A Different First Day of School

IMG 6750[Editor’s note: I wrote this little piece for our local paper, the Norwich Times, waaay back in late August. Feels like a lifetime ago. For those of you who don’t get the Norwich Times — and why don’t you, it’s a great little paper? — it might be a worthwhile read if only to get a sense of where the kids spend their days these days]. 

There were the usual jitters to be expected before the start of the new school year. Who will be in my class? Who will my teachers be? Then there was the prospect of attending a new school – always a bit unnerving and unsettling. But after spending four weeks getting used to living in Africa, Lea and Lucas last week faced the added challenge of starting school six thousand miles from home in Kigali, Rwanda.

Sketchy. That was the harsh verdict passed down by the two of them after their first visit to the school that will be their academic home for the next four months. The International School of Kigali (ISK), is a private school, now in its fourth year, housed in a couple of old villas in the heart of Kigali. It’s functional enough in its own quirky way, but definitely an eclectic place with glass chandeliers, a winding stair case and lots of improvised nooks and crannies.

Overwhelmed by the newness of it all, Lucas and Lea met their new teachers, and later agreed that they all seemed nice and friendly. The faculty is a mix of Americans, Brits and Africans, and the 190 students across pre-school to high school come, quite literally, from all over the world. Lessons are in English, with French taught five days a week, grouped by ability across grades.

IMG 6745Tuesday was the first day of school, and as I dropped them off inside the school’s gate, they looked disturbingly like deer caught in the headlights. Lea had already become friends with a couple of her coming classmates over the summer, and she clung tightly to the two of them. But by the end of the first day, her crowd had already expanded to include a gaggle of girls from Mauritania, Holland and the United States. She also admitted with a smile that she has a crush on Sitraka, the cute boy from Madagascar. Meanwhile, Lucas is now buddies with Renato from Peru and a couple of American boys, and they both seem to be quite content with the new state of affairs.

For all of us, expectations must necessarily change under these circumstances. Academics can take a back seat, in return for appreciating and making the most of the experience of being here, with the social and cultural lessons more than making up for any potential educational shortcomings.

And even after their initial apprehension and reluctance, I strongly suspect Lucas and Lea may be sad to say goodbye to their new friends and surroundings when we head home at the end of the year.