of losing in the World Cup in the first round. Because of this many Australian citizens lack the enjoyment many other foreign students have fir the event. Instead many Australians turn their attention to the Rugby games occurring here in the country.

Unlike the World Cup, or the sport of Soccer in general, rugby is a popular winter sport in Australia with a history dating back to 1907. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that Australian rugby is the equivalent of football in America It is traditionally most popular in Australia's rugby football strongholds of New South Wales, Queensland and the ACT, though it is played throughout the nation. It is the dominant winter sport on the country's eastern seaboard, which comprise around half of the country's population. Much like American football, rugby is the most watch sport in all of Australia, with a total estimate of one hundred twenty-eight million viewers.

Australia has a rich history of rugby league, first taking up the sport in 1908 alongside people in Britain and New Zealand. The rule changes over the decades have been partly instigated in Australia as well. The country has been dominant over the other rugby league-playing nations for many years, but enjoys a strong rivalry with New Zealand, Australia's traditional history.

Before coming to Australia, I didn't have much of a liking for the sport, especially since it mimicked American football, a sport that I am honestly not a fan of. However after watching a game when I was in Sydney for "fall recess" I actually sat down and watch a game, and to tell the truth, I actually began to understand the game more than I do American football. Since then I've become a huge fan of the sport, flipping through the channels to watch the World Cup and the New South Wales "Blues" vs. the Queensland "Maroons." Its actually a really interesting sport that looks fun to play. Of course if I were to play rugby, I would most likely be killed instantly on the field haha.

Sunday, June 15, 2014


Anyone with common sense would know that the Kangaroo is Australia's most famous creature. The kangaroo is one of Australia’s most iconic animals, and most species are endemic to Australia. There are over 60 different species of kangaroo and their close relatives, with all kangaroos belonging to the super family "Macropodoidea" (or macropods, meaning ‘great-footed’).

 Currently the Kangaroo family consists of 60 different classification of roo's as like to call them, which includes kangaroos, wallabies, wallaroos, pademelons, tree-kangaroos and forest wallabies, however with much of the continent still be unknown and with many creatures recently being discovered the number are continuing to rise. Species in the macropod family vary greatly in size and weight, ranging from 0.5 kilograms to 90 kilograms, the avoid the math ha-ha, from being larger than a human, to the size of a rat.

Kangaroos are herbivorous, eating a range of plants and, in some cases, fungi. Most are nocturnal but some are active in the early morning and late afternoon. Different kangaroo species live in a variety of habitats. Potoroids, for example, make nests while tree-kangaroos live above ground in trees. Larger species of kangaroo tend to shelter under trees or in caves and rock clefts.

Kangaroos of all sizes have one thing in common: powerful back legs with long feet. Most kangaroos live on the ground and are distinguished from other animals by the way they hop on their strong back legs. A kangaroo’s tail is used to balance while hopping and as a fifth limb when moving slowly. All female kangaroos have front-opening pouches that contain four teats. This is where the ‘joey’, or young kangaroo, is raised until it can survive outside the pouch. Much like rabbits, most kangaroos have no set breeding cycle and are able to breed all year round. Because they are such prolific breeders, a kangaroo population can increase fourfold in five years if it has continuous access to plentiful food and water.

Kangaroos have long been important to the survival of Australia’s Indigenous peoples, who have hunted kangaroos for tens of thousands of years for both the meat and the skins, a practice that still in use even today (note: it is not animal abuse to hunt eat kangaroo, they are like deer back in the America). When Europeans arrived in Australia in the late eighteenth century, they too hunted kangaroos for survival.Kangaroos continue to be used as a resource, but only under strict government controls. All Australian states and territories have legislation to protect kangaroos. Only the four most abundant species of kangaroo and small numbers of two common wallaby species can be commercially harvested for export, and then only by licensed hunters in accordance with an approved management plan. These species are the Red kangaroo, Eastern grey kangaroo, Western grey kangaroo, Common Wallaroo (Euro), Bennetts wallaby and Pademelon (a type of wallaby).

