06/27/2012 05:25 EDT | Updated 08/27/2012 05:12 EDT

Heading to Rwanda Part 1: Who, Me? Nervous?


Current Location: My parents' living room, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Countdown till departure: Five days


Some people have a "bucket list." I use stickies. Stickies of the virtual variety, that is.

About four years ago, when I first discovered how to use these handy virtual memos on my (then brand-new) MacBook, I started two notes: "things I would like to do in the near future," and "things I would like to do in my lifetime."

I've managed to knock a lot off the "near future" note. It mostly included local travel, a few journalistic goals and things I wanted to accomplish before the end of my bachelor's degree. The "in my lifetime" note is a little more daunting. It includes: "see a Shakespearean play at the actual (reconstructed) Globe Theatre," and "organize a TEDx event." This past year, I was able to remove "make a documentary" from that life-long to-do list (hopefully I'll do that a few more times in the course of my career).

The Specifics

In less than a week, I'll hit delete on another item, erasing the words "go to Africa." In five days, I will be boarding a plane (well two planes, actually) for Rwanda. It's the African country I have most wanted to visit since I was a pre-teen.

I first learned about the country and its history from my father as he read L. Gen. Romeo Dallaire's book Shake Hands with the Devil. When I was applying to journalism schools after grade 12, a brochure about Carleton's University's Rwanda Initiative exchange program made it clear Carleton was the school I needed to attend.

Now here I am, four years later, about to take part in that same program (or what is left of it*). I am among 24 Carleton students being sent to seven different countries to work at local media organizations for two or more months. My specific placement will be in radio, at RadioFlashFM in Kigali, Rwanda. I leave June 19, and return to Canada August 27 (after a brief visit to Kenya). These are not training placements. My role is not to teach but to learn, and experience, which I am very grateful for.

Who? Me? Nervous?!

I am not of the jet-setting, globe-trotting, variety of university student one seems to meet more and more of these days. I have never been travelling on my own. It was a big deal for me just to leave my home in Regina, Saskatchewan to do my undergrad in the "East" (which includes Ontario for most Saskatchewanians).

Now I'm about to travel on my own -- to another continent -- to an area which is still considered "scary" by many here in North America.**

So yes, I am nervous. But not for the reasons one may assume. Frankly, the idea of heading to East Africa doesn't really scare me just because it's East Africa. Yes, there have been grenade attacks in recent months in Rwanda.

The world is a violent place. But it is also a beautiful place, full of amazing experiences and extraordinary people. If we let our fears get in the way of our goals, we'd never accomplish anything. Which isn't to say I'm going to throw caution to the wind and not be extra careful about my personal safety and the safety of my belongings while I'm away. (Throwing this in mostly for the benefit of my parents. LOVE YOU GUYS.)

What worries me more is my inexperience, my lack of travel savvy. Will I find my way around? Will I be able to get outside the capital city on side trips? I also worry about how I'll become a valuable addition to a foreign newsroom, and whether I'll make the most of my two-month visit.

So ... what's the best way to remedy inexperience ...? I know! Get some!

Watch the Madness Unfold

With this blog, I am inviting you all to take part in my little science experiment:

Take one overachieving j-school grad/control-freak

Place in a completely foreign environment with little preparation or previous international travel experience

Add deadlines, language barriers, culture shock and journalistic ambition

Let sit for a period of two months


My hypothesis?

I'm in for one hell of a ride.


*The Rwanda Initiative has been suspended but the Centre for Media in Transitional Societies, also headed by Carleton's Allan Thompson, is attempting to continue the Initiative's vision.

**It should be noted that Rwanda is considered one of the safest countries in its region, if not in Africa, and everyone I have spoken to who has travelled there has confirmed this fact.