Kigali Intern Season – Do’s and Don’ts for Your Time in Rwanda

Intern Season, Kigali, Rwanda

Intern season in Kigali is upon us! That wonderful time of year when new arrivals flood in for the summer to work on all sorts of projects. New faces appear all wide-eyed and excited and bring with them a sense of curiosity that really rubs off on those of us who have been here for awhile.

I’m sure all you interns who have been here for several months and weeks at this point can agree – Kigali is one of the most fantastic spots in the world, full of creative ideas, clean city streets, and the most gorgeous of weekend getaways. While I’m sure you have been doing great so far, this article goes out to those interns still looking to squeeze the most out of their time and to those new interns yet to arrive! While you have undoubtedly taken your first moto ride and eaten your first goat brochette, these following tips and tricks will hopefully still be useful to you as you continue to make the most of your time here.

Since 2012, I have spent about a year and a half living, working, and studying in Rwanda. I’ve tried all the brochettes this city has to offer, been on all the motos (and fallen off several), and swam in all the lakes (be wary of bilharzia – that’s tip number one!). When I first arrived in Kigali, I was lucky enough to have some wonderful people who shared with me some of the following dos and don’ts. I’ve since decided to add some extras and share this list with you lovely humans!

DO be proactive in the work place and take initiative, while also keeping in mind that you’re in a different country with different customs, and the work environment might not be the same as you’re used to at home. Have a plan before you arrive, but don’t be too disappointed if everything doesn’t work out the way you envisioned. You’re not here to push your own agenda (regardless of your position) but to learn from those around you. Get excited about your work and time here, but don’t labor under the false pretense that you’re ‘saving’ the country (also because that sentiment is just the worst).

DO NOT, to the best of your ability, spend all your time in the intern/expat bubble. Get to know your colleagues, neighbours, and random individuals that frequent your local bar. On that note, when you do find yourself in the intern bubble, also make sure to carve out some personal time to forge your own connection with Rwanda and make yourself accessible to some new friends – Rwandan or otherwise!

DO venture outside of Kimihurhura, Kiyovu, and Kacyiru. While there are some awesome restaurant, bar, and housing options in all those beautiful and expat-full neighborhoods, take some time to explore the whole city! I know you’ve spent a lot of time at Meze Fresh, Sundowner, and Repub Lounge, but there is more out there! Check out the car free area of the city centre, explore the wood market in Gisozi, head to Caiman and Pili Pili in Kibagabaga, walk the lively streets of Nyamirambo before getting a big fish to share at Panorama 10 to 2 or Green Corner, eat at Chez Lando and New Fiesta in Remera, and don’t miss the vibrant Kimironko Market!

DO take advantage of the gorgeous weekend getaways Rwanda has to offer! Check out this article for some Rwandan itinerary suggestions. With that in mind, do something unique! Wander up a random hill, or down an unmarked road. Stop in at a cafe or bar you’ve never heard of before and try something you’ve never eaten (zingalo, anyone?) Make some of your own memories without only following a predetermined guide or list of suggestions. Rwanda has a lot of opportunity for exploration so get out there and be adventurous.

DO document your summer here – it;s already flown by so quickly! Keep a journal, take some gorgeous photographs of the Kigali skyline and Lake Kivu, and send detailed emails home. Mom hasn’t heard from you in weeks and that’s just rude.

DO NOT take random pictures of adults or children (especially children) you might see walking around town. I don’t care if you see tourists do it – that is not ok either! These usually unknowing and unwilling people are individuals with a personal history and story that doesn’t need to be on your blog on Instagram account. Check out some good articles about “Poverty Porn” here and here.

DO go to the events listed on the Living in Kigali site! The events listed – ranging from yoga to art exhibitions to cocktail hours to movie nights – have something for everybody, and are a great way to get involved with different communities here.

DO NOT make assumptions. While you have undoubtedly learned a lot about this fantastic place in the last few days, weeks, or months, you don’t know everything. No one knows everything! The first time I arrived in Rwanda in 2012, I was invited to a group dinner with a volunteer who had been located in the Musanze area for about six months at the time. He spent the whole dinner telling anyone who would listen that all Rwandans are shy, boring, untrusting, and not interested in learning. We hated that guy. Don’t be that guy. Do your best to not make assumptions about the people, place, environment, government, or really anything. Listen, learn, and keep your mind open.

