Day 31: The Takeaways

Dear reader, my internship in Rwanda is coming to an end. Hard to believe it. Hate to see it. Soon I’ll be back on American soil, day-dreaming about my return. But I can’t leave this beautiful land of 1,000 hills without some introspection. What did I learn? How has this experience shaped me? These are questions I’ll be asking myself for years to come, but for now, here are five answers I could come up with (sorry they’re cliche…but cliches are usually cliche because they’re true):

1- No Man is An Island: one thing I’ve really enjoyed about Rwanda is the sense of community (discussed in Blog #5), which pervades all aspects of society. A co-worker’s brother dies? The entire office attends the funeral. Someone gets in an accident? People stop what they’re doing and run from everywhere to help the victim. Raised in the extremely individualistic American society, I came into Kigali with the mindset that I was my own best weapon. I was all I needed to succeed in life. But then I got here…I saw how selflessly people interacted with one and other, and as I floundered to acclimate to east African life on my own, I realized all I had to do to swim was reach out my hand to the lovely people here. Though I  previously thought I was capable of navigating the world by myself, I now realize that in order to be truly happy, it is the company of others in which I thrive.

Enjoying a party with co-workers and their families. These people are who made my time in Rwanda as amazing as it was.

2- It’s Okay to Ask for Help: this piggy-backs off my last point; if you don’t know what you’re doing, for the love of God, please ask for help. Whether working on a project and you aren’t sure you heard the instructions right, trying to find your way to a place where GoogleMaps can’t show you, or laying in a hospital bed unsure of why you’re getting injected with mysterious liquids, you are wasting your precious time if you let your pride get in the way. No one expects you to know what you’re doing or what’s going on all the time. In fact, admitting your faults and/or lack of knowledge makes you a stronger, more relatable person.

If you don’t let people guide you, you’ll miss out on some amazing experiences.

3- Life is Lived Through a Range of Emotions: even when you’re working in one of the most beautiful countries in the world, surrounded by wonderful people, you are going to have bad days. In my time here, I have felt the most extreme range of emotions I’ve ever felt in my life. Joy, pain, confusion, sadness, anger, amazement, boredom, abandonment, self-consciousness…the list goes on and on. But even on the days where I was upset and googling the quickest flight home, at the end of those days, all I felt was gratefulness. Gratefulness for the opportunity to be able to feel such a vast range of emotions in such a short period of time, because all of those emotions taught me something about myself and the world. They helped me grow into more of an adult, giving me experience in working through both the best and worst of days.

Some of the saddest things I’ve seen have later resulted in the most joy.

4- Take Care of Yourself: no one is going to do this for you, even in a tight knit community. No one is going to tell you how to spend your money, what food to eat, how much sleep to get. Knowing the importance of self-care was especially important for me when I was sick. Though going to the hospital (as I NEVER go to doctors, even in the states) was a scary experience in and of itself, if I hadn’t have bucked up, gotten out of bed and taken the moto ride over, I don’t know what condition I’d be in right now. No one was there to translate for me or hold my hand when I was in the ER. But I stuck it out and guess what? I’m okay and have some awesome stories.

Give yourself the fuel necessary to thrive each day. Traditional rwandan buffets are my go-to.

5- Only Worry About What You Control: during my time in Rwanda, many things have been out of my control. In any internship, no matter the location, there will be lots you can’t control. How long it takes your supervisors and co-workers to approve your work, give you essential materials, or respond to your emails are some of the most common and inconsequential obstacles to your success. Going a little deeper is how people will perceive you based on your skin color, nationality, religion, and gender. For the first time in my life, I have visibly been out of place in the society I’m living in (many of you can probably relate this to your experience living the US), and it has influenced the ways in which people interact with me. It also doesn’t help that I do not speak French or Kinyarwandan…so with these things considered, a lot of my life and work experience has been go with the flow, something unfamiliar to someone who tends to be controlling and upright such as myself. If I worried about every single time someone tried to overcharge me, drive the opposite direction I told them to go, or gave me a discomforting look on the street, I would be a paranoid, dysfunctional mess. So therefore, there is no point in worrying about these things. Life will do what life does, and no matter how much we fight that sometimes, we’re just along for the ride.

