I would describe my 30 day winter break as the most incredible time of the year. On December 20, I flew to San Francisco to meet my mentor Terri Lyders and her husband Mark Reynolds, and I got to spend my first American Christmas with them. I remember waking up in the morning asking them “I’ve got presents?!” just like Harry Potter. I’ve never received so many presents in my life. On the same day, they took me sightseeing around the city. We visited the life-sized Gingerbread House at the Fairmont Hotel and the huge Christmas tree in Union Square. In the evening, we came back home to have a traditional Christmas dinner. The feast was just like something I’ve seen in movies when I was young. There was a big turkey, cranberries, stuffing and lots of cookies and chocolate for dessert. It was a really wonderful Christmas dinner.
We also went to an Ethiopian restaurant, and I learned Ethiopian food is eaten by using your hands. Ethiopian cuisine is a combination of meats and vegetables arranged on big flat plates. The main highlight of the food is the sourdough flat bread that’s used to wrap with meat and vegetables. My mentor Terri told me it’s impolite not to finish all the food, so I ended up finishing everything. It was my first time having Ethiopian food but I was a pro at it. It was very delicious. Eating food with my hands reminded me of home because some of the Cambodian food we eat also requires using your hands.
After Christmas, Terri took me to see the elephant seals in Año Nuevo. The elephant seals are really big just like fatty mermaids sunbathing on the beach. On New Year’s Eve, I went to see the Sing-Along “Sound of Music” at the Castro Theatre with another one of my mentors, Angela Chien, and we headed to a New Year’s Party afterward. During my time in the Bay Area, I also explored with my mentors Mylene Caplan and Tammy Tompkins. Between the two of them, I visited the Exploratorium, Golden Gate Observatory, the California Academy of Sciences, the Mission District, the Painted Ladies, and even took a trip to the Aquarium in Monterey with Angela.
This winter break was a great opportunity for me to get to know my mentors better. I enjoyed sightseeing and bonding with them in San Francisco. I even created a beautiful bond with my American friends Rosie and Henry (Mylene and Angela’s dogs). I couldn't spend much time with Debra Grassgreen during this winter break. I missed her and her smart 9-year-old son Jude so much, and I hope we can spend more time together during my next winter break. It was hard to say goodbye to the warm weather, delicious food, cool dogs and all of the fun I was having with my mentors.
I just completed my first full week back at Beloit. Now that I’m back on campus and reunited with my friends, I can’t wait to see what my second semester of college has in store!
When I entered Anne’s home, I met brilliant and wonderful women of different age ranges and backgrounds who had crossed various hurdles to reach their goals. There were also young women around my age who were college students and going through similar experiences. My nervousness increased after meeting these women but I knew once I started to share my story I’d be fine. The group was eager to hear from myself and my other SHE-CAN sisters from post-conflict countries: Chelsea, Sreileak and Sreytom.
The first question we were asked was, “Tell us about yourself?” With a smile on my face I answered first. I talked about my home and what my family is like back in Rwanda. From there, I felt confident enough to inspire the mothers and daughters that were sitting and listening to us.
We discussed our lives back home and what we like in the U.S. We all agreed that access to technology in the U.S. is great, but we find it hard to keep up with the fast-paced environment here. We even agreed keeping a calendar can be a challenge!
Additionally, we chatted about what we love about our home culture. I thought the daughters at Parlay could benefit from some of the values of Rwandan culture. I spoke about respecting your parents and elders, learning how to be creative and figuring out problems on your own. I was fascinated by how happy everyone was after hearing our stories. I learned a lot from my fellow friends on the panel and from the women in attendance who I spoke to throughout the evening.
In summary, I’d like to thank Anne Devereux-Mills who gave myself, my SHE-CAN sisters and all women who attended the opportunity to come together and have important conversations that will help build future women leaders. Additionally, I’d like to thank Kaye Foster, a SHE-CAN supporter and Spelman Trustee, and my incredible SHE-CAN mentors that were with me that night for their moral support: Catherine Jaeger, Paik Swan Low and Barbara Reiter. While I'm away from my family in Rwanda, I think of my mentors support. It gives me the courage to achieve anything I set my mind to, and I know I can become who I want to be in the future.
Before I started at Bucknell University, I used to think I knew enough about college but it turns out I was wrong. My first semester in college was a mix of anxiety, surprise and homesickness, but every moment was also filled with joy.
The first time I stepped on the campus with two of my mentors, Diane Kohler and Miranda Holmes, I was excited! Excited to meet new people and excited to learn and grow as a person. During the international orientation, I made some of my closest friends at school, and it was fun getting to know people who were experiencing college for the first time just like me.
However, this excitement started to diminish as the assignments increased and I missed home. I dealt with my homesickness by getting involved on campus. I joined The TAB which is an online newspaper that operates on different universities. I became a representative for my freshmen hall and was recently elected as one of the strategic planning officers of Bucknell’s Africa Student Association (BASA).
Getting involved helped me meet more students who were or had been where I am, and I got to exercise my communication and leadership skills. I also loved getting to know all my different professors and learning from them. I know that building these connections was the reason my first semester of college was a success!
After my first semester, I spent winter break with the most amazing people - my mentors. I was in Ohio with my mentor Pam Royer days before I flew to California, and I was touched by the love and warmth she showed me. She took me to different places in Ohio including the zoo at a time when it looked really beautiful with all the Christmas decorations and snow.
I also got to spend Christmas and New Year’s in Palo Alto with my mentor Neary Ting and her beautiful family and in San Francisco with Christine Le and her family. Neary introduced me to Star Wars, and I was excited when we went to see it at the movie theater. I had the pleasure of meeting her parents and sisters, tasting their wonderful Cambodian dishes and I won’t even get started on all the Christmas gifts! I went to see plays with Christine, got to meet her family and friends and even attended the SHE-CAN Farmgirl Flowers event with her mom and my lead mentor Miranda Holmes.
Another reason why being in the Bay Area this winter break was a great experience for me was because I got together with other SHE-CAN scholars at the Leadership Summit whom I hadn’t seen for months. I loved learning from the facilitators and scholars during different workshops. I was so inspired by all the women who spoke to us and the whole experience reminded me of my purpose and that I had all these women cheering me on to fulfill it.
Overall, I’ve grown a lot of this past semester and had the most beautiful time this winter break. It was magical spending time with my mentors and being reunited with my SHE-CAN sisters.
Read stories written by our talented scholars and multiple voices across the SHE-CAN network