Selkirk College alumna Anika Wallace recently returned from a six-month Global Affairs Canada international internship in Rwanda where she was a music/English instructor with Ecole D’Arts et de Musique de Nyundo. In her words, it was a transformative experience that will have an impact for the rest of her life.
Anika Wallace (fifth from left) gathers with the students at the Ecole D’Arts et de Musique de Nyundo in Rwanda where she spent six months as a music/English instructor as part of a Global Affairs Canada international internships that provide opportunities for post-secondary graduates between the ages of 19 and 30.
Selkirk College, along with partners Bow Valley College and College of the Rockies, offers eight placements funded by Global Affairs Canada through the International Youth Internship Program for a total of 28 placements for graduates of diplomas or degrees. Administered by post-secondary institutions and NGOs in Canada, the program offers meaningful opportunities to graduates in a multitude of programs for placements all across the world.
The eight Selkirk College-sponsored internships are based in Rwanda, Guatemala, Jamaica and Kenya with range of projects and skillsets required. The college is currently accepting applications for the 2019 internships with a deadline of January 31.
The following is a Q&A conducted with Wallace shortly after her return from the African nation.
Why did you choose to get involved in this internship opportunity?
I was just about to be finished up with school and wasn't too sure what I would be doing come graduation. From a young age, I have been interested in international development and the kind of ties it can bring through education and volunteer.
I had already been wanting to spend some time traveling and had been chatting with [now-retired Contemporary Music & Technology Program instructor] Gilles Parenteau following his first presentation at Selkirk College on Nyundo Music School in Rwanda. I found his presentation heart warming and inspiring and his passion for the school and the students of Nyundo created a pull that drove me to put in a helping hand and help them increase their access to equipment and learning materials. I then planned a fundraiser in my home town of Vanderhoof and called it “A Night in Lights,” an at-home outdoor deck open mic night.
After returning back to school, I found out the internship was finally going forward and was being funded for two internship positions at Nyundo. I was so excited to hear that I might have to opportunity to go to the place that I'd been spreading awareness about over the summer.
I've always wanted to do something with my music that gave the opportunity to share in a universal language, as well as educate myself on new cultures and ways of living through real and direct connections with people that shared my same love for music and its freeing nature.
Travelling to Rwanda was one of the best things I've done in my life to date and it's created a serenity within me and an irrevocable need to continue traveling and looking for more teaching and learning opportunities internationally and within my own country. In other words, I was drawn to this internship because I wanted to share my passion with others through friendship and teaching while also having the opportunity to hear what fuels others in their passion for music.
What were your tasks while on the internship in Rwanda?
I was entrusted with a lot of responsibility while away on the internship, which included doing my own classes, tutoring and co-teaching alongside the choir and composition teacher Janvier M. I also created my own curriculum for an independent English course, as well as a majority of the lyrical composition classes curriculum throughout my time spent there.
I was very close with the majority of my students, so I spent many after hours there to offer as much learning resources, social or emotional guidance and help as possible. I also found myself as a close friend to many of them, so creating a positive and fun learning atmosphere soon became a big goal for me in my time there.
I was expected to create my own curriculum, teach three levels of classes for whatever they asked of me, do one-on-one or group after-hours tutoring, create master classes for the whole school when expected, as well as co-teach with other teachers. As long as we were prepared and ready for any changes in schedule that could come our way, we were fulfilling our duties as interns at Nyundo Music School. I also was able to familiarize myself with making school class schedules, as well mid and end year examinations and school exam schedules and marking papers and inputting grades and student teacher comments. Overall I was able to get a grasp for independent teaching and basic administration work and expectations.
What did you learn from this experience?
I have learned a lot from this experience on a personal but also external level. Of course, the obvious would be to say that I learned how to teach and lead or co-lead classes and that's a huge accomplishment for me because I've had no previous training or experience. But I think the biggest takeaway from this experience would be my ability to communicate on a more personal level with people. To effectively communicate with those around me and create genuine connections that I can carry with me, continue to develop and know that I have another home to go back to.
I am much more open in front of large groups and have recognized that this can create a more comfortable space for people to express themselves in and share their passion more openly. I never thought that I would be teaching in my whole life in another country, but the way life unfolds is something we will never truly understand. I have learned to revel and appreciate what comes with the unexpected instead of fearing it. I have learned that acceptance, in time, will lead you in the right direction and where you need to go if you just let it and roll with what comes your way.
I am also glad to have had the chance to start learning and communicating in a new language. Learning a part of their traditions through traditional songs and dance by working with the students as an extra-curricular activity was important, as well as joining in on playing after class games and basketball. This taught me to truly integrate myself into their outside of class activities so I could be a teacher as well as a confident and friend.
How did your world-view change after returning to Canada?
I've had a lot of changes happen in my time away. From the moment I arrived in Rwanda, I didn't know what to expect and kept myself open to anything that could come my way. Basically, going into the experience with little expectations or knowledge on what the country or internship position would be like, which made it really easy for me to adapt to the living as well as relationship changes. It was not a complete breeze to integrate myself into Rwanda life, but a lot easier that anticipated. And after spending six months there I was very sad to have to go, although excited to be with family and friends again.