True ‘happyness’ comes from letting go of how you think your day should go.

I could go on and on, and much deeper about my experience than I have here on this blog. If you ever want to reach out and ask me about my time in Rwanda one on one, PLEASE DO! It’s an amazing country. And if you’re on SnapChat, please check out @DickinsonCol for my takeover on Monday, July 9th. You’ll get an intimate exclusive of my work day, as well as meet some of my awesome co-workers and see some cool Kigali attractions. Thank you for following me on this journey.

Feel free to browse this digital archive of my adventures:  

Day 26: When You Have To Miss Work

Rule #1 of being in a foreign country: expect the unexpected. Though I knew this in theory, I didn’t really internalize it because (for the most part), everything has been going swimmingly during my time here!  UNTIL….some tiny creatures called amoebas decided to camp out in my intestines Monday night and many days and nights after (including today).

Ewww Liz, TMI! Why are you talking about this on your internship blog? Well dear reader, as much as I would love to pretend that interning in Rwanda is all working on engaging projects, going to lunches and birthday parties with my lovely co-workers, and taking exciting trips on the weekends, it also involves some uncomfortable realities of African life. Not everyone has access to clean water and proper sanitation, so infections are easily spread! It was almost inevitable that as a foreigner on an extended stay, I would experience some kind of illness my body is unaccustomed to. Unfortunately for me, this experience was a very painful bout of amoebic dysentery that unexpectedly landed me in the Rwandan ER on Wednesday.

Laying in the ER confused, scared, and VERY tired…language barriers make these things hard. My heart goes out to people in the U.S. who can’t understand what their English speaking doctors are saying.

Now no one worry- I’m recovering now, can laugh about it, and have some great stories to tell! I like to think I’m earning my expat stripes. Besides physical discomfort, the hardest thing for me was not being able to go into the office, especially since this is only an eight week internship. So I figured I would give some advice to those of you who have a medical emergency and end up having to miss some work:

  • Be in communication (as clear you are able) with your supervisor and co-workers
  • Keep them updated on your condition
  • Save receipts/bills proving your hospitalization and/or need for medication that required you to miss work, in case your supervisor wants to see them
  • Use your time away to recover as quickly as you possibly can; hydrating, eating well, resting ect.

And once you’re mentally healthy enough, as I was starting to be yesterday…

  • Ask for things you can work on remotely so you are still contributing to the organization and reaching your goals

See, easy peasy! I really am lucky to work for Aegis Trust, which values my well-being alongside my work performance. I am also really lucky to be staying in a nice apartment with generous, caring and experienced hosts, a comfortable bed in which to recover and work remotely, nourishing food, clean water, an accessible toilet, and proper medication. Even with these privileges, amoebic dysentery is quite horrible, so I can only imagine what Rwandans (and other peoples of economic standing lower than the average American) who experience this infection have to go through just to cure themselves. Really puts things in perspective, making the past few days not just about recovery, but reflection on my privilege as a Westerner.

Even on your worst days, the sun always rises (and in my case here, it’s always beautiful 🙂

Tune in next Friday, July 6th to read my 7th blog! Till then, feel free to browse this digital archive of my adventures in East Africa. I saw the gorillas in Uganda last Saturday, so you’ll def want to check out those pictures and videos!!!!

Day 21: The Best Part of the Job

How have I already interned with Aegis twenty-one days??? I only have eleven days left, which is difficult to cope with.

Now you may be thinking, “Awww Liz loves being in Rwanda so much and isn’t ready to go back to the U.S.” And you’d be PARTIALLY right. Though Rwanda itself is amazing, what I’m really sad about leaving behind are the people I’ve met here, specifically my amazing co-workers.

