Internship in Rwanda… Why NOT?
For every person I have casually informed that I will be interning in Rwanda this summer, the automatic reply has consistently been, “Why Rwanda?” This instinctive inquiry, often given with a wide-eyed questioning look has eventually become bemusing. Given that I spent six weeks during this summer interning at Ernst & Young’s Boston office, it is perhaps preposterous that I chose to follow it up immediately with an unpaid internship at the Bank of Kigali’s headquarters in Rwanda. Aren’t I just a first-year? Why would I spend a total of 10 weeks of the summer interning? Why am I rushing into the ‘adulting life’? And what would I be doing living alone in Rwanda for a month with no family or close relatives there? Well, it is a reasonable question- and often, I myself have pondered over this question, wondering where I get my “loony” ideas and ambitious self-drive to overachieve and bite more than is necessary. In spite of all- two weeks into this internship- I still come to the conclusion that I made the right decision. In the words of Dr Seuss, “Life is a great balancing act.” The decisions I made this summer allowed me to balance my career and life ambitions with my desire to be independent, to deviate from the norm, to amass a varied amount of knowledge and to have an active, fulfilling summer.
A key reason for choosing Rwanda was the aspect of adventure. I left Kenya to study in Switzerland at the age of fifteen and I like to believe that from then on, I became a traveler. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to travel to many of the European cities, venturing a few times into the Middle East before finally coming to the USA where my current goal is to visit each of the states. As such, although the idea of interning in Rwanda, a small African country I had never been to seemed outrageous, it was something different that would provide a unique experience.
“Where would I stay? Would I be safe?” Indeed, all the typical doubting questions did fill my mind as I responded to the opportunity through an email, submitting my resume and a cover letter detailing my interest. Severally, it crossed my mind that this was a crazy idea but nonetheless, I had made a decision- I was going by hook or crook.
That said, this was not a decision made blindly because I did weigh my options and consider the risk factor of this “adventurous” decision. This was around February/ March when I had come across the opportunity. It was either an internship in a bank in Rwanda or in Kazakhstan. Although I was not conversant with the national language of either country, Rwanda was the safer option for me given that I am from Kenya, which is in the same East African region. As I made the decision, I also had to bear in mind that I already had a six week internship with Ernst & Young that split my summer into two halves- three weeks before the EY internship, and another four weeks after the internship before the school semester began. I opted to do the internship immediately after my EY internship.
Another key factor in making the decision to intern in Rwanda was my uncertainty about the career path I wanted to follow. Debating between the Finance, Accounting, Economics and Entrepreneurship concentration weighed heavily in my head, and so I was keen to kill two, if not more birds with one stone during the summer. The internship at EY would expose me to Accounting (it turned out to be more than just Accounting as I eventually found out), while the internship at Bank of Kigali would allow me to explore Finance, one of my major interests. As a first-year, I was yet to take any of the major coursework for either concentration and so these internships would allow me to explore these career interests, while also learning some technical skills in prelude to the courses I would take.
True to this, I am primarily at the bank as an apprentice; hence, I have not been assigned any major/ demanding workload that is beyond my competency. Furthermore, I decide which department to rotate in within the bank, thus I am able to tailor my interning experience to suit my interests. With regard to having an active, fulfilling summer, I am glad to have used this opportunity to explore what Rwanda has to offer. It is exciting to see the road to growth and recovery that Rwanda has taken since the devastating genocide in 1994 when mass atrocities against a minority tribe were committed. The population is young, the people are driven and the country’s growth is rivaling other African countries, particularly in the East African region where Kenya’s strong economy has traditionally been the heavyweight. As a Kenyan and a scholar, this phenomenon is intellectually stimulating. Moreover, although Bank of Kigali is the biggest bank in Rwanda, it is still to an extent much smaller when compared to other banks globally. As such, it is far easier to learn about the bank’s operations, the culture and the various departments, in addition to having the opportunity to meet with the senior people and CEO of the bank. The level of staff accessibility and the breadth of knowledge on various sectors of a bank would perhaps have been more limited while interning in a large US banks. All the same, this experience sets me up to delve deeper into an area of interest at a bigger organization; if I do decide to intern in a bigger bank. Last but not least, I have been fortunate that my family and friends opted to fly in from Kenya to visit me at various periods of my stay here; hence there has not been an idle weekend or moment. The close proximity between Kenya and Rwanda meant I could have opted to fly home or as it occurred, have a family member/ friend visit for each of the weekends I have been here. I have also had the privilege to live in an apartment within walking distance to my workplace, in an area where the presidential palace is located, hence it is a very clean, secure and modern area of Rwanda offering several amenities.
Despite the success of the internship thus far, the journey to interning in Rwanda was not easy. Given that it is an unpaid internship, I had to seek financial assistance to cover the major expenses, and this I embarked on early with the utmost energy and enthusiasm. I concentrated my energy primarily on the resources that Babson provides. The lengthy and arduous process consisted of sending an application to the Center for Career Development, talking to various offices at Babson, corresponding regularly with my internship supervisor despite the six-hour time difference, sending emails back and forth, following up with reminders, making calls… Throughout this process,I also had to deal with different offices/individuals at various stages of making arrangements for the internship- from the Center for Career Development, the President’s Office, my faculty mentor, the Glavin Office, the Student Financial Services Office and so on. In the end, all the pieces of the puzzle did fall in place and I had sufficient financial support to cover my return ticket, my living expenses as well as compensation for the period spent interning at the bank. Indeed, what initially seemed like a far-fetched idea, finally came to fruition.