The University of Iowa

Person to person

March 1st, 2017

Rwanda; The Land of a Thousand Hills

Many people travel abroad with expectations of experiencing a way of life that is incredibly different from what they consider “normal”. While in Rwanda, every day presents a new reminder that I am not in America. And this is what I want, this is why I travel- to learn about and accept differences across the globe. However, I have also discovered when it comes down to the wire, people are people and we have much more in common than I’d realized.

Cultural Differences:

Running on Rwandan Time: In America, if we have an appointment at 3:00, we will be there at 2:45. In Rwanda, the motto is “it happens when it happens”. I have not seen a bus schedule- I just wait until one shows up. Lunch could be anywhere from 12-4 pm. It’s been hard to just breathe and go with the flow. America is not a ‘flow’ type of country.

Little to No Waste: On garbage day in America, each home has a bin of trash at the curb. Here, trash is wrappers. And given that packaged food isn’t really a thing here, we’re talking maybe 3-5 wrappers a week. A week. Also, plastic bags are banned in Rwanda and I think that is wonderful.

Optional Traffic Lanes: Every day, I feel like I see three cars where two are meant to be. People zip around on motos like it’s a game of tag. Crosswalks are either optional or nonexistent.

Cultural Similarities:

Curiosity: As part of my program, we met with other college undergraduates at the University of Rwanda-Butare. We asked each other about life and I realized that, despite growing up on opposite sides of the globe, we’re all just 20-year-olds trying to figure out the world around us. I’ve kept in contact with the student I was paired with and he’s been teaching me Turkish phrases, I’ve taught him some Spanish, and we’ve discussed Buddhism, compared elementary schools, and exchanged book recommendations. Learning is the spice of life, no matter where you’re from.A Smile Goes a Long Way: When it comes down to the basics, people are people and- for the most part- we all just want to get along. I get lost at least 3 times a day and every time, there is a friendly bystander willing to lend a hand. Even though we don’t speak the same language, as cheesy as it sounds, a smile is universal.

A Love for Carbs: Bread, potatoes, and pasta. I have yet to see a meal that does not involve at least one of these options. Although America tends to lean more towards sweet breads and Rwanda sways towards anything and everything involving potatoes, the idea is the same: a meal without carbs is a sad state of events.

In class, we were taught the phrase, icyo dupfana kiruta icyo dupfa: what we have in common is more important than what makes us different. When I got on a plane to Rwanda, the last thing I expected to find was similarities but, over my three weeks here, I have realized that just because we’re separated by the Atlantic Ocean and Sahara Desert doesn’t mean there’s no common ground. People are people. It is important to recognize and respect what makes cultures unique but it is also important to appreciate what ties us together. Icyo dupfana kiruta icyo dupfa.

*Danielle Marvin is a sophomore at the University of Iowa studying psychology and social work. Originally from Dewitt, IA, she will be spending her semester in Rwanda on the SIT Post-Genocide Restoration and Peacebuilding program.

Student blog entries posted to this International Accents page may not reflect the opinions and recommendations of UI Study Abroad and International Programs. The blog is intended to give students a forum for free expression of thoughts and experiences abroad in a respectful space.