In Rwanda, passengers signal the bus driver to stop at a desired location by tapping on the roof or calling out the destination in the native language of Twi. This simple practice was one of many cultural nuances that Jordan Broutman discovered while traveling about the country last semester.
A senior history major at The College of Wooster and a resident of Highland Park, Ill., Broutman also learned how to phrase a question, when to listen, when to interrupt, and how to analyze the answers from the locals. “Over time, I learned the cultural ropes through observation,” he said.
When communicating with Rwandans, Broutman found that they were much more willing to discuss infrastructure and economic developments and much less open to talk about the horrific genocide of 1994. He had to learn to balance the world’s fixation on this atrocity with the country’s positive strides in recent years.
Another significant lesson concerned attitudes toward African nations, specifically “save the world” campaigns predominantly nurtured in westernized cultures. During his experiences, he surmised that the ramifications of such attitudes could be detrimental to international relationships. “For me, giving aid is less important than learning from people, no matter what nationality (they are),” he said.
Broutman took the learning process into his own hands during the 15-week seminar, titled “Post-Genocide Restoration and Peace Building.” The program required participation in a home stay with a Rwandan family, visits to memorial sites of the 1994 genocide, NGO visits, lectures by Rwandan intellectuals and politicians, seminars, and a project based upon individual field research done during a four-week period.
The memorial sites were a particularly heart-wrenching aspect of Broutman’s education, having been maintained to the point that the blood of victims still stains the walls. “The memorials are extremely emotional because many sites preserve the bodies, clothes, infrastructure damage, and possessions of the victims,” he said.
The field research project offered another challenge. Broutman chose to study teaching methods for vulnerable children that were put in place at a school by the name of Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village. “I ended up interviewing several of the Rwandan teachers and administrators about their experience visiting Israel (the youth village was inspired by an Israeli school for Holocaust survivors) and how the experience changed the way they teach,” he said. He looked at the ways teachers promoted critical thinking and potential in Rwandan students who had undergone difficult life situations. “I had to do a lot of networking to gain access to Agahozo-Shalom,” he said. “Once I got a meeting with the village director, I had to write a proposal that explained what my purpose was.”
In reflecting on his study-abroad experience, Broutman said he was pleased to be able to apply what he learned in the classroom while getting a glimpse of the “real” world — the one he will encounter after graduation next spring.
- Written by Libby Fackler ‘13
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