In conclusion...

Greetings! This year, I opted not to post at all during the course. I've now been back in the US a little over two weeks and have wrapped up most course-related tasks - and decided that I could now offer some of my own thoughts.

First, this group of students was pretty darn spectacular and for that I'm profoundly thankful. Second, my staff colleague, Caroline Hilk, was fantastic. I can't fathom doing this work without another non-student along. Caroline, thank you, thank you, thank you - for everything including your photos! Though he may never see this, I want to publicly thank our guide, Yvan. He remains as amazing as ever.

This course was a little longer than that offered in 2012. Those who went gorilla trekking visited all three of the current national parks in Rwanda; others visited two. We visited all five provinces. In retrospect, I think we spent a bit too much time moving about. But, then, we also had terrific experiences everywhere we traveled.

In 2014, when I traveled to Rwanda alone, I met with my colleague Kazu Sasaki at the Protestant Institute of Arts and Social Sciences (PIASS). At that point I just wanted to learn more about what he was doing with the Peace and Conflict Studies program. Then I got this wild idea. How about a workshop with Hamline and PIASS students? Fortunately, as a result of my Fall 2014 First Year Seminar, I met three outstanding students who were willing to take this on. Sadly, one of them was unable to join us. But, Marissa and Tess remained and did terrific work. On Saturday, 4 June - as you can read here and here - we spent the day with the PIASS Peace Club. It's safe to say that the day exceeded all expectations. Why? Students were able to have one-to-one and small group conversations that would never have happened in a formal setting; e.g., a meeting with an NGO. And, the PIASS students were incredibly open about their thoughts, experiences, and questions. And, not just with regard to the genocide and, for example, issues surrounding Rwandan ethnic identities. Why, for example, do we in the US use the term "African-American" when we have no idea whether someone is of African descent? Take it from there. It was nothing short of fantastic. It was one of those experiences that you dare not try to replicate. I could give my own blow-by-blow debrief of the rest of the course. I'll spare you. In short, it was exhausting and wonderful.

Okay, just a couple of snapshots -

I've been following Team Rwanda off and on pretty much since its inception, as well as the blog of their Director of Marketing and Logistics, Kimberly Coats. They just happen to be headquartered in Musanze! So, while others were "chasing" gorillas, Kimberly generously gave us a tour of their home, the Africa Rising Cycling Center. Very cool for this (former) cyclist!

As others have noted, while in Huye we visited Inzozi Nziza for ice cream, twice - at the demand of the students. In addition to the ice cream, I highly recommend the film, Sweet Dreams, available to stream on several digital platforms. Here are a couple of Pipers enjoying the treats!

In closing, a few things of which to take note. First, a "hold the date" note. On the evening of Monday, 14 November, we may be kicking off a photo exhibit - part of International Week - with a panel discussion. I hope you can join us. I'll post details here and create a Facebook event later.

Second - and this is very, very, very preliminary... but I'm exploring the possibility of the Center for Justice and Law offering an educational trip to Rwanda - open to all - in January or May of 2018. This would be a non-credit, abbreviated version of the course. If you're interested in knowing more as things unfold, please contact me to be placed on a mailing list.

I'm going to cut myself off here lest this get too long. Thanks for "joining us" in our journey!


Looking Back

It has officially been a week since we arrived back in Minnesota from our adventures abroad. Readjusting back to life and trying to find a new "normal" routine has been more challenging than I expected. It has been really strange not having a set plan each day and being apart from the people I spent pretty much every hour of the day with for 3 weeks.

Another challenge that I have been facing is trying to share what I experienced with my friends and family. On the one hand, I love telling them about all the amazing things we did and the people we met. On the other hand, I'm wanting them to feel and understand all of the same emotions and insights that I encountered on the trip. I have slowly been coming to accept that this just isn't possible. As much as I want them to, the people I share my stories with will never have the experience of being on this trip. That is why I am thankful that there are 15 other people who did share in the same things I did. Even though our individual experiences were each unique, it's comforting to know that there are people I can turn to who went through the same things that I did. I'm very grateful for the group that we had and how kind and open everybody was.

