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There is so much a blog can never tell you. Even if I were to sit with you in Panera Bread and tell you the entire thing, taking four hours and losing my voice and being kicked out by the staff at 9pm for closing (as one of my friends made me do), I could never fully make you understand. Maybe this is true for any experience. This is something one has to understand, and especially after an abroad experience. Especially after an abroad experience in Rwanda.

I wish you could have felt both the fear and exhilaration of taking a moto, racing past the stars and hills in Kigali. I wish I could I introduce you to the friends I made, to my host family, to Miguel and Ganza, who would hide behind their mother’s legs due to shyness. I wish it were mandatory for all people to go to the genocide memorials and not just see the past, but feel it, feel it in their gut and let it break them. I wish I could say things like, “ntakibazo” and “amatunda” without people asking me to explain, (ntakibazo is ‘no problem’ and amatunda is ‘passion fruit’ in Kinyarwanda). I wish people wouldn’t look at me with so much sympathy when I tell them our house rarely had running water or that I lived on a dirt road.

Being home is hard. It’s hard because some people want (like my friend in Panera) to know every single detail, and other people just want me to get on with my life. One of the hardest questions is, “How was Africa?!?” Well-meaning, but overwhelming and infuriating all at once. I can’t speak for a continent, nor can I speak for an entire country. I can only tell you about my personal experience in Rwanda. It began with living with my host family and going to school and ended with interning at an NGO and living in a house with eight of my classmates. It was a semester of standing out as “muzungu” everywhere I went, a semester of taking two small van-buses home from school, making a ten-minute drive a two-hour commute. It was a semester of living in a society built upon a tragic and horrific past and watching that society reconcile itself. It was a semester of learning something so much more than me or anything I could ever imagine.

Now that it’s over, I don’t know how to maintain the changes in me without being angry with American society, which isn’t fair to anyone. I can’t be angry with people for not sharing my experience and for not understanding it and in some cases, not wanting to. Upon my return, I’ve had to learn that this experience can live within me, and I can be changed, but I can still be the person I was before. What I want for the future has never been clearer, and there is not a doubt in my mind I will return to Kigali. That’s the thing about study abroad; yes you learn more than you could ever fathom, but you also build another life, another home elsewhere. That home can exist within you forever and can always be revisited.

By anuhyabobba

As soon as my program finished, I traveled for another month. For the first three weeks, I visited Patagonia -- the southern parts of Chile and Argentina. It had been the first time I traveled alone, and after my time in Buenos Aires had come to an end, it was exactly what I needed to recollect my thoughts and center myself. Starting from Santiago, my journey ended in the southernmost city of the world of Ushuaia. It brought me to the beautiful town of San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina, where I biked 25 kilometers through some of the most breathtaking views of sapphire and emerald toned lakes and snow capped mountains backdrop. I swam in a glacier lake, which was fun but horribly freezing as one could gather. I also trekked on a glacier -- the Perito Moreno glacier to be exact. I made camp in the windiest town I have ever visited -- El Chaltén. If you have seen the logo for the Patagonia outdoors brand, that rugged mountain silhouette found inspiration from Mt. Fitz Roy and the surrounding peaks in El Chaltén. Mt. Fitz Roy, the highest of the peaks, would be hidden by clouds and when it did come out, it was stunning. I went next to Torres del Paine National Park, which is the place I most connected with during this journey. The Torres range and Lake Pehoé set the background for the campsite, and weather had been on our side the five days I was there. The last day up to the iconic Torres peaks was the most memorable. It first brought me through a forest that had this perfect symbiosis, and then to the most grueling part -- a 1000 foot ascension in the matter of a kilometer. This meant just direct uphill, and my knee had given out a day ago. The reason I wanted to visit Patagonia though was for the Torres peaks and so despite being in pain, I made it. I immediately collapsed on the ground, leaning against a rock that directly faced the peaks -- this moment brought incomparable peace to me.

I headed then to Ushuaia, where I only had a few hours. I remember the sun shining in those hours, even though the city usually sees only rain. I got my passport stamped to say that I had been in Ushuaia and went to the airport to catch my flight to Buenos Aires -- where I had seven hours from midnight to seven in the morning to gather my luggage from my host mom's and say my final bye to the city (for now). I flew into AEP, the inner city airport, and the runway and where the flight landed was a few miles to the right of Plaza Intendente Alvear, which was a block away from where I lived and which held an overwhelming feeling of comfort for me. The taxi ride to my host mom's went through all the places that held the sweetest memories of the adventures my friends and I had embarked on, and I started to tear up because it was a perfect way of saying this final bye to Buenos Aires.

