From Student To Expat: My Life As An African American In Rwanda


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Meet Lauren whose currently living and working in Rwanda! She is a 27 year old African American, originally from Chicago, whose been living in Kigali since 2013.


Where in Rwanda do you live and what do you do?

I live in Kigali, the capital and I work as a journalist.

How did you end up in Rwanda?

I first came to study abroad for the summer of 2012. I fell in love with the country and managed to be hired as the assistant to my professor for the 2013 trip. When the students went home, I stayed.

How long do you plan to live in Rwanda?

Still to be determined!

Is Rwanda the first African country that you've visited?


On everyday life

What's life in Rwanda like for you?

Life is both usual and unusual at the same time. The vast majority of the time, I am surrounded by people who do not share the same upbringing or even native language, but it makes for really interesting stories between us. I don’t have but three or so American friends, but I very much like it that way.

There are moments that can be annoying, like people staring at me trying to figure out just where the heck I come from, or when you’re trying to communicate something but just can’t get it right. But you grow in those moments and learn.

For me, this is the first place I have lived as an adult outside of college, so I don’t have much to compare it to in that respect but I feel as though living here is only making minor adjustments to how things were back in the US. I go to work, I come home, I see friends just as before. The transport or the venue may be different, but I feel as though over time I’ve noticed that people are just that…people. No matter where on the globe you may be.‬

What do you love most about living there?

My favorite part about Rwanda is the people. They are kind, open and welcoming. It’s never hard to find a friend, and there’s always an adventure to be had. Bonding over things we have in common, and others that we don’t brings us together. Friendship here is important, and staying in contact with friends is as well. If anything, being here has shown me that I was a crappy friend before!

Kigali, Rwanda

Kigali, Rwanda

What have been the easiest things to adjust to?

I would say the easiest thing to adjust to is just living life. Getting around, whether by motorcycle car or bus takes a little bit of practice, but it is not too bad once you do it a couple of times. Living in my house is pretty similar to at home. Of course there are differences, but it’s part of the journey!

And the most difficult things to adjust to?

One of the more difficult things to adjust to is the more relaxed attitude (although I have embraced it now!). As an American, and even more so as a journalist, I’m used to being places exactly on time or early, and fighting to reach a deadline. While there is still structure here things are much more relaxed. It can be difficult when waiting for someone for an hour at a meeting place. But quite nice when you’re expected to take a leisurely lunch.

Lauren with her mother visiting from the United States.

Lauren with her mother visiting from the United States.

What's your social life like in Rwanda?

I really love my social life here. One of my favorite things to do is dance, and you can do so any day of the week. Music is a mix of local and top forty, which can make for a really fun night. (Karaoke is also pretty popular here… I’m a terrible singer, therefore a great candidate for some chart toppers!) People just seek to have a good time. Men aren’t too creepy, and they dance with their guy friends just like they dance with you!

Meeting friends is pretty simple although most of my fellow foreigners agree that making male friends is much much easier than female… once you get one you cling! Lol. But in general being a little bit different is always a good conversation started.

The dating life here is really different, and I still can’t say I totally get it! But then again, that might just be because dating as a whole can be confusing, never mind the addition of cultural barriers. But I’m figuring it out????!

Did you always dream of living abroad?

Nope! Not at all!  If someone had told me I would be in Rwanda 2 years ago, I would have laughed! I majored in French along with journalism so I have always had an international interest, but I never imagined being here!


Personal reflections

Do you think enough African Americans visit the African continent?

I don’t think that enough African Americans visit Africa by far. In my mind I am thinking of African Americans like me; those who don’t have any concrete connection to any particular country, but know you must have come from there somehow!  I still haven’t met such a person here in Rwanda (but would love to!). I think it is a life changing opportunity. I still certainly identify first as an American, but I have really enjoyed being able to make connections here.

From speaking to some of my African American friends, many don’t really feel the need to have any connection whatsoever. But for me, I enjoy being able to experience the continent from which my ancestors came, even if I have no idea what country. Plus it is nice to be surrounded by people who look like you. Nobody to be creeped out by my natural hair or wonder how weave works, haha.

What's your best advice for someone who wants to live abroad?

Embrace the uncertainty. Moving abroad is filled with it, but it is an opportunity to learn and grow. Don’t stress. With time (and some prayer) it works itself out. And when you become too caught up in worry, you miss your adventure!

Anything else you'd like to add?

I could probably write about what it’s like to be here all day (as you may be able to tell) but that is just how great my experience has been. I know that there are so many misconceptions about Africa out there, and I strive to dispel them. Especially for a place like Rwanda, which bears a difficult past, most of society fails to see beyond it. But the “land of one thousand hills” is one beautiful, blossoming country worth visiting (or living in!)

Is there somewhere we can follow your experience?

  • My blog:
  • My YouTube channel: Twitter and Instagram: @adore_laure