Looking back, I am so thankful for everything and everyone who made this trip the incredible experience that it was. I learned so much from the people we met on this trip, both on an academic level and a personal level. They have challenged me to change the way I look life and what it means to have strength, forgive and love others.

I want to say a big thank you to Professor Embser-Herbert, Caroline Hilk, Yvan and the many other people who made this trip possible! It truly was the trip of a lifetime and I will never forget it!


When can I leave again?

Before I travel, I always feel an anxious, nervous excitement. Going new places, seeing new things, and meeting new people is always like taking a step into the unknown. Yet, every time I travel I am reminded why traveling out of the country is so worth it. This trip gave me a hundred reasons why I should study abroad again and keep traveling to new places.  

From the minute we got to Rwanda, I felt more comfortable than I expected. Everyone we met was so welcoming. It seemed that every restaurant, hostel, and organization we visited started by telling us how welcome we were. It also helped that our group was great. Everyone was flexible and willing to take things as they came. One thing that I really appreciated was that we were all willing to share what we had, making it easier to experience everything possible and to be safe and happy. Another thing that made me feel so welcome and secure in Rwanda was our wonderful tour guide Yvan. He answered every question we had, made sure we got a chance to experience everything that we could, and went above and beyond to make sure we were having a good time and saying safe.

Another reason the trip way so great was the amazing things we did. Gorilla trekking was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I will remember forever. The safari showed me a new way to appreciate animals and has made me reconsider how I see zoos. The canopy walk offered amazing views and pushed me to do something that was a little scary. All of these amazing excursions showed me different environments and wildlife in different parts of Rwanda and were a great way to break from the heaviness of our study of genocide and reconciliation. 

Finally, the academic piece of this study abroad was incredibly eye opening. The memorial sites offered new information about the genocide and different perspectives and stories to tell about it. Visiting the reconciliation villages and various NGOs and nonprofits offered a view of the amazing work being done today and gave an overwhelming sense of hope. Everywhere we went I got the sense that people were doing everything in their power to make Rwanda their home again and to improve the country for the future. With this, I felt that most people we met with wanted us to share with the world what we had experienced, to tell others that Rwanda is recovering and has so much to offer the world. Going to the PIASS workshop confirmed this. The students we met were incredibly welcoming and most were focusing their studies on peace and conflict studies. In that room, there was a great sense of hope for the future and an obvious desire to fix problems they saw in their countries.

I will never forget the experiences I had, the people I met and the things I saw on this trip. I still can’t believe I got this opportunity and hope that Hamline students in the future will be able to find their own adventures all over the world to broaden their perspectives and give them a new view of different areas of the world. Thank you so much Professor Embser-Herbert and Caroline Hilk for making this possible, keeping us safe, and for being so amazing!

Miss you already

We've been home for two days now and even though our trip is over I still thought I would make one last blog. Since we have been home I have enjoyed seeing my friends and family but it has also been hard to be back. I was watching a movie with my little sister yesterday afternoon and one of the scenes a man dies, his flesh melts away, and all that is left of him were his bones. I found myself feeling very scared, sad, and having flash backs to some of the memorials we seen in Rwanda. I sat there in silence and didn't express to my family what I was mentally going through. Not because they wouldn't listen but because some of the things we seen at the various memorials are very hard to put into words. As a group we had multiple conversations regarding how do we begin to explain what we learned or experienced on our journey. We talked about how it is hard to explain everything we experienced due to these encounters being very emotional and hard to grasp.

Another experience I had yesterday included one of my friends telling me how my trip looked so exciting and fun because we got to see the gorillas, but what people forget to remember was yes those were fun and exciting things to do but that was not our main purpose we learned and experienced so much more. It is not her fault because those were the only images she had seen me post on social media. I encourage others to remember there were lots of things we experienced that we did not post images of for the respect of viewers and the families that lost friends and family members buried in the various memorials. I encourage our family and friends to understand it may take some time for us to process what we learned and experienced on this trip and it is hard to talk about but to remember that ever single experience we had enriched our learning every step of the way and I will never regret any of the experiences we had.

