Debra Swersky
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Journal

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Wi-Fi-Fo-Fum

 

I'm in Rwanda. I've been here for 16-days (at the time of writing this post), but it feels like much, much, longer. When I left, you may recall, that I had a checklist about a mile long... in part because I was preparing for this trip, but in part because I was living in the future with so many major life events taking place in the coming months. Though I'm a world away in Rwanda, I'm still connected by the highly unstable wi-fi connection. (We have 1GB of data per day for all of us). For everyone's reference 1GB of data between five people is not a lot of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, Telegram, WhatsApp, Viber, iMessage, E-mail... or any other social platform for connecting with friends and family. 

On this trip I am leading a team of four undergraduate girls: three sophomores and one junior. For the past 16 days we have spent nearly every waking moment together. I am responsible for their personal growth and development while in Rwanda, the work that they produce while consulting and teaching, their activities/entertainment, and most importantly their safety. Though I'm serving as the "responsible adult" I've learned quite a bit from them... they're shahp cookies. (It's a Boston thing.)

For example, one of the sophomores on the trip has taken on, what she has dubbed, a "wifi challenge." Within the first few days of the trip she recognized that though she traveled to a world away from home, she was still living "at home." The wifi, even the quick hit (her portion of the gig), was keeping her connected. Her "wifi challenge" became seven days without wifi. Her goal was to "be more present" on the trip, "be more present" with the work that we are doing, and "be more present" in Rwanda. I. Am. So. Jealous. So jealous! As the "responsible adult" I have unavoidable responsibilities that I didn't have when I was a sophomore...

Every evening I have come back from either consulting or teaching and checked-in on my e-mail (Me? Facebook? Ha!). Every evening that our internet stick has been in functioning condition, there has been at least an e-mail or two that positions me two weeks in advance... Where do I have to be on what day? What do I have to do at what time? Who do I need to meet with / talk to / be with and when? It's always something. I wish that I could do the "wifi challenge." I wish that I could disconnect  for seven days. I wish that I could temporarily turn off my other world responsibilities and focus on "being more present" in Rwanda.

But, I don't need to shut off my wifi for seven days to recognize that I am (actually) "being more present" in life just by being in Rwanda. By being a world away, I have learned that I can actually do more with less. I can write important e-mails offline and review them before sending them. I can download e-mails one time a day and respond accordingly without being chained to my inbox. I can prioritize what needs to get done and disregard the random "just google it" to do items. And I can ensure that I am connecting with those whom I need to communicate back in the States. But, more importantly, I can "be more present" when talking to the girls, "be more present" during our meals on the compound, and "be more present" when preparing our work... all without giving up my responsibilities as an adult.

Though I'm still connected, being in Rwanda has been my own "wifi challenge." It's clear to me, as it has been to the girls, that the time that I have spent with them day-in-and-day-out has been impactful. It helps that they have been an exceptionally awesome and uber dynamic group of girls to work with who came ready for anything and everything (including no power and water). I could not be more thankful for their flexibility, adaptability, hardwork, and appreciation.

That said, thank you to Babson's Women's Leadership Program scholars from the Center for Women's Entrepreneurial Leadership: Delane, Kat, Lily, and Xizi. Each one of you have made this adventure a once-in-a-lifetime, and truly transformative, experience for me. 

Debra Swersky