The Infiltration of US Culture

Do you ever wonder if teenagers are the same across the globe?

I’ve been in the city of Kampala, Uganda almost a week now hanging with teenagers, parents, and youth workers. I’ve spoken at several youth events, taught a parent workshop, and spent four full days (so far) training and interacting with youth workers (two days of training to go). It’s been a wild ride… literally!

I think you’ll be intrigued by some of the similarities and differences between our two cultures.

My observations about Uganda, its teenagers, and its youth culture… compared to the United States:

  • The most shocking element about Kampala is the driving. It’s insane! Take the craziest cab ride in New York City… and multiply it by 100. There are no rules on the road whatsoever, and no one has any regard for proximity. Every car has scratches and bumps because everyone is squeezing through. I saw a guy on a motorcycle come one inch from death yesterday!
  • The most intriguing element I’ve noticed is the infiltration of US culture. The young people here in the city talk and act like US teens, and dress very similar to those in poor US urban areas. Maybe because they are watching many of the same shows and listening to much of the same music.
  • Kampala music charts feature some local music, but much of the hits I hear playing are rap and R&B hits from the United States. They list the same Billboard Top 100 in their Kampala paper, and the true test—hanging out with teenagers for three hours one night listening to music. They were listening to Nicki Minaj, Snoop Dog, Lil Wayne, Bruno Mars, etc.
  • Kampala TV is different and most people don’t pay for TV reception, as opposed to the US where about 91% of people do. But, the city is strewn with these little DVD roadside stands where they can purchase the entire season of Gossip Girl, One Tree Hill, etc (usually for about $1). It seems like their TV entertainment choices are about 2-3 years behind the US.
  • The biggest difference between Kampala and the US is smartphone penetration. Where about 2/3rds of US teens own smartphones, it seems like only about 1/4 to 1/3 have them here. Phones are interesting here. Even the poorest people have cell phones (normal cell phones, not smart phones), but that is because they are cheap and you don’t have to sign up for a plan. You just buy a card with minutes- people buy minimal minutes and have the phone just so people can reach them if necessary. Most of them don’t have a landline.
  • The most interesting youth ministry difference here vs. the States is that kids actually “show up” to events here. In the US, the days are practically gone where you could throw a pizza party and kids would just show up (although I’ve found it still works in some smaller US towns where there is nothing to do). Here, if you offer free food, everyone shows up. I think the best testament of that was in my youth training I shared a story of one of my campus clubs years ago where I would stand in front of 200 kids at our “fun program” weekly and invite them to a Bible Study the next day with free soft drinks. I confessed how only 12 kids a week would show up to this Bible study. I asked the Ugandan youth workers how many Ugandan kids would show up if we invited 200. They laughed and said, “220.”

I’m here just a couple more days training youth workers here in Kampala. Pray for our time together. These youth workers are hungry for resources!

About Jonathan McKee

president of The Source for Youth Ministry, is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices, If I Had a Parenting Do Over, 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He has over 20 years youth ministry experience and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, TheSource4YM.com and TheSource4Parents.com. You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.
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2 Responses to The Infiltration of US Culture

  1. Charlie says:

    The last point is really profound. I thought maybe it was just me that had trouble getting kids excited about something. But I am finding out it is pretty common n the U.S. I know there are some groups that are bursting at the seams, but that seems to be an exception. It seems there is a lot of boredom with faith here. Other cultures seem more open to the Gospel. Here it seems like everyone has heard it and done the “church thing.” Perhaps they have been unimpressed with our games and pizza and are looking for something deeper?

  2. Jody says:

    I will be praying for you. I had the privilege of going to Kampala with my 11 yr old daughter in April. She feels God is calling her to Uganda to serve the orphan when she grows up so we worked in the orphanages while there. Uganda is a beautiful country full of contrasts. We take our blessings for granted in the US. Clean water and food are desperate needs in Uganda. I pray God will richly bless your ministry in Uganda.