The University of Iowa


January 19th, 2017

By Danielle Marvin*

Nothing beats a sky-high sunrise surprise. 

Things to Know Before You Go

Emotional maturity is listed as a pre-req for my Rwanda-based program and, considering I’ll be studying the aftermath of a genocide that took 800,000 victims in 100 days, it isn’t hard to see why. Many people express concern when I tell them where I’m going, but, to put things in perspective, Chicago’s current murder rate is nearly 5 times that of Kigali. Africa has been portrayed in American media as a desolate continent, barely surviving on the cusps of the world. By living there for 4 months, I want to build an opinion of Africa that is built on…Africa; as it is, not as I’ve been taught to see it. To do that, however, involves more than just hopping on a plane and wishing for the best. After spending 3 months in Korea last summer, I have compiled my “Top 3 Must-Do’s” that I have found helpful in the past and will use for this trip to Rwanda, my upcoming summer in Sicily, and any other overseas adventures I find myself on:

Watch Your Language:

The only option is to become completely fluent in the native language, so you’d better get started. Just kidding. This is entirely laughable. However, learning a few basic phrases is an absolute must. Hello, goodbye, thank you…these are the only phrases I knew in Korean (besides a nursery rhyme which I actually used more than I thought I would...) and even this 3-phrase repertoire showed respect for their culture and that I wasn’t another hoity-toity American who expected the world to cater to my monolingual needs. A simple “hello” can go a long way in forming new friendships and showing people that you genuinely care about their way of life.

A hop, skip and a jump away from adventure.

Make Use of Your Unused Brain Cells:

To travel uneducated is comparable to walking into a calculus class without taking algebra 1. Don’t be that guy. Before boarding a plane, take a few hours to learn a bit about your destination. For Korea, I think I clicked on every Google hit for at least 5 pages. Did you know that there’s a festival, appropriately called Mudfest, where people wrestle in mud in the name of skincare? Neither did I, until I Googled it. Rwanda has been a heavier matter to take in, but my exploration has given me an appreciation of their culture that I wouldn’t have otherwise developed. So please, don’t be that guy in calculus, staring around, utterly clueless.

Pack With Caution:

As tempting as it is to throw everything you own into a suitcase, DON’T. Odds are that you’ll buy clothing once you get there and, really, no one is going to care if you wear the same thing more than once. My recommendation? Ten days worth of mix-and-matchable attire ranging from bummy gym-wear to business casual. You’ll make it.

Although your destination may not have all the amenities you’re used to as an American, the important thing to remember is you’re not in America. Experience new things, get a little uncomfortable, and create memories that you’ll smile or laugh or cry upon for the next decade. Trust yourself, be smart, and have a wonderful trip.

*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.