A Family's Working Sabbatical in Uganda: Brian and Kate Fassett (Ep. 5)

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Kate, Brian and their two girls, now ages 10 and 7, showing how to ride a motorcycle Ugandan style, inside their house compound in Gulu.

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The Fassetts visiting their friend Charles (kneeling) and his family in the village Minja.

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Friends Stewart and Maureen giving the Fassett’s daughter a bicycle ride in their grandmother’s village.

 

Cultural immersion, as a family

Kate and Brian Fassett, of Portland, Oregon, met as young adults on a study abroad program in Ecuador. After they got married, they volunteered for the Peace Corps in Eastern Europe.

Learning about new cultures was an important part of who they were – and they wanted to share the experience with their two daughters.

Financially, the only way they could take a family sabbatical was if Brian took an overseas job. Since Brian was busy with full-time work outside the home, the couple took a team approach to the job hunt. Kate would search for good international job opportunities for Brian, who would then use nights and weekends to apply and do interviews.

The job that eventually set their family adventure in motion was a position for Brian as Operations Director for Bicycles Against Poverty, a nonprofit that offers microfinance to smallholder farmers.

In this interview, Lisa catches the Fassetts in the last days of their 14 months living in Gulu, in northern Uganda. Hear about the richness and challenges of taking sabbatical that goes deep into cultural immersion, in a developing country, as a family!

POST-INTERVIEW UPDATE

The Fassetts sent a quick update five weeks after our interview. Arriving home had been a “whirlwind,” they said. The girls had already started school, Brian had started a new job, and they had moved back into their house. The transition has been challenging, but one thing they said has really helped was their decision to bring their sweet mutt home, their “guard dog” in Gulu. “He has really helped our re-entry process,” they wrote.

 

FUN FACTS ABOUT THEIR SABBATICAL

 
  • The Fassetts had only taken their kids overseas once before, to Eastern Europe.

  • None of them had ever been to Uganda or to this community, though a former colleague of Brian’s had spent time there, and answered their basic questions about it.

  • They were based in Gulu, Northern Uganda (see it on the map)

  • The local language is Acoli. It's a Southern Luo dialect spoken by the Acoli people in the districts of Gulu, Kitgum and Pader in northern Uganda. There are approximately 1.5 million native speakers. Kate gives a demonstration of how it sounds at 7:27 minutes into the episode.

 
 

KEY QUESTIONS

You had almost given up on this dream. What do you think would have been the impact on you had you guys not gone through with this?

What are the most important things you’d like to hang on to from this experience?

 

3 QUESTIONS I ASK EVERY GUEST

1. What do you wish you had known before you took your leap?

2. What was the most unexpected thing that came of your leap?

3. For someone who is thinking of doing something similar, what’s one piece of advice you would offer? 

 

MEMORABLE QUOTES

“There are just so many lessons that we’re all learning, and they are only just taking hold in our psyches: The value of people and the value of slowing down...” -- Kate, on getting ready to leave.

“As I started building momentum [with the overseas job search], I let my manager at the time know that this was the dream that we had, and that we didn’t know how long it would take to realize it, because on very short notice I needed to fly halfway around the world [for interviews]. She was really supportive and genuinely interested and so that made it easier.” – Brian, on navigating the overseas application process while working a full-time job.

“A long time ago, my grandmother said, ‘I’d rather be sorry for something I did than something I didn’t do.’ That’s a mantra that I’ve just kept with me throughout my life and tried to live by it when we have big decisions to make. At this point, 13 months into living in East Africa, I’m not even sure that I could imagine not having had this experience. I’m really thankful that we have, and that together the four of us were able to work together because really it took effort on all of our parts.” – Brian, reflecting on the idea that he’d almost let go of this dream.

 

Kate and Brian’s Recommended RESOURCES

At Home in the World, by Tsh Oxenreider

Third Culture Kids, by Ruth E. Van Reken, Michael V. Pollock, and David C. Pollock

The Geography of Bliss, by Eric Weiner

Prisoners of Geography, by Tim Marshall.

Rough Translation” NPR podcast

 
 

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