Des Moines couple “mom and dad” to visiting students

A true cultural exchange: Relaxing at home, Fred and Barb Hofferber flank Ugandan medical students Andrew Ntabi and Violet Kyakumwanya, who are rotating in Iowa. The Des Moines couple has hosted nearly 170 international visitors since 1993.

Take a seat in Barb and Fred Hofferber’s eclectically adorned kitchen, and you immediately sense why the couple has been ideal hosts for nearly 170 international guests since their first such visitors in 1993. This summer, for the third consecutive year, they hosted two medical students from Uganda’s Makerere University during most of their eight-week rotation in Iowa. “I tell them their job is to make themselves at home,” says Fred, relaxing in the Hofferbers’ kitchen with Barb, Violet Kyakumwanya and Andrew Ntabi.

That doesn’t mean the Hofferbers leave the students on their own. They’ve taken the Ugandan students to many things American, from baseball games, garage sales and a local amusement park to shopping malls, central Iowa’s Bridges of Madison County, Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo, weddings and other family events.

“We like to immerse them in different things,” Fred says. “The students arrive and their minds are just like vacuums – they want to learn and experience as much as they can.”

“I like the fact that we go to different places and meet so many people. It’s surprising that we can walk into someone’s house and it’s like being at home.”
-Andrew Ntabi

Barb, through her job in mental health services at Des Moines’ Iowa Lutheran and Broadlawns hospitals, enabled Kyakumwanya and Ntabi to attend a conference on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. “To get to learn about health care even outside DMU is good,” Ntabi says.

DMU and Makerere University launched a partnership in 2009 to give students from both schools medical experiences in their countries. Since then, 41 DMU students have had rotations at hospitals and clinics in the East African nation, and eight Ugandan students have rotated in Iowa.

In Iowa, the Ugandan students spend their first four weeks on rotation in the DMU Clinic. They then rotate one week in the emergency room at Mercy Health in Sioux City, IA, where they work and stay with DMU alumni Thomas Benzoni, D.O.’83, and Noreen O’Shea, D.O.’84. Their last three weeks are a rotation at Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines. Their timing brings them to Iowa during its season for sweet corn, the State Fair and Des Moines’ popular Downtown Farmers’ Market.

“The biggest surprise for me are the people,” Kyakumwanya says. “We were joking that we thought all Americans are so busy, they have no time to talk. But everyone has been very friendly.”

The Hofferbers note their Ugandan visitors create opportunities for a true cultural exchange. That evening in their kitchen, Kyakumwanya planned to prepare a traditional Ugandan eggplant dish.

“We’re homebodies who don’t travel much. They bring their culture to us,” Barb Hofferber says. “We feel blessed for the time we’ve had with the students.”

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