The Books and Beyond Project has been a breathtaking experience for me and it has had a great impact on the relevance of my life. Traveling to Rwanda to teach the Summer English Camp at Kabwende Primary for my first trip out of the United States is something that I still cannot fathom. Immersing in Rwandan culture has taught me so much about people, culture and even myself. I cannot imagine such an opportunity as this to ever reach me again and I appreciate the Books and Beyond supporters and organizers greatly.
Arriving in Rwanda for the first night caused me to have instant insomnia. For the entire first week, I found myself losing more sleep because I did not want to miss a beat. Traveling around the country and visiting such sights as the canopy walk and the waterfall were exhausting both physically and mentally. I was taking in so many new experiences and I still cannot believe they were real. In some moments, I had to look at my reflection and remind myself that this is real, not a dream.
It was a great relief to get to Musanze, where we resided the second week of being in Rwanda. This move marked the end of observing Rwandan culture and the beginning of immersion in to the Rwandan culture. The vast amount of personal learnings that I have had in Rwanda cannot be iterated in concise speech. However, some of my lessons have been those that I have frequently shared with friends and strangers. On the first night arriving, I wrote, “I can do anything that I want to do. Rwandans live in an entirely different spectrum than I and that is okay”. What that statement means to me is that despite society’s expectations of me, I can live my life according to my own rules. The limitations that have been place on me will be penetrated and overcome due to my ambition and willingness to accept challenges that I have never faced.
Another lesson that I have learned is that homogeny is either a rare or nonexistent characteristic of a people. I have a newly realized dissatisfaction a deeming a culture as homogenous. There are such drastic differences between cities, villages, households, and individuals; in this sense, consider each successive category to have more differences that the next. Despite differences, humans are bound to cooperate with one another even on the farthest scales of dissimilarity. Learning is ubiquitous and relentless. Even out of the classroom setting, interactions between people with at least 1 difference is an opportunity to acquire knowledge. And for these reasons, homogeny is at the very least of any nations descriptions.
In mentally preparing to be in Rwanda for a month, I tried my best to erase the preconceived notions conditioned in my memory. I did this in efforts to prevent myself from limiting my experience and it caused me to not compare my notions from what was observed. Due to this, I was able to establish such strong relationships with the people in a short span of time. It was such a sad occasion to say goodbye to our driver Abdu, our translator Rasheed and our house keeper Moses. In time these individuals became my friend, big brother, and boyfriend. Abdu was always there when I just needed to get away from the house and walk around the city as he would. At these times, people assumed I was Rwandan and I was very hesitant to tell them that I was not. Rasheed started off really quiet, but once he opened up, he became the most ridiculously hilarious guy ever. He reminded me of how a big brother always teases a little sister when he tried to make everyone laugh around him. It was always out of fun and love, you can’t fake relationships like that. Of all people, Moses talked the least and he is the one I liked the most. It became an ever going joke that he and I were dating. The joke was not forced upon us, we perpetuated it as well. This relationship shows that despite the language barrier, two individuals can realize that admiration for one another. Forging these relationships is the biggest surprise of my entire stay of Rwanda. I could not have ever expected it. All of these people will never be forgotten and I hope that I will see them in the near future.
Since I can remember, I have always wanted to travel to Africa. Never did I imagine that it would be Rwanda. I expected to visit a more populous nation or one of which many immigrants arrive from. Before knowing about the trip, I had never knowingly encountered a person from Rwanda. Even if the trip had been elsewhere, I did not dream of being able to be on the educator side of a classroom. I assumed I would do some kind of study abroad program, rather than service. My reality of visiting African is far greater than the dreams that I have had over the years. This visit has made me have a great appreciation of such programs of Books and Beyond Program beyond Rwanda. It has also gave me a perspective on the business side of service trips. In response to those observations, I hope that my next encounters with Africa will be personalized and fall within the upstanding of my beliefs.
This trip will greatly impact my future service. I will be very critical in the programs and effectively analyze it for its value. I want to make sure a program allows me to extend my full desire of help. I always want to make sure that I am giving more than I am receiving. However impossible that may be, I hope that the level of aid that I provide is greater than the advantages that I have for giving aid. I would rather not receive accolades and acknowledgment for things I see as duty. The experience alone is enough to provoke humility that will last for a lifetime.
Given that I am a social studies education major, this trip has greatly impacted my field of study. Although my training is for secondary level American classrooms, my experience at Kabwende is still relevant. It gives me a larger breadth of understanding learning and children, overall. I am sure that the teaching skills that I have acquired will be useful in various settings. One of the biggest things that I am going to take away is that there is no prototypical student nor a prototypical class. Each class was different and it was necessary to cater to the specific class’s needs. In the same manner, no student’s learning and knowledge is identical to another student’s. For this reason, we must try to limit our biases as much as possible as educators near and far.
My daily life has been significantly different since returning to the United States. Indeed, I experienced reverse culture shock. I did not however experience culture shock in Rwanda. Coming back to the United States was exciting, yet bewildering. I thought about how much less tea I would be drinking, how much processed food I would be eating, and how many people would walk pass one another blindly without greeting or acknowledging the other’s presence. I wanted to make sure I appreciate my own culture while also paying regard to the newly found negatives. I now try to incorporate my positive Rwandan cultural aspects into my own.
More superficially, I have started to see how compulsive I can be. In regards to waste, I produced so much more waste before I left for Rwanda. I am starting to see more value in things than I saw before. I have been reminding myself and others to turn of lights and unplug utilities that are not in use. There are various things that I have started to add to my daily life and I hope that I can impact others through my actions.