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Saturday, June 15
The Indiana Daily Student

arts travel

Columnist prepares for semester in Rwanda

When I told friends and family that I would be traveling to Rwanda for an entire semester, I got two typical responses.

One: “Oh, are you going on a mission trip?”

Two: “Oh my God, don’t die!”

Even the woman who checked my bag said, “Rwanda? That’s different.”

First of all, although many African countries face poverty, disease and underdevelopment, there’s a fine line between acknowledging economic, social and political problems in Africa and looking at the positive aspects and the humanity.

At first, it bothered me quite a bit that people acted as if choosing to go to Rwanda over a more glamorous location was a great personal sacrifice on my part. A volunteer trip. A mission trip of sorts.

I never knew how to explain to people why I am going because I didn’t think I had to. To me, it was obvious.

When else was I going to get a chance to live in Africa for three and a half months?

When would I get to learn about a significant historical event — the 1994 genocide — from the people who lived it?

When would I get to visit a Ugandan refugee camp or live with a homestay family from a completely different culture?

Maybe I should have realized that this isn’t everyone’s idea of a dream trip. And that’s okay.

I just wished people could look at Rwanda and all African countries as real places. Not charity cases.

The charity cases of Africa the media overwhelms us with are, I think, where the “don’t die” sentiment comes from.

All in all, it’s a legitimate concern for anyone going to a foreign country, where customs are different and Americans often stand out as targets.

But it’s still a little disconcerting when people ask, “Aren’t you afraid of dying?”

Unfortunately, we tend to think of this very large, diverse continent as a singular being. That is a dangerous perspective.

It dehumanizes people in Africa and makes us ignorant of a beautiful array of cultures.

Rwanda will be different from America. No doubt. But Africa is more than just a place people go to on mission trips.

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