‘This Experience Changed Me in More Ways Than I Could Have Imagined’
Kent State University graduate student Jordon Egbert said taking part in the Kigali Summer Institute in Rwanda has changed their entire perspective on life.
“I feel as though my experience in the Kigali Summer Institute left me with a new understanding of forgiveness and the importance of being able to forgive oneself and one another,” Egbert said. “I feel as though I have found a new sense of peace within myself and the world we live in.”
Egbert, a graduate student in higher education administration/student affairs, who uses the pronouns they/them, took the education-abroad course Rwanda After the Genocide Against the Tutsi, known as the Kigali Summer Institute. Since 2019, the course has taken place in Rwanda, over three weeks in July.
Developed and taught by Sarah Schmidt, Ph.D., an instructor in the School of Peace and Conflict Studies and assistant director of global education initiatives at Kent State University at Stark, the study trip explores the post-genocide reconstruction of Rwanda and issues related to peace and conflict in the context of the country’s history.
Students in this year’s course also were able to attend Peace Education in an Era of Crisis, a global peace conference sponsored by Kent State, the University of Rwanda and others.
Egbert said the three weeks in Rwanda changed them more profoundly than they could have predicted.
“This experience changed me in more ways than I could have ever imagined or prepared myself for. I have moved forward from this study abroad opportunity with a new worldview perspective as well as a drive and passion to continue challenging myself, my biases and my values,” Egbert said. “I think the most significant change I have seen in myself since returning home from Rwanda is my new perspective on forgiveness.”
Egbert took a break from his job as a graduate assistant for university orientation to take part in the summer institute. “I have some role in all things DKS (Destination Kent State) and TKS (Transfer Kent State),” they said.
A native of Toledo, Ohio, Egbert attended Bowling Green State University, where they graduated in 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in dietetics with a minor in leadership. While they enjoyed the coursework of their major, Egbert quickly came to realize that they were drawn to university life.
“I figured out pretty early on into my undergraduate career that higher education was something that I was really passionate about – working with college students on a multitude of levels, whether it’s programming or classroom learning or personal and leadership development – any of those things. It fueled me. It really filled my bucket and so I knew that was going to be the next step for me,” Egbert said.
The Kent State faculty in the higher education administration master’s program is what sold Egbert on Kent State for the next step of his educational journey. Faculty, they said, were welcoming to the idea of having graduate students work with them and share in their research.
“There was flexibility for me to choose my own coursework and my electives and I could really design my graduate experience to be what I needed it to be while knowing that the faculty would be there to support me. The program checked every box for me. Something in me knew it was going to be the right fit.”
Egbert said they heard about the Kigali Summer Institute from Schmidt, who spoke to an equity and justice course they took in the 2022 Fall Semester. “It immediately piqued my interest,” Egbert said.
While they were always interested in studying abroad, Egbert said they did not have the opportunity as an undergraduate student.
“I would recommend this program to all students even remotely interested in a study-abroad opportunity. This program is centered on peace and conflict studies, but the topics covered are extremely relevant to everyone no matter their academic or professional discipline. This program isn’t just about what you learn from a textbook or getting a good grade. This program will help you to grow as a person and as a world citizen,” Egbert said.
Egbert selected the Kigali program to learn about a new culture and to experience lessons that will help them as they pursue a career in higher education. “I’m really starting to focus on equity work, especially equity regarding access and retention in higher education,” they said. “This trip focuses on peace and conflict studies and in this world, that is something that will always be relevant.”
Egbert believed the experience would prepare them for working with all types of students and give them “a better understanding of different student perspectives and things that they have gone through.”
Egbert had never been to Africa before, expected the trip to be life-changing and wasn’t disappointed.
“The Kigali Summer Institute was everything I could have expected and more. I went into this experience trying to free myself from expectations and biases in order to be able to immerse myself into this experience fully and I was able to gain immense experience in personal, academic and cultural growth. The Kigali institute provided what I am confident is one of the best learning experiences I have ever taken part in,” Egbert said.
For Egbert, highlights of the trip included taking part in the peace conference, visiting the northern province and exploring rural areas in the volcano regions, and visiting the reconciliation village, where perpetrators and survivors of the genocide live together.
“Each of these provided a different perspective of the Rwandan culture and their ability to move forward from genocide as a united people,” they said. “Our relationship with the University of Rwanda and its students was able to supplement all the forms of learning we experienced.”
The University of Rwanda is one of Kent State’s newest global education partners.
Photos by Bob Christy