About Elsa Steiner

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So far Elsa Steiner has created 10 entries.

Wrapping it up

by Elsa Steiner

So I am back in Chapel Hill. I have been in and out of town since I got back from my gap year on June 20th, the big music festival my family and I have been organizing for the past six months is this weekend, and in exactly one week I will be moving into the 5th floor of Hinton James at UNC. In many ways driving down the Circumbilar in Bogota, or navigating the crowded streets to get to the hospital in Rwanda seem like far off memory when I am standing in the company store at Tanger outlet picking out twin-XL sheets. However once I throw myself into those memories I cant believe I was really there and really did all of those things, just in the last year.

When I got home everyone was asking “So, how was your year?” and my typical response is […]

By |August 11th, 2014|Post Gap Year|

Uncomfortable authority

by Elsa Steiner

Up until I went to Rwanda most of my volunteer work had been with children. I had my first experience teaching ESL to adults at the Ruhengeri Hospital. Rwanda recently changed its official language from French to English, leaving many professionals at a loss. The hospital staff, who had all studied in French, have suddenly found themselves needing to read English forms and do much of their administrative work in English. Another UNC student and I began teaching an English class three nights a week, with her teaching the more advanced people and I teaching the beginners. I was nervous at first because adults are much more judgmental than children. If they don’t like the way you are teaching or the material you are covering, they will stop coming or complain. In my experience, children will just go along with whatever the teacher comes up with. I […]

Picking and choosing

by Elsa Steiner

Should we volunteer wherever we are needed, even if it isn’t something we enjoy doing, or is it okay to pick and choose what projects we want to be a part of? This was a question I was faced with when I first arrived in Musanze, Rwanda. My wonderful host mother, Louise, had given me a couple of suggestion about where I could volunteer. One of them was St. Vincent’s; a Catholic center for disabled children. I discussed it a little bit in my last blog post. The center started out housing seventy-five children but after the last school term ended, only thirty came back. That number has since dropped to fifteen. It is very disheartening to go there because the children are simply left to their own devices all day, there is a constant stench because they don’t have proper diapers, and the people who work […]

The white girl in Africa

What is my role as an 18-year-old volunteer with only a high school education abroad? That is the million-dollar question I am wrestling with here in Rwanda.  Lots of articles have been written about volunteerism; the cliché of the white girl in Africa seems to be a common theme and I now find myself in that situation. I strongly believe that international aid and volunteering is successful only if you work with people from the local community and invite them to help run whatever program you are working with, design the program’s mission, and eventually take over completely. I also agree that just being a professional “volunteer” does not do anyone much good because you don’t have any practical skills that you can use and pass on. For example, would you just start building houses in your hometown without any experience? Probably not, so you shouldn’t assume that you […]

Arabic coffee and intense conversation

Visiting the DLZ Center for Asylum Seekers was the most valuable experience I have had here, and it almost didn’t happen. When I arrived in the morning ready to spend the day with the 60 people who live in the hostel-style building, the boss told me that there had been a mistake and that today wasn’t actually a good day for me to visit because they were very busy.  Did I just take no for an answer and go home? No! That’s been one of the main things that I have learned during my gap year; not to just give in, but to push and try and find other options. I asked if I could just sit in the common room and talk to people, completely staying out of their hair. She agreed and I settled into my spot on the couch smiling at everyone and nodding a greeting […]

Back doing what I love

Last week I had one of the best days of my past two months! I had heard that the Salvation Army has a sector that works with refugees in Switzerland, but I was reluctant to call them because I have a hard time with their missionary mission. Since I only had two weeks left and I was getting a little restless, I decided to contact them and see what kind of work they do. It turns out that they won the bid as the official government funded entity for refugees and asylum seekers in our region. This means that they handle the cases of all the refugees here, run the centers, and distribute the money. So, they are really more of a government agency than the Salvation Army.

I spent my first day in their main office, learning about how each person who works there is assigned specific cases and […]

New Plan

When I last updated everyone, quite a while ago, I was heading off to Switzerland in early February, somewhat concerned about how things were going to unfold. Well, it turns out I had a right to be concerned. My service project didn’t end up coming to be because they no longer wanted “outside volunteers” in the center and when I went to got change the boss’s mind, he wasn’t there because his wife was having a baby. He also stopped responding to my emails and so did the people at the other center I tried to contact. Some people you will meet are just not very helpful.

In many other places losing one volunteer opportunity would be no problem because you could just pick another one up. In Switzerland this is not so. I asked about every person we know here if they had ideas and everyone basically came up […]

Switzerland Here I Come!

This blog post is going to serve as my pre-departure blog for the Switzerland leg of my gap year because I am leaving in less than a week! I want to focus on my goals as well as some things I am concerned about.  Switzerland is a place that I have visited many times and I am going to be living in a city that I have spent lots of time in. I thought for a very long time about whether I wanted to spend part of this year in a place that was already so familiar as opposed to going on a big new adventure. I finally decided that it was the right choice because I am hoping that I will have a much deeper connection to my other country after actually living there for an extended amount of time. However, because I have a better idea of […]

By |February 5th, 2014|Pre-departure|