Another thing that should be mentioned is that while when we see kangaroos an TV being portrayed as cult-cuddly and innocent creatures that hop around the outback... they aren't.  Earlier I had mentioned how almost every living organism in Australia is very dangerous in its own way, well kangaroos are potentially dangerous and deadly in few instances. In fact in some parts of the country (especially in the state of Queensland where I am living), its highly advised not to encounter certain types (specifically the Eastern Greys) of roo's. Male Kangaroo's are very territorial and constantly fight others in order to maintain their status in their family pacts, and are known to drown dogs if they ever felt threatened enough to do so.

There have been a few report cases where kangaroos have attack people whether out of fun or aggression. However this is somewhat rare and I've gone up close to a few without feeling or actually being threatened. Either way Kangaroos are very fascinating creatures. As a kid I have seen them before in zoo's, however it is much more amazing to see them out in the open in their own habitat.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Good Luck with Finals Everyone!

Well it is that time for most of us I believe, when hours of studying and little daylight dominates our lives haha! I have just over 2 weeks left here in Australia and finals have started today. Luckily for me though, my finals aren't until next week which has allowed me to have 2 weeks of study time rather than the mandatory one week designated by the school. Preparing for finals here isn't really that different for me. I do have to admit though, the grading out here is really tough and the exam requirements are strict. Unlike back at HPU, we MUST have all forms of ID to be allowed into the testing room! If you forget, you can kiss your chances and passing the class good-bye because here at JCU, you must have at least a 50% in the class WITH over 40% on the final exam...if you have only one of these requirements, you fail the class! The good thing about this though is that it is really hard to fail a course out here. While skyping some of my friends back home, we joked around and were kind of irritated by the fact that the European grading system seems more "relaxed" than back in the US. For example:

            Australia (also the UK)

  • 100-70=A (HD)
  • 69-60=B (D)
  • 59-50=C (C) 
  • 49-40=D (P)
  • <40=F (N)
I'm pretty confident that I can pass all of my courses out here though, so there is not much to worry about :) But what I always like to do before I buckle down and start studying relentlessly is go out for a nice walk or hike. It truly winter here and boy is it cold! It has been raining for two days now, but luckily I was able to go on a hike when the sun was still shining. There aren't many hikes out here you can do, being that Australia is geologically and continuously flat with scattered highlands. So my brother and I occasionally go out to Castle Hill which a really nice and energetic hike to do.               

Castle Hill  is a little over 600ft high with a 360 view of the city. 

 It actually impossible to see in this photo, but there a large painting of a stick figure angel that has been used as a symbol in Townsville...

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Winter Season in Australia

So this morning and the past few days Ive been seeing all of my friends, both in Hawaii and in California, talking about how they are excited for summer vacation. All of them were discussing the nice warm weather and talking about going to the beach and what not. Unfortunately that is not the case here in Australia, for you see while it might be summer time in the United States, it is Winter season here in Australia.

As Australia sits below the equator (whereas the United States sits above it), the seasons are literally the polar opposite here. When my brother and I left California in February it was freezing, and when we arrived in Brisbane is was over 100 degrees. Now in the month of June, the weather is below 50 degrees. Now when we were in Sydney in April the weather was quite chilly as it was the Fall season, it still doesn't compare to how cold it is currently in Townsville.

This opposite twist i weather doesn't just occur here in  Australia however. It actual effects every country or landmass located below the equator, so this includes Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the South American continent, as well as many more. Although it has been rather cold for the past few days, I here it will get much colder in the next few weeks, and by the time I go to Melbourne, It will be much much colder, so cold that we might see snow. Although this does seem like a complete bummer, its actually an experience to witness cold weather when you expect it to be in the 80's and 90's during the months of June and July. But then again I'll just have to see for myself and decide weather I like Australia's cold weather or not.