My next week was in Peru, where my best friend joined me to go to Machu Picchu. We traveled to Lima and Cusco, where we largely explored on our own. When we went to Machu Picchu, it was early morning, or a time where there are a lot of tourists. We went down for an early lunch, and we revisited the site toward the late afternoon where there was barely a soul. In the absence of so many people, the site had this eerie but breathtaking vibe to it. I loved being there, and that too being able to share the moment with a person I hold so close to me. It had been the best ending to my time in South America.

I sadly returned home with a sprained ankle, but the healing period has allowed me time to reflect on studying abroad. Because I had the talk of adjusting back to being in DC in Buenos Aires, I am prepared but I also understand as Robert Frost said, "The best way out is always through."  I will experience this readjustment day by day, and through doing that, I will be gentle to myself and reach out to my support system when I do need the help.

Thank you to everyone who has read my posts for following this five month journey of mine! Hope you all have a beautiful new year ahead.

By rosessupposes

This semester has been... eventful. So many new experiences, with travel, food, people, customs... And now, I'm home again, back in my tiny Massachusetts hometown- it's a far cry from Dakar, the bustling capital of Senegal. But I've only been home about 5 days, and it's still hard to truly process how this experience may have changed me (besides the henna that's still on my hands).

I believe it will take a lot more time and probably re-entry into the GW school & social environment to really conceptualize what about my outlook on the world has changed. So, to finish off this blog, I'll talk about what I can understand at this point.

What I'm Glad to Leave Behind:

  • Bathrooms with only sometimes-working water and no toilet paper
  • Eating red meat almost every single day
  • More frequent street harassment and marriage proposals
  • Not being able to understand the Wolof or Pulaar conversations around me
  • Lack of washing machines, dryers, or dishwashers
  • Weekly power outages
  • The neighborhood chorus of obnoxious sheep and goats
  • Street cats and dogs

What I'm Going to Miss (or am missing already)

  • My little host brother Mohammed and his toy cars
  • Cafe Touba in the street for 10 US cents
  • Haggling with taxis and in markets
  • Tailored clothes from the fabrics you chose yourself
  • Speaking French and hearing myself improve
  • Ataaya with the Ouakam kids
  • The balmy temperatures of winter in Dakar

What I Am Bringing Home

  • Two bags of Cafe Touba that I'm learning to brew myself
  • 'Wax' fabric for my mum and bracelets for my friends
  • Huge Senegalese flag for my dorm room
  • Much more functional French vocabulary and ability
  • Better appreciation of my privileges here (especially technological)
  • Improved awareness of strong and weak sectors of development in Senegal and similar countries
  • Experiences of living in a part of the world that most of America knows little-to-nothing about

By clairemac93

I woke up this morning in the bed of my best friend, in the city of Washington. I proceeded to lie there and stare at the wall, while slowly separating my eye lids which were stuck together because I had slept so hard that I basically fused my eyelashes together. “Where am I?” I wondered. “How did I get here?”

After 25 hours in transit, I had a right to be both physically and mentally confused of where in time and space I was. Yesterday, or rather two days ago, was my last day in Stellenbosch. With many of my friends and fellow students already well past finished with exams, I was one of few remaining to write for my departments. It meant a lot of scattered goodbyes, a quiet campus, and trying to process leaving while at the same time focusing on the (seemingly) 1 billion equations and graphs I needed to be memorizing for exams. I felt like I was running out of brain space for so many puzzling concepts. Having then only finished my semester on Wednesday evening, I spent my few free days afterwards sort of bumbling around town, unsure what act would solidify or best end my time there, while at the same time keeping in mind that after a year in a small town- it was more the people I would miss than things in the town itself. In the end, my last day was perfect in its simplicity. I went to breakfast with my best friend’s family, who have acted as a pseudo-host family all year and have given me a steady dose of Afrikaans language and culture since the beginning (perfectly summarized in their goodbye gifts which consisted of my own potjiekos pot and lifetime supply of rusk). I then spent the day at an organic farm exploring, in the striking heat that was hinting of summer being just around the corner.

Cue then to arriving in Washington. After making the pivotal mistake of admitting to having brought with me produce from the African continent, I lost what seemed like several years of my life to customs at Dulles airport. I started to envision that I would have a movie made after my experience called The Terminal 2. Once freed from the grasps of airport personnel, I finally took my first new steps into the United States. The sky looked exactly like what I remember a November sky looks like- bulbous and cloudy with every shade of gray included and a dull light seeping through. But aside from the sky, everything else in the city looked familiar in the most foreign way, as if I was visiting for the first time again. As if I didn’t identify with these streets anymore. As if the paths I had hammered into these sidewalks had slowly molded to someone else’s while I was away.