The ladies I work closest with (from left to right): Jessica, Estelle, and Agnes

Internship experiences vary on desires of both the intern and the people in their workplace. Whether your experience will be work-centric or network-centric is completely up to the collaboration of these two parties. Very enjoyable for me, the Research, Policy & Higher Education (RPHE) unit of Aegis is very dedicated to relationship building, as well as working on interesting and ground-breaking projects. Throughout my twenty-one days so far, my co-workers have been warm and open, making sure I am comfortable both in and outside the office.

Estelle, Agnes and I dance with Jessica and her son Yuhi during his 1st birthday party

Building relationships with each of them has been a central part of my experience in Rwanda. They introduce me to their favorite eateries and social hang-outs, help me understand the local lifestyle, and engage me in intellectually stimulating conversations that cover any and every topic one could think of. Without their kindness and inclusivity, I believe my time working for Aegis would be much different.

Celebrating Agnes’ birthday at one of her favorite restaurants.

These lovely ladies inspire me not only to be passionate in the workplace, but passionate about embracing Rwandan life. As community is central to this lifestyle, I can’t thank them enough for helping me find one in such a short time.

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend; I myself will be seeing the gorillas in Uganda 🙂 Tune in next Friday, June 29th to read my 6th blog! Till then, feel free to browse this digital archive of my adventures in Rwanda:

Day 16: Kwibuka (Remembering)

Greetings all. As I wrap up my third full week with Aegis, there is a lot on my mind and heart. Last evening, Aegis hosted its annual Kwibuka (Remembering) event for its employees and friends, to honor victims and survivors of the genocide (many of whom work for or with Aegis). It was an honor to have been invited, being the only person in attendance whose life was not altered by the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi. And as the citizen of a country that stood back and did nothing as hundreds of thousands were slaughtered, it was a moment of great contemplation on my place in the world as a privileged American.

Each attendee is given a white rose to lay on the mass graves in which 250,000 of their family, friends and loved ones lay.

The ceremony began in the court-yard, then moved to the mass graves, then the eternal flame, then the Peace School. From place to place, there was a time of silence and reflection. Once at the Peace School, the Kwibuka Ceremony officially began. Singers sang songs about their fallen loved ones. Survivors told stories about their lives before, after, and during the genocide. Politicians and soldiers gave encouragement and spoke of Rwanda’s bright future. It was a truly inspiring, but somber, place to be.

Procession stops at the eternal flame for a moment of silence.

Events such as Kwibuka remind us that the past is always part of the present and the future, something that can’t be ignored or forgotten no matter how ugly and tragic it was. Being an intern with an NGO like Aegis Trust, which is consistently striving to remember the past while also focusing on a brighter future, has taught me many lessons about the importance of acknowledging this aspect of life. I look forward to the many other life lessons I will learn in the rest of my time in Kigali.

Kwibuka 2018, 24 years after the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi.

Tune in for blog #5 next Friday, June 22nd to learn about my experience fostering meaningful relationships as an intern and an American in Rwanda. Till then, feel free to browse this digital archive of my adventures:

Day 11: Smile and wave boys…

Welcome to Blog #3! Hard to believe I’m already at 3 out of 8 weeks…time does indeed fly when you’re having fun. Everyday I get up with a smile on my face, energized and excited to go to work in this beautiful city of Kigali.

Morning views

But that doesn’t mean things are always easy! In general, being an intern comes with a few challenges…you are young, you are temporary, you don’t know people, you don’t have the same life experience and knowledge as your co-workers, ect. So then on top of those challenges, add: you don’t speak the language, you’ve never been in the environment, you’ve unfamiliar with the culture…needless to say, things can be difficult when working internationally.

My first traditional Rwandan lunch with my co-workers

Lucky for me, I have a houseful and officeful of supportive people who I know have my back when things go wrong. But in the everyday uncertainties and discomforts stemming from my own ignorance and naivety, I must look within for guidance. And what I have found in these moments, is that smiling and proceeding with confidence is the best way to pull through. If I am interacting with a person who only speaks French or Kinyarwandan, that doesn’t have to keep us from forming a relationship! If I am catching a moto to get to work and the driver takes me to the wrong part of the city, it doesn’t mean I won’t eventually get to where I need to go.

