GRIP, Internships Abroad What No One Tells You

June 6, 2023
By Nikola Datkova, CAS '25

Gashora Girls Academy of Science and Technology, Rwanda

The exam starts at 8 o’clock. The early birds show up at 7.55 am, most students won’t be ready until 8.05 am, the teacher enters the room at 8.10 am—and nobody makes a big deal out of it. Not everything is always late, that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that time in Africa flows differently. Nobody tells you that before you travel, you need to see it yourself.

‘Don’t drink tap water, take your anti-malaria pills, use sunscreen.’ Everybody tells you that before you fly to Rwanda. No one tells you that the country is much less anglophone than advertised. Barely anyone speaks English in public, and few at home. No one tells you that you’ll have a chance to learn a whole new language—Kinyarwanda—instead.

No one tells you that the Equator sun is actually not at all that bad. I was expecting 90- to 100-degree heat, but the temperature hardly reaches 85 on most days. The sky can get very cloudy, and it often rains. Nobody told me that bringing along three tubes of 50+ sunscreen might be overkill…

Nobody mentions how much noise the local youth like to make in the classroom, nor how effortlessly they all go silent if you just ask for their attention. Nobody prepares you to answer all their questions. ‘Are you an introvert?’ Oh dear, was it obvious? But before you think of a proper response, they kindly interject, ‘Welcome to Africa.’

No one tells you that the Rwandese are some of the most welcoming people you’ll ever wander around. That being a vegetarian in Central Africa is rather suboptimal, but also that the ladies at the dining hall won’t give you a single annoyed look whenever you ask for one extra fresh tomato to replace your meat at dinner.

No one tells you about the small bananas they’ve got here! These are sweet and generally considered ‘the fruit’. They also have regular-sized bananas, ‘the plantain’, but they taste nothing like what we’re used to in the West. These are grown for cooking and taste almost like potatoes! Yum!

The point I’m trying to make is: there sure is a lot of information about all the places people got to travel out in the open, but that’s all just a tiny fraction of how time in these places really flows, what life there is really like. There will always be these things—small and big—that no one tells you. There is magic you’ve got to experience yourself.



The Global Research and Internship Program (GRIP) provides outstanding undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to intern or conduct research abroad for 8 to 12 weeks over the summer. Participants gain career-enhancing experience and global exposure that is essential in a global workforce.