Spending the evening with close friends of mine, I realized that a lot of work will be involved to identify the spot where this “new me” fits back in here. Work at NGOs? Internships? Applications for scholarships? Homemade beer kits? Brunch? $20 for a meal at a burger joint? What are these things? What do I talk about? Where is the intersection between what I want to say and family and friends care to hear?

And so the process begins. I know people will tell me that I have done this before (Germany 2009-2010), and that I can do this again. And they’re right. However, it’s hard to accept that when looking at the daunting idea of condensing and packing away a year of your life into a digestible portion of your personality and then moving on from it. But I have to remember that this, this coming home deal, is also a part of my South African adventure as much as any other part. It is the part where I challenge what I truly learned there, what parts I want to keep and discard, what parts taught me lessons and which just happened and I’ll have to accept.

Updates to come later.

By bevvy2212

This upcoming week is going to be rough, seeing as how most of my finals and papers are due this week so here are a few tips for you future youngsters to avoid being snowed under seven feet of work, like me.

1. Time management. Ok, I exaggerated in the previous sentence. I do have a lot of work due this week but since I'm a little bit of a control freak so I had everything sort of planned out ahead of time. That's the key: keep a planner/calender. I don't think I need to stress the importance of having a planner as you are all probably used to doing that back at GW. The thing is, the last week here at Sciences Po generally contain some make-up class periods. Some time during the semester, if your professor had decided to cancel class, they will generally be made up during this week and the schedule does get a bit hectic because depending on the time and availability of the rooms, your make-up class might not be at the same time/room as your normal class period. So keeping a planner will definitely help you keep track of what's due on what day.

2. Some classes will have their finals during the last week of classes. Actually I think most electives and seminars do. (Hence the importance of having a planner and knowing when your classes are during this week) But the lectures usually have exams during a designated week after classes are done, kind of similar to GW. So bear that in mind when making travel plans.

3. The second half of November, starting December is generally hell-ish for a lot of the students here at Sciences Po. Exchange students generally take a lot less classes than those who are actually enrolled in the school. I have quite a number of friends who are doing their Masters at ScPo and their schedule is just, overwhelming. Whereas I am only taking six classes, they usually take up to 10 or 12. So when they say they really don't have time, it really is, because they are dying from all the work, not because they don't like you. Which brings me to my fourth point:

4. If you can, stay a little bit after your semester is done in Paris, catch up with friends who are too busy to meet up with you during finals weeks or do the things that you haven't done yet in Paris. I regret not doing as much as I could back in September/ October when I still had a lot of free time on my hands. I always thought, oh I'll have time for that later when the tourist season thins out but now I only have a week left and I have all these things on my bucket list that I have yet to cross off.

Final rant: for as much as I've complained about Paris through my #dailyrant statuses on Facebook, it is very depressing to be leaving Paris in like, a week. Especially with all the Christmas lights up and going. Paris truly is magical.

By mcbitter

It seems like just yesterday that I was writing my very first blog post - it's hard to believe that this is my last! My classes are wrapping up this week, as are my final exams, so soon I'll be leaving this wonderful city and heading back to the States. In a way, I'm ready to go home, but it's really bittersweet because I'm not sure when I'll be back. (I know I will at some point, though!) Before I leave, I'm making sure to check off a few last things that I didn't get around to visiting, like the Catacombs (which I hear are AMAZING) and an exhibition of American photographer Garry Winogrand. Overall though, while I didn't have the chance to visit every corner of the city (it is definitely too big for that), I think I've gained a thorough understanding of Paris, which became my primary goal throughout this trip.

What am I going to do once I'm back in the States? First thing on the list - after getting over my jet lag, that is - is to visit my friends and family. They've been a huge source of support right from the beginning, especially when I was homesick. Speaking from experience, homesickness abroad was a real issue for me, and it was a different animal than the kind I experienced when I first got to GW because of the time difference and not seeing family midway through at Thanksgiving or parent's weekend. All I can say is that I am eternally grateful for Skype! Also, speaking of homesickness, I will most definitely be paying a visit to two very important parts of my heart: Chipotle and Target. (Yes, I went there.) It might sound silly, but those are definitely the American things I've missed the most while I've been here. No Mexican restaurant or French store could replace either of them!