DO go with the flow. Sometimes it will take two hours for food to arrive, your bus to Gisenyi will break down, ants will venture into your house to say hello, your Internet connection will make you crazy, or your water or power will go out for annoyingly long stretches of time. These things happen, and my advice to you is this: try really really hard to not sweat the little things here (as hard as it sometimes is – speaking from personal experience). You’ll be so much happier if you don’t!

Anymore suggestions, Kigali-ites? Let’s hear it in the comment section! And mostly, WELCOME TO KIGALI NEW FRIENDS! We can’t wait to meet you!

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21 thoughts on “Kigali Intern Season – Do’s and Don’ts for Your Time in Rwanda”

  1. I wish all expats had you’re kinda if attitude Leigh! You’re an inspiration to positive community and cultural real relations and relationships

  2. Leah, nice piece! I totally agree! and I have been there too!! Most important thing to remember is that we always learn from mistakes 😉
    Would add one which is a bit similar to your “go with the flow”:
    DO NOT show that you are angry, upset or in a hurry, or interrupt people talking. That might be OK in NY, but here it won’t work and even produce a counter-productive effect!

  3. Marie Jeanne Mimi

    Such a wonderful article. Thanks Leah for taking time to write and share. My additions:

    DO try to learn few kinyarwanda words (muraho? Bite? Amakuru?…). Can be great ice breakers to start a conversation or in a meeting.

    DO visit the national museum in Huye (southern province). It’s an opportunity to learn about Rwandan history.

    DONT leave the country without learning more about the unfortunate and devastating genocide which took place decades ago. Kigali is good at hiding the scars of the horrific past but people still carry memories and it’s still an important part of our story!!!

    Hope you have a great time in Kigali and Rwanda!

  4. Having lived in Rwanda for 10 years I can say this is a pretty good piece!

    I agree with all the points you hab raised.

    Most importantly, make sure you visit the Genocide Memorial as this is a key to understanding anything at all about Rwanda, society and history

  5. It’s good to check some opportunity whenever they arise. Trying new ideas brings some excitement. The western Province has a lot to offer along the lake Kivu and it’s multiple coffee plantations and hot springs. In the North Province we have the Volcano National park, great caves around Musanze, Bulera and Ruhondo lakes. In th Eastern province we have the Akagera National Park and in the Southern Province we have the National Museum, Nyungwe Natioal Park and it’s suspended bridge, former King’s Palace in Nyanza. Just to name a few…

  6. If you’re white, you will encounter some prejudice that have some people think you’re rich and you have handouts to give away or they can sell almost anything. Whether that results in annoyances or preferential treatment, be prepared for it, don’t let it get to your head and think of yourself as superior, don’t overreact, etc

  7. Hi Leah, and hi all 🙂 I will be moving to Kigali for 6 months very soon, and I would love to meet you! Let’s share the contacts if you like!

  8. I will be visiting Kigali for a week during my 2 weeks off from work
    I would love to find someone to show me around, and also a hotel that costs maximum $50/night but in the centre of kigali and close to some of the historic places like museum, the stadium, the genocide memorial, etc
    If you are willing to help, kindly contact me on facebook. follow the link below to message me

  9. Hi,

    I will be visiting Rwanda for a few months for leisure and while I work on my masters in General Psych. Does anyone have any idea of ways I can gain volunteer or internship position while there, that doesn’t cost as I will already be in the country?

  10. Hello,
    Does anyone have anyone have any idea of ways I can gain volunteer or internship position while there, that doesn’t cost as I will already be in the country? Ill be working on my masters in General Psych and exploring other opportunities.


  11. LOL about helmets. I would like to walk around with a good reliable one myself because the ones on offer are mostly useless in crash but I would attract lots of stares/comments as that thing is oh so Muzungu(ish)

  12. Great tips and sound advice! I would love to meet up with you – I lived in Chicago for a time. I arrive this Tuesday, and very excited to explore!

  13. Dear Leah

    Your words have been inspiring. I am in the selection process for a job in Ruanda ( Ngorore) and I have started to worried. I can´t find much information in internet about living in Ngorore, mostly if it is a ok place to live with a 2 years old daughter. I would like you to give me your point of view, it would be very helpful.



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