Muraho! I’m Jessica Bedtka, a junior pursuing majors in geography and political science with certificates in environmental studies and food systems. As I write this, I am getting ready to spend my spring semester studying post-genocide restoration and peace building in Rwanda through the School of International Training.
As I begin to attempt to fit all that I will need for the next five months into a carry-on luggage, I am overwhelmed with excitement at the prospect of starting a new chapter in my life. Growing up, I knew I wanted to study abroad long before I decided where I wanted to attend university or what I would be studying there. Traveling, with its unpredictability and novel experiences, has always felt right to me. In the words of one of my favorite philosophers, Henry David Thoreau: “Not until we are lost do, we begin to understand ourselves.” There is no motivation to step outside of our comfort zone until we understand that what lies on the other side is worth the risk, and it is in one of the high loops of this wild roller coaster of life, when everything is upside down and rushing past you too fast and you start to feel like a little child, that we truly open our eyes and feel alive. Stepping away from the familiar allows us to better define our goals and where we fit into this world.
When I first began planning for my semester away, I know I didn’t want a traditional study abroad experience. After hours of browsing through the different types of international academic programs UW-Madison offers I was faced with financial barriers and anxiety around learning difficulties. Finding and being selected as a Global Gateway fellow recipient has helped me to tackle these challenges.
I have chosen the SIT’s Rwanda program because it offers a unique educational experience in a county of such complexity and vibrancy. This program examines the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and the efforts to foster peace, unity, and reconciliation that have followed. I will be staying with a host family in Kigali, the capital city, where I will be studying the root causes and impacts of the genocide. Part way through the semester, I will be traveling to northern Uganda to learn about the Lord’s Resistance Army conflict and Uganda’s own reconciliation process. Along with an extensive network of in-country experts I will be meeting throughout the program, I will also be conducting an independent research project that focuses on food within the local community.
As soon as I found this program it felt like the right fit. Throughout my time at UW-Madison, I have focused my studies around the political ecology around food systems and sustainable development. A major barrier facing a sustainable, global food system is conflict. This program offers me the chance to see how communities are tackling these complex issues through hand-on learning.
Along with enjoying the local cuisines and exploring as many hiking trails as possible, I hope my time abroad will be a time of uncomfortably and growth. It is not until challenges arise that we evolve, and until we come in contact with new ideas that our own minds can give birth to fresh thoughts. New countries and destinations break apart our mentalities and stereotypes, allowing us to put ourselves back together again how we wish. I hope my time in Rwanda will help me to better understand our world and the solutions to create a more sustainable future. I welcome you to follow along on my journey through eastern Africa!