Vassar Choir Member Samantha Smith '14

Japan was an incredible experience; not only were we able to travel around two different areas of the country, but we also had a blast learning and adapting to Japanese culture. At the same time, we were constantly singing and dancing with the children from Uganda, learning vocabulary in Luganda, and watching them turn up their noses at the endless supply of seafood.

There was one instance during a rehearsal when I went to the front of the room to take a picture. I lifted my camera to shoot, and was immediately struck by the countless moments of cultural exchange I saw happening all at once: a Ugandan and an American playing patty-cake; a Japanese tickling a Ugandan; and a Japanese teaching an American to play a taiko drum. There was only one Vassar student who spoke Japanese, and the Ugandans’ and Japanese’s proficiency in English spanned a wide range, so a lot was lost in translation. Everyone was good-natured enough to have fun through non-verbal communication.

We also used our music to interact with each other, teaching each other songs, instruments, and dances, and laughing all the while. Although our appreciation for each other’s music and culture was clear in the two performances, what was really beautiful about this trip was the friendship and appreciation that continued offstage.

Samantha Smith ’14 is a music major at Vassar and a member of the Vassar Women’s Choir. It was her work as a Ford Scholar that took her to Nansana, Uganda, where she assisted Christine Howlett in teaching songs and signing techniques to students who have lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS. After graduation, Smith will work for Ashinaga’s Department of International Affairs, helping to develop a new facility in Senegal.