I've realized that I'm really glad that I decided to study abroad in the fall because I get to come home to the holiday season in full swing. Christmas and New Year's are bound to be amazing in Paris, but being with my friends and family is what's most important to me. Overall though, coming here for study abroad has given me incredible opportunities, and I won't soon forget that. I traveled to numerous places, including Ireland, the Czech Republic, Belgium, and different regions within France. I got to improve my French and see how French people live on a daily basis, especially when I began babysitting a little Parisian girl on some weeknights. I've made a lot of new friends from all over the world, most importantly the GW and Sciences Po students with whom I've spent the last few months. Most important, though, is that I really and truly learned a lot about myself. I know that everyone says something along those lines, but it really is true. Studying abroad has been probably the biggest challenge I've ever faced; some days were really hard, to be completely honest, but others were simply amazing. Looking back, I'm really proud of myself for taking advantage of this incredible opportunity and will definitely carry it with me for the rest of my life. So, yes, it's been a crazy ride - thanks for coming along with me!

By kcampbell94

During the month of November, most of us moved out from our host families’ homes and moved into our own house to do our ISP (independent study project). Eight of us moved into a house in Kimironko, very close to a well-known restaurant called, New Hello’s Corner. Four of our other classmates lived down the street, and the remaining three chose to remain living in their homestays. The ISP time is usually used to do research. Usually, one chooses a research questions and then interviews many people who are familiar with that area. Some of the things my classmates researched are as follows:

  • PTSD treatment in Rwanda (or lack thereof)
  • Gender based violence in post-genocide society
  • Art therapy as a coping mechanism for genocide survivors
  • Ethnic identity

Since my arrival, I had known that I wanted to get involved in an NGO here. Originally, I had planned on doing a case study, comparing a few different NGOs in Rwanda. My academic advisor, however, told me that it would be a better idea to pick just one. Somehow, this quickly spiraled into me finding Never Again Rwanda, or NAR. Its focus is exactly that which its name tells you: to reconcile Rwanda and prevent genocide from ever reoccurring. Their goals are sustainable peace and an empowered youth. I ended up securing an internship with NAR for three weeks, eight am to five pm every day. Immersing myself in the work place here was an entirely new experience. It was difficult at times with cultural differences, but I ended up getting very close with my coworkers, which of course, was making my quickly dwindling time here harder and harder to accept. With NAR, I went on many excursions such as high school debates about unemployment, debates about early pregnancy, and a mobile exhibition. In the end, I wrote my ISP as more of an internship report, discussing the incredible success of this organization.

With my leaving on December 7th, I have less than a week left of this experience. It’s unfathomable. It has undoubtedly been the smartest decision of my life. To wrap up this post, I’d like to list some of the highlights, or peaks, if you will.

  • Our Thanksgiving (comprised of going to Kieran’s home stay family’s house to feast and then watch The Lion King 1 and a Half and later having a dinner together completed with Pringles, Nutella, and pasta)
  • My revisiting of my home stay family one Sunday afternoon, where I met my extended “family” and resumed card playing with my host brothers
  • Going to different art exhibits with two of my NAR coworkers to see how we should set up our mobile exhibition
  • A trip back to Butare with Kat to attend the mobile exhibition, full of adventures, split Chinese food, and Rwandan ice cream
  • Halloween, when we had dinner at my homestay and then had a Halloween party at our new house with our Rwandan friends

With these memories, the friends, and the immense knowledge I have gained, I find myself on the daily asking, “How can I leave? How can I possibly leave?”

By anuhyabobba

When I first landed in Buenos Aires, we were asked to meet outside the arrivals gate to meet with program officials and other students. We were then assigned a partner to share a cab with, as we headed to meet our host families. I had two large suitcases and a carry on, and when we walked outside to the cab, the driver became furious at the amount of luggage I had. He started arguing that his car was too small (it was not) and wanted to be paid more, and I stared blankly. I spoke no Spanish, and all I could do was exactly that -- stare blankly ahead. Thankfully, my cab partner communicated for me and settled the issue. It was a small moment, but it was also when it finally hit me that I was in a country where my ability to communicate was nonexistent. I felt so deeply out of place, and for the rest of the cab ride, I remained silent. I entered my home stay to be greeted by my host mom who spoke minimal English. The first three weeks of living in Argentina was characterized by a lot of head nodding to sentences I could not understand and being heavily dependent on others to communicate for me.

