Across Cultures: Alumna Discusses Experience Teaching in Rwanda

Meredith Bolen ’16 ΑΓΔ returned to the United States in December after teaching in the East African city of Rwamagana, Rwanda, for two years as a Humanity for Children Teaching Fellow.

The Bartlesville, Oklahoma, native who grew up mainly in Houston, Texas, says learning the native Kinyarwandan language was the primary challenge she faced during her time spent at Rwamagana Leaders’ School (RLS). “I would describe my speaking level as situational,” Bolen says. “I could go to the market and buy some food, I could direct someone where to go, and I could greet someone.”

Despite obvious cultural differences, Bolen says teaching at RLS went smoothly because she was familiar with the area, having visited Rwanda previously in 2014 and 2015 at the encouragement of Westminster Professor Emeritus Dr. Robert Hanson, who served as Director of Humanity for Children at the time. Bolen fell in love with RLS during those visits and vowed to return again. And despite three official languages, Bolen was relieved to be able to teach in her native language. “Official documents could be written in any of the three languages, but all secondary schools are expected to teach in English,” she explains.

Westminster recently caught up with Bolen, who currently is substitute teaching in the Comfort and Comal Independent School Districts in Comfort and New Braunfels, Texas, before pursuing a master’s degree in education next fall. Her interview responses are found below.

What was your greatest accomplishment while teaching in Rwanda? My greatest accomplishment was teaching my students essential skills they needed, working with my students in order to prepare them for college, and leading three research projects known as the Senior Project, teaching students research skills and reviewing their understanding of those skills.

Do you plan to go back to Rwanda some day? I miss all of my students, the school, and staff. I miss the friends that I made while there, the culture, and the challenges that helped me grow. I had already been to Rwanda before, so I do plan on going back.

What was your major at Westminster? I quadruple majored in Elementary Education, Middle School Education, Secondary Education, and History with an independent study in Geoscience Research.

How did your Westminster education help you find your purpose? Without Westminster College, I would not have met Dr. Bob, traveled to Rwanda with HFC, or been introduced to RLS. I would not have taught in Rwanda. I do not know where I would be without Westminster. 

What is your favorite Westminster memory? My favorite Westminster memories are when I traveled to the Black Hills with Dr. David Schmidt to research fossils from the Oligocene era, found fossil SD-1-8-12, also known as Gary, and gave multiple research presentations regarding fossilized tortoises. 

A book you would recommend to others? My favorite book is What is the What by Dave Eggers.

Do you have a favorite quote? “The biggest fish in the river gets that way by never getting caught,” from the movie, Big Fish.

Favorite movie or TV show?
My favorite movie is Donnie Darko, and my favorite TV show is The Vietnam War documentary by Ken Burns. 

What do you do in your free time? In my free time, I travel to visit family and friends, watch movies, and read.

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Sarah Rummel Backer

Sarah Rummel Backer is a Media and Content Strategist at Westminster College in Fulton, MO. A 1992 graduate of the College, Sarah has more than 20 years of experience in marketing and strategic communication in the areas of higher education, medicine, agriculture, and the private business sector.