Living in a different country has always been a dream of mine. I have a strong desire not only to see different places, but also to truly immerse myself in a foreign culture. When I began looking at colleges, a strong study abroad program was a must. I ended up at a school with programs everywhere from Chile to Australia. For the first time in my life, I had the world at my fingertips.
As an English major with a passion for Inklings, my family and professors expected me to hop on the first plane to Oxford. Over half of students studying abroad opt for a European destination. I intentionally chose not to look at any European programs because I spent my entire life in a Western society with Eurocentric academia. I wanted to see the world in a new way and experience something totally different.
That’s how I ended up applying to spend a semester in Mekong, Thailand. GoED, the program I would be studying with, offered a course called “Exclusion & Exploitation: Marginalized People of Mekong.” I would have the chance to study human trafficking and poverty in an environment that encouraged analysis of constructive solutions. When I received my acceptance letter, all my dreams came true.
A month after my acceptance, I received another email notifying me that the program had been canceled. I was shocked. I poured so much effort into applying, preparing and researching for four months in Thailand. Just like that, it was gone. My heart broke.
I ran to the Intercultural Office in tears. There was nothing for me on campus next semester. I didn’t have a roommate, class schedule or an internship or job lined up. All of the other study abroad application deadlines passed months ago. Fortunately, my study abroad adviser cleared her busy schedule in order to help me. We went over all my options. She assured me that due to unprecedented circumstances and my strong GPA, it was possible to find another program. My options included an advanced literature program at Oxford, a Christian university in Lithuania, and another GoED program in Kigali, Rwanda.
A friend helped me make a pro/con list for each. Oxford had great academics, but I’ve traveled to London before and craved a new adventure; Lithuania would allow me to visit four different countries, but I would be at a small Christian college, which was too much like home; Rwanda had everything I wanted, but I was wary of GoED after the impromptu Thailand cancellation.
I took a leap of faith and chose Rwanda for many reasons. I get to take courses on East African history, art and religion, as well as study the 1994 genocide and reconciliation. Rwanda is a land of many scars, but it is also a nation of healing and forgiveness. These courses present a challenge to not only one’s intelligence, but also one’s faith in humanity. In addition to taking classes, I get to visit Kampala, Uganda, live with a Rwandan family for a month and go on a safari.
Studying abroad anywhere is an adventure, and I am so grateful I have this opportunity. I am thankful for my family, friends and professors who supported me in my preparation, especially the director of study abroad at Messiah College. I leave tomorrow, but I already know that Rwanda will change me for the better and etch itself permanently into my heart.