Expats Abroad

Rwanda Expat Brennan on Making the Move to Africa

Today’s post comes from Brennan. An American expat living in Rwanda.

Please introduce yourself! Who is Brennan?

Hi, I’m Brennan! Originally from Allen, Texas (a Dallas suburb), I grew up with country music and Friday night football. My parents always thought highly about educational travel and took my siblings and me to every American landmark and national park.

While my family loves history, I loved the chance to be out and explore and take in new views. I think I always had a subtle curiosity to see as much as I could, experience as much as possible and connect with many interesting people along the way.  

I love to run and hike, travel, explore and shop every flea market in every city I visit. I really enjoy people – people with good stories, unique spirits and a humanity so refreshing you just can’t get enough.

Tell us a bit about how your interest in going abroad began.

After college, I made my way to New York City as quickly as I could with a degree, a desire and one suitcase (and no job!) to experience the ultimate city life!

I landed in Manhattan, quickly began working in the Kate Spade New York flagship store and started to find my way in the city that never sleeps.

I worked my way up at Kate Spade and ultimately landed a role that would take me around the world working with international partners, opening stores in regions like Brazil, China, Australia, Dubai and Turkey.

I think it was living in NYC, working in a global position and getting to experience life with so unique people that expanded my curiosity to see and know life beyond the USA.

And how did you end up going to Africa?

I have always been attracted to and inspired by people opposite of me. And I wanted to challenge the general comforts of my world.

So while at Kate Spade, I learned about a partnership job opportunity in Rwanda working on a really remarkable program. And after close consideration, I could not think of a single reason to not jump at the chance!

The position not only let me move to Africa and let me experience life in another corner of the world – but it was a chance to connect my business knowledge and love of people.

So I applied. And, I got the job!

Did you always think you’d go abroad to Africa?

I imagined I would live abroad at some point, but always thought of Hong Kong or London or Shanghai. Never did I imagine a move to a developing world and work in a rural village!

And now, I am so honored to have been given this opportunity. To be pushed and pulled and squeezed and challenged in so many ways can be challenging, but truly I know it has stirred up a bravery in me.

Brennan in Rwanda

How was the actual move abroad to Rwanda?

Quite simple actually! I accepted the job while still living in the US so with my boss I prepared a bit of visa paperwork, secured housing with a friend-of-a-friend, packed a few giant duffels and headed for the airport.

Truly, that fast! I left my current job on Wednesday, treated myself to a massage on Thursday, flew to Rwanda on Friday and began working on Monday. Yikes.  

I wish I had built in more time for an “emotional transition” as I didn’t realize how much I needed to shift my mind and give myself space to settle in – in so many ways.

Tell us a bit about your day to day live in Kigali!

My international day-to-day life generally starts early with a run through the streets or back roads of Kigali before I head to the village. I learned right away that an early morning exercise routine was necessary as I adjust to the new stresses of work. Plus running in “the land of a thousand hills” is an absolute gift.

I drive around 45 minutes each way to our rural village of Masoro, off a paved road, then up a giant hill.

We work 8 – 5pm, then its back down the hill and into Kigali for me where my evenings generally consist of dinners out with friends or cooking at home and enjoying a quiet night. Kigali nightlife is a bit limited, but I have found myself really enjoying a change of pace.

What’s surprised you most about life abroad?

The thing that surprised me most is how emotionally taxing it can be to live abroad.

This happens more in the transition than the day-to-day, but sometimes things feel tough or not logical simply because they are different.

I also had to adjust to cooking most of my own food and with ingredients found here (and a few key items brought from home!). When you come from NYC and every type of food is on every corner and readily available to you, it takes a bit of learning and creativity to make my Rwandan home-cooked meals measure up.

And what have you found to be the most challenging?

In thinking about the hardest parts of living abroad, for me it is simply being so far from family and dear friends – and really wanting everyone to see and experience what I see.

Life in Rwanda has been full and rich and so much more than I imagined because of the community of friends I have found, but also because of the work and beauty in this country.

How has living in Rwanda changed you?

Living abroad has changed me forever –I view the world now through a much broader cultural lens.

Living abroad has also taught me to adopt a greater level of flexibility and adaptability all while providing some of the greatest new adventures (ie. climbing an active volcano!).

And I must say, you haven’t known patience until you try to understand and respond to a culture so vastly different from your own…

What lessons will you go home with?

I learned patience and grace and that taking the time to know yourself is immensely valuable. I learned to appreciate living in a tropical climate – it can be hot and humid, but we have the best mangoes and pineapples around!

Speaking of home, what’s will you do next?  

My job commitment in Rwanda is a brief 18 months. We will see what opportunities (or leaps of faith!) are waiting on the other side of this journey. Back to NYC, stay in Africa…or…

What would you tell someone looking to work in Rwanda?

Rwanda is a majestic! Located near the equator, the climate is magical year round; there are volcanoes, animals and beautiful Lake Kivu. And, Kigali as a city is quite comfortable for expats.

Wider in Africa, I would suggest to do your research on vaccinations and immigration documents, plus cultural norms. For example, ladies in Rwanda do not show their legs (above the knee) and rarely show their shoulders, so this is key to know!

Any parting advice?

I will forever recommend that everyone take at least one season of life and live abroad. Immersing yourself in new foods, culture, work environments and opportunities truly calls you to a heightened level of bravery and patience, all at the same time.

Living abroad is a gift you should give to yourself. And think of this, actually living in another country means you are closer to a number of new places to visit and experience – without having to take weeks of vacation!

Before I moved to Rwanda, a mentor told me, “every few years, it’s good to shake things up” – and let’s just say, life was more than a little shaken up by my move to Africa.  And, I wouldn’t change a thing.

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