From: Goodrich, Michigan
Kristen traveled to Rwanda and Uganda 6 weeks in summer of 2011 through School of International Training Study Abroad. Here is a reflection of her experience:
I studied Peace and Conflict in Northern Uganda and in Kigali, Rwanda. While there, I lived with two host families, one in Uganda and one in Rwanda. I traveled with SIT which turned out to be amazing. Not only did I learn a lot, but they put me in purposefully uncomfortable situations to provide me with the greatest learning opportunities. The peace and conflict seminar included lots of readings and three different research papers on a topic (related to the material) of our choosing. We also were lectured to by various experts on Peace and conflict and its relatives from the area. It was rigorous and enjoyable. I learned a lot.
Which experience had the most impact on your personally?
The greatest part was meeting all of the people. The friends I made on study abroad will probably be my friends for the rest of my life. A close second to that was meeting my homestay families. I loved them so much and it seems impossible that I could feel so close to them after only three weeks with each family. I had an awesome 96 year old grandfather who had fought in World War 2! The experience of living with families in different cultures and really encountering that culture at its foundation was amazing. It opens your eyes to the possibilities of life, and helps you see that we really can be ethnocentric without even realizing it.
What were your expectations of the trip? How did your experience differ from your expectations?
I was very nervous to go to Africa. I thought it was going to be this totally wild place without laws and where I could be easily hurt. What I found was actually much different. I never once felt scared or even uncomfortable while I was there. I felt very safe and was very well loved and taken care of by my host families. It was not awkward, either, as I expected, getting to know my families. Both of my families had hosted before, and were used to having students in their home. I also wasn't expecting Africa to be as rich and beautiful as it is. It is puzzling to me that such a beautiful place is still so underdeveloped.
What was the biggest difference in culture that you experienced while a abroad?
The biggest cultural difference was just getting accustomed to the change in the standard of living. Many of the homes there would be deemed unacceptable here in the states, and yet when you're there, it is so normal and natural that it is easy to adjust. The lack of a "real" shower doesn't seem like such a big deal after a week, and you get used to using a bucket :).
What surprised you the most about your time abroad?
How much I did not want to come back home. I actually regretted doing the summer program instead of the full semester.
How has this experience changed you?
I am now considering international social work as a graduate student and will probably return to East Africa to work.
Would you recommend this program to other students?
YES YES YES. It is challenging, thought-provoking, and life-changing. The location is beautiful, the people are wonderful, and you come face to face with some serious issues. It is amazing. However, I wouldn't recommend it to a student looking for a less serious, "typical" study abroad experience... while we did go out dancing a few times (and trust me, it was a BLAST!), this isn't the place to go if you plan on doing a lot of partying or blowing off.
Rwanda & Uganda