I am very thankful for each and every one of my peers that was on this trip. Every single person on our trip brought their own personality and added to an amazing experience. I enjoyed the fact that no matter what we were experiencing happy or sad times we always supported each other. I also want to say thank you to Professor Embser-Herbert and Caroline for being our fearless leaders and supporting us throughout this entire trip. I miss you all so much it has been weird waking up and not having breakfast together. 


All Good Things Must Come to an End

Today is our last day in Amsterdam and the last day of our trip. There are a lot of mixed emotions within the group. I think that many of us are sad that our adventures are coming to an end, but also ready to get home to our friends and family.

This morning we had the opportunity to visit the Anne Frank House and Museum, which I think was the perfect way to wrap up our trip. Walking through the secret annex was a really humbling and powerful experience. I can't imagine spending two years in a cramped canal house, forced to be quiet and stay indoors while also living in constant fear of being discovered. Hearing about the terrors of the Holocaust from the eyes of a young, innocent (and incredibly insightful) girl puts this unthinkable period of history into a new perspective.

While visiting the home of Anne Frank is powerful is moving in its own right, being able to experience it after spending two weeks learning about the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi gives the experience a whole new meaning. It's very easy for society to brand genocide as a one time tragedy, never to happen again. However, genocide continues to occur, not just once but multiple times throughout history. I have been having a hard time understanding how we continue to allow genocide to happen. History is supposed to be about learning from our mistakes, but instead we see them repeated over and over again.

Visiting the Anne Frank House today was also incredibly meaningful because of the recent events in Orlando. On the way to the house, we passed the "Homomonument,"a monument dedicated to members of the LGBT community. The monument was still decorated with hundreds of flowers, candles, and notes from a vigil that had taken place the night before. While we like to pretend that such unspeakable acts of violence are a thing of the past, seeing the vigil before visiting the Anne Frank House was a reminder that our world is still full of fear and hate. It's hard not to be overwhelmed by all of the evil that is around us, but if this trip has taught me anything, it's that hope and healing are incredibly powerful forces. The power of the human spirit to rally and find hope, love and forgiveness after experiencing tragedy is both perplexing and beautiful.

Adventures in Amsterdam

Today was ours to explore Amsterdam! In the morning we went on a canal tour to see the history of this wonderful city! Looking at all the canals and the beautiful architecture around me started my day off right. After that we were in our own and our group first went to get lunch. Of course I went the American way and got a hamburger. I have to say, America doesn't have a hamburger like this! It was super fresh with the fresh lettuce that they call rocket, and the onions had a sweet jam on them. On the side they had very good fries a lot with aioli sauce. After a wonderful lunch, our group went to the Vincent Van Gogh museum. This was the museum that I had been wanting to visit the entire trip and the museum certainly met my expectations! Each floor told the story of Vincent's life seeing his life's work and work that gave him inspiration. It was a wonderful day in the city of Amsterdam and I'm so sad that we have to leave soon.


Azizi Life!

Today we drove to Muhanga which is the third largest city in Rwanda. We visited an organization called Azizi Life. Azizi is a Swahili word that translates to excellent. Azizi Life was founded with the aim of honoring the work of local Rwandan artists and by helping them sell their art, they are able to take care of their families. At the Azizi Life office, we given a brief introduction of how the organization started and the many projects it engages in to lift Rwandan women out of poverty. The women form cooperatives in which they carry out various art activities like basket weaving.

After the briefing, we split into two groups and each group got to spend the day with a family and take part in its daily activities. Like a typical Rwandan family, we started by preparing the meal to be shared after doing all the housework. As the meal was cooking, we went to the garden and helped with weeding. Before leaving the garden we cut grass to feed the cows. In the field, we learned how to make crowns out of banana leaves which helped balance the grass we carried on our head. We also walked to the stream to fetch water. The walk to the stream was pretty long and each person carried a 5 liter jerrycan. The women at the house told us that depending on the activities of the day, people walk to the stream two to three times a day. 

We shared a meal with the families and we all gathered at one house to play games, dance, and learn how to make bracelets. The people we worked with today were amazing, I was glad they shared with us pieces of their lives. Overall, the day was really great. It is not often that one gets to experience a day outside their own, I'm glad today was a day of a number of firsts for the group!