The people I spent my time with Rwanda made it a true home for me and I've felt more comfortable there than I have anywhere. Re-adjusting to Canadian living and social aspects has been more difficult for me than going into a new country and culture completely. I hope that from this experience I can bring a little more life into the people around me and be more social and less secluded in my “artistic” ways. I've noticed that people stick to themselves a lot, but as humans we need interactions and with more open mindedness and a open heart to the strangers around us, we can make for a more positive community wherever we may end up.
We are so very lucky with what we have here in Canada and I've always known that, but people really take that privilege for granted. We have the opportunity for bright futures and although some may not realize it. Of course we still need to work hard for what we have, but to appreciate the opportunity to be able to work hard is a whole other story. I appreciate being able to work hard, and I am happy for what I have and the fact that I'm able to go anywhere in the world and share that with people is a huge privilege. I will continue to work towards not taking that for granted. I've always been taught this, but my students and the people of Rwanda have given me a new perspective and most importantly a full heart with their positive, kind and welcoming spirits.
What is your biggest takeaway?
It's hard to pin point one specific takeaway from this internship because there are so many things that have helped me grow and have opened my eyes to a whole new world throughout the six months that I have been away. But one very clear takeaways from this experience would have to be my relationships that I've built and those that I can now call my friends and family, as well as how it has reassured what direction I want to take with my music.
I am much better at public speaking and thinking on the spot, as well as taking criticism.
Another great takeaway is the positive reaction a collaborative effort can make, and how much can get done when people put their minds, hearts and efforts together with the same goals. I learned a lot from working with other people and teaching, but I also want to recognize how much my students and co-teachers taught me and supported me in knowing that it was my first time for everything I was doing there. They were so understanding and pushed me to working harder and being stronger than I ever thought I could be. I can handle a lot more than I expected.
What advice would you give other students who might be considering this as an avenue for their education?
I would say just to go in with the high expectation of complete change and excitement for the inevitable idea of the unknown. Be prepared for new and exciting experiences that come with being surrounded by new people and a completely different culture.
Choosing to be a part of an internship means you need to completely surrender yourself to a world of new possibilities and be ready to roll with the punches. To be a very flexible and accepting person. One of the most important traits is to be fearless and confident in your abilities in your time abroad and show a willingness to ask questions and also to answer questions yourself and open yourself up to people. This will help to create connections wherever you may find yourself.
The work you will be doing will be irrevocably important and touching to many people that you will work with. As soon as you start making those real deeper level connections, the sooner you will realize how lucky you are to be in your position and the more you can hold onto your experience. Carry it with you as you move forward in your life, whether that be professionally or emotionally. To leave behind an experience as such, would be an absolute shame.
Take the good and the bad, let it linger in you, let it change you and let it help you grow. Change is inevitable and it can be freeing if you let it be. Taking on an internship in a different country will help you grow immensely in a very short time, and for me it has been a pivot point for the better.
What are you doing now that you're back?
Now that I am back in Canada, I am spending some time in my home town spending for some much needed family time. I have been processing and reflecting on what this experience has given me and how I can move forward with my new skills gained and not leave it in my past, but rather carry in with me as I delve into my future endeavours.
I will be spending another few months at home working and saving to have some more adventures hopefully starting in Asia to explore a new culture and hopefully doing some volunteer work as I move along my journeys abroad. From there I plan to apply for the Music Therapy Program in Vancouver at Capilano University and develop a more professional side to my passion in music. Once I have completed the Music Therapy Program, I would love to spend my time abroad in hopes to spread the universal language of music. I'd like to spend my time working with stroke patients, Alzheimer patients, as well as those with Down Syndrome. I can also see myself going back to Rwanda and starting a practice for those suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. From this internship, I wish to also keep teaching both English and lyrical composition in my spare time.
Although these are all very far in my future, I hope that one day these dreams will become my reality and in the meantime I will continue to pursue them and maintain the relationships that I've gained since being away. At this moment in time, I am happy to say that I have remained connected with Nyundo Music School. For the teachers and students there, I am keeping myself available for their questions and can still be helping my students with their lyrical composition and English.
Anything else to add that you would like top add?
I am a huge advocate for international travel as well as work experience. It will open your eyes to all the possibilities out there, and allow you to meet so many new and wonderful souls that will greet you and welcome you with open arms. I have made so many amazing friends and even family while I was away.
This internship was one of the best steps I've made for myself towards a more serene and uplifting future. I am content with what it has given me and I feel humbled to have had this opportunity to grow and explore myself and a new country. I will be forever thankful to all the people that made Rwanda my second home and made me feel welcome as well as those that made it possible for me to get there and find my groundings.
A special thanks to Pat Bidart, Gilles Parenteau and my co-interns that made this experience a very bright point in my life. My wish is to never lose sight of the positive changes Rwanda and Nyundo Music School’s students have given to me. I was a teacher, but at the same time my students taught me more than I could've imagined. For this I am so grateful.
It was hard to fill the shoes that I was expected to, and it was difficult to be an authority figure and a friend at the same time. But we learn how to make things work along the way, and I don't think I'll ever have that work dynamic or experience again. Every bit of it was worth it for me, no matter the challenges and learning or living hurdles that came my way. I'm proud of this program and of my students/friends in Rwanda.
The eight Selkirk College-sponsored internships are open to graduates from any Canadian post-secondary institution who are Canadian citizens or permanent residents. If you would like to learn more about the International Youth Internship Program and future opportunities, head to this webpage. Interested alumni or students who are graduating in 2019 can also contact Selkirk College Dean Pat Bidart with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. Deadline for application is January 31, 2019.