Sep 7, 2015

So....why Rwanda?

It's been said to me a million times since June.

"You speak Chinese, just completed a PhD in Chinese Philosophy, and you are moving to....Rwanda?"


The truth is, I have been plotting and scheming this move for awhile. A side bonus to my time spent in China was the realization that I really, really like Africans. African men, african food, african dancing and music and culture. There are 54 countries in Africa, all unique and different, and I grew a desire in the past few years to visit this place where all these amazing people in my life came from. 

I see Africa as the anti-China. While I grew bitter from the sometimes oppressive society in China, I watched my African friends exhibit an infectious liveliness and easy-does-it approach to life. I describe my upcoming time in Rwanda as a gift to myself after 7 years in China. 

I first heard of the State Department English Language Fellowship at a Thanksgiving dinner in 2012 in Shanghai. One of my Concordia students was talking about a program where you could, "keep living the dream," abroad but be paid USD and receive significant assistance from Washington, DC. I went home that night and googled the program, stashing it away in my mind a a possibility if I ever decided to cheat on China and move to another country.

Spring semester this year brought many surprises and challenges. I knew my time in China was winding down, and knew that I wanted to move to Africa, but wasn't sure how it would work. I remembered the Fellow program and applied after Chinese New Year. Through the months of almost constant change that followed, I had one thing in my life that did not - my desire to be a Fellow in Africa. While in the application process, the applicant can choose a region or continent, but Fellows are placed where the vetting committee most sees a professional and personal match. So basically, I could have ended up anywhere in the world. (And I was totally fine with that and actually enjoyed the surprise factor).

In late June, I received word that I had been short listed to a rural posting in Rwanda. I got the match on a Thursday, had an interview with the US Embassy on Monday, and on Tuesday sent my verbal acceptance of the offer. It just made sense. This was my next step, a way to shake off China and get a little living back into my life. Living in Africa will also help to tie together my research on Sino-African relations. I have the Sino side, now it's time for the African side.

I will be working at the Institute of Agriculture, Technology, and Education of Kibungo, serving as a teacher trainer and helping to start a TOEFL testing center. The Eastern Province of Rwanda is the most under-served in the country, which makes it a thrilling and worthwhile place to spend the next year (or more) of my life.

A few weeks ago I attended orientation in Washington DC with the other 160+ Fellows who will be serving in over 60 countries worldwide. I teared up at the first meeting..."These are my people!" I thought. It was amazing to be surrounded by people who truly care about education as a tool for diplomacy, poverty alleviation, and the overall, abstract greater good. English educators are so interesting. And a conference room full of them was fun to witness. It was interesting to see who was going where - the graceful older women heading to the West Bank, the energetic folk in Southeast Asia, the Spanish majors heading to South America, and the diverse crew heading to Africa. I appreciated meeting everyone and sharing stories, ("You spent 3 years in Morocco? Cool! You taught refugees? Awesome! Your husband is Egyptian and you live in Zimbabwe? Fabulous!") It was confirmation that there is a population who chooses to live like I do.

I'm so proud to be a part of this mission of the State Department, so proud that our country invests in education worldwide as a form of diplomacy, and so proud that I followed my heart to Africa even when it's full of unknown and meant an entire upheaval of my Chinese life.

Mushu and I will be touching down in Kigali in exactly a week. I am so, so thankful for this opportunity. I waited so long to find a way to Africa. This move comes with a hearty lesson on patience, life's timing, growing through hardships, and that it is almost always worthwhile to take the risk.

So, that's the short version.
I didn't choose Rwanda.
Rwanda chose me, in a way.

walk slow. xoxo.

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