My daily commute

Being afraid of or close-minded towards what we interns don’t know, will only serve to hinder the chances for us to truly grow and learn (the whole point of an internship). With confidence on my side, I can CONFIDENTLY say that no matter the obstacles I face working in Kigali, everything will work out how it needs to be worked out. I strongly encourage those of you thinking about working abroad, to just GO FOR IT! Follow your dang dreams, people.

Explore the unknown with a big ole’ smile!

Tune in for blog #4 next Friday, June 15th for an exciting exclusive on Aegis’ annual ‘KWIBUKA’ event. Till then, feel free to browse this digital archive of my adventures in Rwanda:


Day 6: Getting Comfortable

As I finish up my first full week of work, I wonder: how has time flown by so quickly? Every morning I come into the office, greeted by smiling and friendly faces, eager to answer my every question and show me the vast work of Aegis and its RPHE department. In this environment, going into the office doesn’t feel like a chore, but a privilege, something I look forward to every day. Wednesday, May 30th was an especially interesting work day, as I had the opportunity to attend a research conference at Kigali’s Lemigo Hotel.

Attendees of the conference, networking during a coffee break on one of the hotel’s many balconies.

The conference was organized by the Rwandan government’s National Unity Reconciliation Commission (NURC), an agency that promotes healing and prosperity in post-genocide Rwanda, specifically through the sponsoring of research on genocide. Both NGOs and government agencies were invited to attend, expected to discuss their present and future research pursuits. Though the event was in the national language of Kinyarwandan, my co-workers translated the talks for me in English so that I may understand its main goal: establishing an efficient way in which organizations and agencies can communicate their pursuits and findings, improving the effectiveness of national policy.

Representatives of various government agencies and NGOs gather to discuss their research and the ways in which they can collaborate more effectively.

As the only American in attendance, it was a special privilege to see how Rwanda’s research community collaborates and plans for a brighter national future, as well as become aware of Aegis’ coveted role in the process. I can’t wait to see what I learn next week!

Tune in on Friday, June 8th for blog #3. Till then, feel free to browse this digital archive of my adventures in Rwanda:

Day 1: The Start of a Once in a Lifetime Opportunity

Hello world! Welcome to my blog, which will detail my adventures working for Aegis Trust in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali. Aegis Trust is an organization based out of the U.K., working to “prevent genocide and mass atrocities worldwide” through community education, historical preservation, and survivor support. Having experienced its own genocide twenty-four years ago, Rwanda became a valuable location for Aegis to begin its work. Through the experiences and knowledge of Rwandans, great work, such as in the success of the Kigali Genocide Memorial, has been accomplished by Aegis Trust Rwanda.

Having only been in Kigali twenty-four hours, it’s an understatement to say I’m still adjusting to life here. Pushing aside jetlag to enjoy beginning the exploration of my home for the next eight weeks, I am more than excited to work for Aegis Trust Rwanda’s Research, Policy & Higher Education Department (RPHE) as their Research and Impact Intern. The office of Aegis I am working out of is run entirely by local women, located in Kigali’s downtown. I had the opportunity to see my work space, as well as meet my co-workers and mentors this afternoon to get a taste of my first full work day on May 28th. I am certain this experience will be one of a lifetime, learning first hand from Rwandans how education, acknowledgment of the past, and community support can begin to heal nations affected by genocides and mass atrocities.

I am so thankful I am able to pursue this dream opportunity through the generosity of the Dickinson Internship Grant Program, allowing me to take what I’ve learned in classes such as Human Rights (POSC 258), and add the insights and wisdoms of affected peoples to enhance my understanding of the successes and failures of international human rights community. I can’t wait to continue this amazing adventure!

Eternal Flame of the Kigali Genocide Memorial, a symbol of Aegis to honor victims and survivors by keeping their memory alive.
One of the many mass graves located at the memorial, serving as a peaceful and honored resting place for victims.

I will be posting about my experience at least once a week, so be sure to tune in every Friday for an update. In the meantime, feel free to browse this digital archive of my adventures in Rwanda: