Caitlin O’Donnell, ’16, Reporting from Kigali, Rwanda
This semester, Innovate@BCSW is following the experiences of four BC Social Work students who have embarked on international field education placements in Latin America, Europe, and Africa. Stay tuned during the spring for ongoing updates through student-crafted blog posts, video diaries, and photography.
Blog 1: The Arrival
By Caitlin O’Donnell
It’s about ten o’clock on my first day in the office, I’ve been here for just two hours, and it’s already been a full day: I’ve been introduced to everyone. I’ve been oriented to the materials I need to read about the programs running in Rwanda. I’ve sat with human resources and set up my new email account. I’ve filled out forms for my long-term student visa. I can’t remember what anybody’s name is. I am seriously jetlagged. Is that French or Kinyarwanda they’re speaking? Will I know how to get home from here at the end of the day? Did I remember to write my family to tell them I arrived last night?
I am in the middle of an email to my parents when the woman from HR invites me into the conference room. Not for a meeting, surprisingly, but for tea.
Apparently tea break is a thing around here, every day, for all employees, at all places of business and even some schools. In the Catholic Relief Services office, everyone just gets up from their desks at ten o’clock and we congregate in the conference room where a few urns of tea and coffee are waiting. We talk, we check in, I try to remember even a single name in this whole crowd of my coworkers. It’s a lovely time.
It’s true, I am overwhelmed by so much here in Rwanda on this first day, and I am dizzy with questions and the seven-hour time difference. And yes, my suitcases haven’t been unpacked, my parents might think I’ve been lost to the Atlantic Ocean, and I have no money in the local currency yet. But I feel at ease as someone hands me a mug and gestures to the tea. I receive several pats on the back as I take my first sips, and I am welcomed over and over again by coworkers clutching their own mugs. They ask me about my journey, about the languages I know, about my previous experience in Africa, about my thoughts on Rwanda so far.
I think about Rwanda, and I think I’ll be challenged by my time here, I’ll be confused and bewildered, uncertain and uneasy. But after tea break today, that doesn’t bother me so much. However this semester unfolds, I’ll have good company, and apparently we’ll all have tea, too.