Post Cards from Rwanda: A Four-Part Blog Series about Social Innovation and Education

        Paula Cordeiro

Hello GlobalEd Readers,

Next week ten graduate students from the Kroc School of Peace Studies at the University of San Diego (USD) and I will be leaving for Rwanda. This is the first of four blogs that will describe a curated global learning experience for our students. In an earlier blog I briefly discussed the research that argues that short term global professional development experiences—such as these two weeks in Rwanda—if carefully structured, can increase intercultural competence.

In 2005 while dean in USD’s School of Leadership and Education Sciences (SOLES), we created a policy that all students were required to complete a global learning experience in order to graduate. Over the years, our university has vastly expanded their global course offerings and today SOLES annually offers fifteen courses throughout the world. I wanted USD’s Kroc School students to have these opportunities as well, so I will be curating their learning experiences in Rwanda. Additionally, following the trip, several students will blog about their perspectives of this learning journey.

Why Encourage Students to Have Global Learning Experiences?

My main reason for taking students to visit locations outside our campus is because these experiences help to create cognitive dissonance. Paulo Freire’s ideas have greatly influenced many of us in education.[1] He talked about being critically conscious—learning to perceive the social, political and economic contradictions around us, and then to take action against the oppressive elements of those contradictions. He believed that social change emerges from raising social consciousness. I believe affording educators and students global learning experiences—not educational tourism—but high-quality learning opportunities, has much potential to raise their social consciousness.

These global learning experiences are planting seeds in the minds of students; thus, challenging them to think critically and deeply about issues from various perspectives. Examining the educational system in another nation as well as how learning is perceived by people of all ages, allows students to make comparisons. We have to be able to compare and contrast in order to deepen our learning since when we experience something different– it jolts us. It gives us pause. It makes us ask questions. We experience cognitive dissonance. And we know from the research that this underlying tension then motivates a person to make an attitude change.

Why Rwanda?

Kigali Rwanda

Selecting a location for a global learning opportunity is a key part of the experience.  I selected Rwanda since it is a country I’ve worked in and as a result I’m familiar with many of the organizations that we will be visiting and people we will engage in dialogue. Another reason is that Rwanda is a wonderful location to explore what a nation can accomplish post conflict and many of our students have an interest in learning how we can promote social innovation in order to rebuild systems and make organizations sustainable after they have been completely destroyed. In particular we will explore innovation in social enterprises, workforce development, the impact of climate change as well as the educational system.

Preparing for the journey: “We can never know about the days to come but we think about them anyway…”

Carly Simon’s song–Anticipation— always comes to mind when I begin to pack my suitcase. The anticipation of travel is a huge part of the enjoyment. Pre-trip excitement allows the joys of a travel journey to begin even before you pull out your suitcase. Here’s a link to an article that talks about the joy (and some research about why it’s joyful) of planning a trip.

There’s also a helpful free app—PackPoint—that can assist in creating a list so you’ll be organized and know what you need to include in that luggage!

The Journey: More cumbersome than pre-covid and it’s a long haul!

Because of COVID-19 there’s additional paperwork to enter Rwanda. All travelers are required to complete a Passenger Locator Form and upload a negative COVID-19 test certificate. And, we have to be tested and get results within 3 days of our first flight.

Also, upon arrival we will be tested again ($60!). We are also required to do self-isolation until we get a negative PCR test result. The good news is that Rwanda has visas upon arrival so it’s easy to enter the country—as long as you have $50!

When we complete our trip we have to once again present a negative Rapid or PCR test taken 72 hours prior to departure. If we don’t have that, we can’t enter the airport in order to leave.

Our flight is more than 23 hours and has two stops.  For some of us, we fly from San Diego to Salt Lake City, then to Amsterdam and then to Rwanda.  It’s a wonderful opportunity to catch up on grading papers (or maybe movies I’ve been wanting to see!).

What will we do?

With just over 1million people Kigali is a clean, modern capital city with skyscrapers and lots of ethnic restaurants. Rwanda is often called The Land of a Thousand Hills (and mountains) and we will be walking up many of them! The weather will be warm with fairly cool evenings since this city is over 5000 feet high. This time of year, we will have a bit of rain and thunderstorms. We’ll spend most of our time in the greater Kigali area (center of the country) but we are also visiting social enterprises and educational institutions in Ruhengeri (in the North West) and Nyagatare (in the North East).

We’re staying at a hotel called Heaven—yes, we are going to Heaven!

That’s all for now. We’ll send another postcard once we start our learning journey.

Wish you were joining us!


[1] Freire, Paulo, 1921-1997 (2000). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum.

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