Making Hard Choices

Something uncanny happens almost every time someone asks me to talk about a time I did something. Whether it’s in a job interview and I have to discuss a situation in which I have shown problem-solving skills, or a university seminar asking me to think of a time I made a decision which turned out well, for some reason, my entire life is wiped from my brain the second the question is asked.

Nevertheless, I pushed through my momentary memory loss and realised that my most recent major decision worked out well. In fact, better than I could have possibly imagined. Which was interesting, as it was a decision I would normally have never made.

Making the choice to go spend two weeks in Rwanda for my journalism internship, and another two traveling to Kenya and Tanzania, was something I still cannot believe I did. I had never been overseas before going to Africa. I was going over with a group of complete strangers and casual acquaintances. As someone who has high levels of anxiety and a very restricted comfort zone which I am always reluctant to leave, telling family and friends I was going to Rwanda resulted in exclamations of shock, albeit followed by excitement and well-wishes.

The me from before the trip made a decision about my life which was extremely unlike me, but after returning, I’ve realised that choosing to go to Africa is something I would do one thousand times over, and is actually a very ‘me’ choice. Because it turns out I am a person who will take on new experiences, and try to better myself. I experienced many things in Africa, and learned more about myself in four weeks than I have learned in 24 years.

I’ve learned how to appreciate my own work, which is something I have previously struggled with. I’ve always found it difficult to look at something I have written or created and say I am proud of it, but I am immensely proud of the work I did in Rwanda, particularly the photographs I took of my team undertaking their project and the community we were working in.

I’ve learned the value of being able to work in different countries and within different cultural environments, and the power of human ingenuity to solve problems with limited resources.

And above all, I think I’ve finally learned how to be proud of myself in a professional work capacity, and own my achievements, which is something I never thought I’d truly get a grasp on.


2 thoughts on “Making Hard Choices

  1. I left a comment about this beautiful post on Twitter also, but I really wanted to add something here about that turning point of appreciating your own work. I’m reflecting at the moment at the possibility that by grading everything that moves, we actively discourage the ability to discover your own capacity and value. I was thinking this as this morning I was sent a link to a photographic portfolio by someone who works at a high level in a professional capacity, and takes photographs on the side of his executive career. Without the benefit of grading, he continues to learn and expand his photography in practice, and I sense that he knows how to value what works, what works less well. I realise I know this about myself as a writer.

    So I want to understand better how we can learn from each other when grades are essentially redundant to learning, but at the same time institutions (and sometimes students) feel as though we are lost without them. I’m especially interested to know more about what you learned by observing the engineers at work. How did they learn from what they were doing? How did they know if they were doing it well? How did their Rwandan collaborators contribute to this?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Kate! Thanks so much for the kind words on Twitter, and here!

      That was the really interesting thing over there – the journalists new we weren’t getting graded as it was just our internship, but the engineers knew they were, and had planned for 13 weeks. But once over there, the project at hand and doing the best job for the COMMUNITY took over any sort of grading in their heads. On the first day, their entire project was turned on its head and they had to essentially start from scratch, and these sorts of issues kept popping up but they just had to work it out, like in the ‘real world’. They could discuss with the mentors and their teacher was there as a backup plan and to bounce ideas off, so they weren’t totally independent, but they still did it all themselves for 99 per cent of it. The Rwandan’s on site, particularly the site foreman we had working with us, would tell us their way of doing things (I’m no engineer or builder, but I do remember that the students wanted to make the concrete in a way totally different to the Rwandan builders) and we would explain our way of doing things and we would compromise or teach each other. It was actually amazing to watch them do their stonework and how they create a concrete slab and polish it, all completely by hand.

      I could come to you and sit down and chat about it for hours – there were so many instances of cultural miscommunication and things which I think highlights difficulties working in other countries – it wasn’t until day 3 that we realised we had never told the workers why we were there or what they were building. We’d told the foreman and assumed he’d passed it on, but he hadn’t. So we had 40 workers building a mystery building. Once we all sat down and communicated we were constructing a classroom for their community, everyone was far more keen to work together. This is something which can’t be graded, but everyone will take that with them into their futures if they work on projects – always make sure EVERYONE involved knows what’s going on so you get the best result. Something which seems common sense, but isn’t and can often get neglected, especially if there is time pressure.
      I feel I’m rambling now, but as I said, I could talk about Rwanda and Africa forever if someone would let me.

      Liked by 1 person

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