After I started to align with the pace of my Spanish classes, I began to pick up on the language tremendously. I now not can speak Spanish well, I can understand it also for the most part. This improvement was one I did not see coming, and one I am all too thankful for. Because when I had my ability to communicate removed, I became highly self reliant to do daily actions and have become very grateful for the newfound independence. My program is set to end next week, so I have been thinking a lot about the areas I have grown in.

But, I also have to come to terms with leaving. I have made Buenos Aires my home, and to return to the United States will be a strange type of readjustment -- adjusting to a place that is already so familiar! Granted I have travels planned out after the program ends, this discussion of coming back is nonetheless a difficult but also a healthy one to have. I am so grateful to have met the people I did and for the experiences I went through to be at the place of comfort and peace I am at now, but I miss so much my family, my friends, and my life at GW. With no doubt, I will be returning to a different environment, one which I left for four months. I will be returning to people who have in these four months have changed like I have. Being here and witnessing change daily has helped in not fearing it and rather to embracing it fully.

All I can say is that I am happy to be here and I am happy to be coming home. Thank you also to Buenos Aires for being so sweet to me this semester.

By rbhargava

I've got about 10 minutes left in Stellenbosch before I head out on a 19 day trip through South Africa and Zimbabwe, ending at Victoria Falls on the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia. The past few days have been extremely hectic between saying bye to friends, planning my trip, packing, and trying to fit in last minute hikes/trips/activities that I haven't had the chance to do before. Even though I've been done with all my classes for over a week now, I've probably felt busier the past few days than ever before. In a few minutes I'll be taking an overnight bus to Port Elizabeth, from where I'll be traveling with various groups of friends through the Wild Coast to Durban. From Durban I'll be taking a bus to Joburg and meeting with another group of friends. From Joburg, I'll be taking a stop in Polokwane in the northeastern part of South Africa before quickly traveling through Zimbabwe, crossing over the border into Zambia and then flying back to Cape Town for one final night at Stellenbosch. On the 20th I'll finally be heading back home. Quite the itinerary!! I'm not sure how much internet connect I'll have, and more importantly computer access (I'm not bringing my laptop), but I hope to have at least one blog post along the way. Looking forward to sharing some absolutely amazing stories in my next blog! Until then, although it is extremely bittersweet to be leaving Stellenbosch, I'm excited for the last leg of my memorable time studying abroad!

By rbhargava

Earlier this week I realized all my classes will be complete by October 24th, which is unfortunately in only 12 days. Two more weeks of class and I’ll be done with my studies here at Stellenbosch. I’ll still be in the area traveling around until November 20th, but the close proximity of the end of classes means many goodbyes are soon to come, which deeply saddens me. I’m hoping the next two weeks of class will be the best yet, although they will probably be the busiest too.
Besides coming to terms that my time here is almost over, I had another excellent week highlighted by a Saturday drive around the Cape Peninsula, which included my third time going to Cape Point and my fourth time going through Simonstown. I’ve now visited Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope more than most local students here, but I’ve enjoyed every trip there. This time, I went there with the same friends I went with on my spring break trip (with one person swapped). Thus the day trip reminded me much of our trip in early September, which feels like it was only yesterday. As the navigator for the day, I was pleasantly surprised by how well I have come to know the roads and regions in the area. More than ever before I feel comfortable here in Stellenbosch and have realized I’ve become more knowledgeable of many of the big attractions in the area than many South Africans who take these places for granted…just like any local would. I’ve been so lucky to have had such an opportunity to get to know the Western Cape so well, and am really hoping now to come back some day…possibly for a Masters degree or even a job.
Speaking of feeling at home, I’ve been lucky enough to make some amazing friends here, including an English South African who lives just outside Cape Town in a suburb called Claremont. After going around the peninsula, I went to her house along with another American friend for her 21st birthday party. The party was Under the Sea themed, and her house was beautifully decorated to fit the theme. I went with a pirate hat and an eye-patch, and over the course of the night got to meet many of her friends from both high school and Stellenbosch, as well as many of her relatives. It was a fantastic party, and in the end I really felt like I was a part of the community and everyday life here. From hearing stories and following along with friends who have been and are currently abroad, it seems like many never really go past being long-term tourists and connect with their host country at a deeper level. I’ve been very fortunate to have made such amazing friends who are from South Africa and have connected with South Africa so much so that I often forget that I’m only here for a small period of time. Study abroad by definition is a very temporary experience, but my goal is to come away with new perspectives as well as long-lasting friendships a relationships. As my trip comes to an end, I am starting to anticipate the challenges of going back home and retaining those perspectives and friendships while life moves on.