After the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, the education sector, along with other parts of the economy, was left in shambles. This resulted in extensive damage to infrastructure, as well as a depletion of manpower and equipment. Needless to say, the country had to pick up the pieces and embark on the journey to rebuild, literally starting from scratch. In the realm of higher education, the National University of Rwanda (NUR), now the University of Rwanda (UR), was the sole university in the country, yet it functioned at a considerably low standard. ALSO READ: VOX-POP: International students on being a woman in Rwanda The Ministry of Education reports that NUR only graduated 2,000 students in the three decades from its founding in 1963 to 1994. In contrast, today the institution graduates over 8,300 students annually. Post-1994, Rwandans who wanted to access quality university education travelled abroad to countries like the US, South Africa, India, China, the UK, France or even neighbouring Uganda, Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), among other countries. Today, Rwanda boasts more than 40 higher learning institutions, including internationally recognised universities such as Carnegie Mellon University Africa (CMU-Africa), African Leadership University, Oklahoma Christian University Rwanda and the University of Global Health Equity (UGHE). While it was known that Rwandans would travel abroad for better education, it was unheard of for foreigners to come to Rwanda for university studies. However, this has drastically changed. Rwanda has become a hub for people from all over the continent and beyond, who come to enrol not only in the mentioned universities but also private ones like Mount Kigali University (MKU), Kigali Independent University, University of Lay Adventists of Kigali (UNILAK), University of Kigali, and the Adventist University of Central Africa (AUCA), among others, as the country works to establish itself as an education centre. But what is it like to be an international student living and studying in Rwanda? The New Times set out to talk to several foreign students to get their stories and experiences on life as a student in Rwanda. New territory Mohlakore Mokhehle, 23, from Lesotho, currently pursuing a blended programme of Bachelor of Science and Surgery and a Master of Science in Global Health Delivery (MGHD) at UGHE, said she came to know about the university through a family friend back home who had studied in the country. “She had studied the Master’s programme here, so she told me about the school. I did some research on my own and then I applied. Went through all the processes and finally got here. “This was my first time here. I heard that Rwanda is a beautiful country, pretty clean and peaceful, and I think I got to see that over the past five months, I’ve been here,” Mokhehle said. Mokhehle was able to settle in quickly, following in the footsteps of her countrymate Mathemba Radebe, an MGHD 2022 Health Management graduate who is the Deputy Executive Director at Partners in Health. Like Mokhehle, Ernest Ouma, 29, from Uganda, joined UGHE in 2022 to pursue a joint Bachelor’s and Master’s programme in medicine and global health delivery. “Before I came to Rwanda, I didn’t know much about the country and didn’t have any relatives or friends who lived here permanently. So, I was going into a relatively unknown country to me. “However, Rwanda had already established itself as a safe and hospitable country with a notable commitment to development. Therefore, I didn’t have any fears about security, as the country had been relatively peaceful for the past 20-plus years,” he said. ALSO READ: Education: What’s drawing international students to Rwanda? Ouma previously thought of Rwanda as a Francophone country yet he did not speak French and expected to struggle with communication, but he was excited to learn that English had been adopted as an official language and he did not struggle at all. “While applying to UGHE, I was considering a couple of options in my country Uganda, and also another in South Africa. However, I was ultimately drawn to UGHE because of its commitment to transforming health systems through its global health equity pedagogy which aligned with my aspirations and desires to make a difference,” Ouma told The New Times. He realised that the Rwandan government is supportive of such development efforts and that fed well into his mission and vision. “Regardless of the little I knew about the country, I was excited to receive the UGHE offer and accepted it when it was given. I’ve been in Rwanda for almost two years now and I must say that I have enjoyed my stay,” Ouma said. UGHE is known to attract international students from West African countries, like Bailor Jalloh from Sierra Leone, who is also pursuing a Bachelor’s in Medicine and Surgery, together with a Master’s in Global Health Delivery at the Butaro-based university. The 24-year-old said he was drawn to Rwanda by the fact that the country embraces diversity, not only among its citizens but also gives people of other nationalities an opportunity to come, live, work or study with ease. Jalloh said he came to learn about Rwanda through the media, as well as social media and took note of the huge transformation the country has undergone over the past decades in terms of development and he was motivated to pursue his career here. He said the training they receive at UGHE is “top-notch” regarding style and methodology of teaching, which can only be compared to doing medicine in top universities in North America or Europe. “UGHE is one of the best medical universities in Sub-Saharan Africa, with high-quality educational systems and faculty coming from the US, Canada to name a few,” he said, adding that the six months he has been in Rwanda have been full of great experiences. The young medic said he would prefer to stay in Rwanda upon completing his studies, but he also believes he owes his people back home service with the skills and knowledge he will acquire in Rwanda. Out-of-the-ordinary The same can be said of ALU, which has become a magnet for foreign students who wish to seek knowledge to become the next generation of African leaders with a higher purpose, the very objective the institution was set up for. If you were asked to name a more diverse university, you would not look further than the university founded by serial entrepreneur Fred Swaniker. The university has partnered with the Mastercard Foundation, through its scholar’s programme, to enrol students from different parts of the world, like Johnson Aduma Ochong, from Benue State Nigeria, who is currently in his second year at the Bumbogo-based institution. The entrepreneurial leadership student, specialising in business strategy and investment has been living in Rwanda since January 2022. He decided to join ALU because he wanted to pursue a different degree outside the conventional education models. “Sometime in 2019-2020, my mind-set towards education started to change. I no longer wanted the traditional educational model. I wanted something different that would help me build my skills and experiences. So, I decided to give ALU a shot,” Ochong said. Coming to Rwanda was purely fate, he said, because his admission had sent him to the ALU Mauritius campus, but the new programme he wanted was going to be introduced in Rwanda first and later in Mauritius. “The main bone of contention was whether it was going to be a good place for me and I looked the country up online. I had not really heard of Rwanda. At the time I just knew Rwanda was a country in Africa but I knew nothing about it,” Ochong told The New Times. Ochong read a lot about Rwanda and along the way, some people, including his mentors, would ask him why he chose to go to a country that ‘recently’ came out of genocide—but on the other hand, he saw that the country has advanced in many ways regardless of that history. Notably, Ochong went through culture shock when he arrived in Rwanda, regarding how orderly and law-abiding the people are. “Back home there is a lot of ‘gra gra’,” he said about his country, giving an example of how in Rwanda, vehicles stop at zebra crossings for people to cross, but back home he has to look left, right, back and forth before crossing the road. From the cleanliness to the way people respect law enforcement organs, everything seemed too good to be true for Ochong. Safe and foreign-friendly Victoria Muludiki, born and raised in South Africa—but is a Congolese national—has been studying at ALU for just over a year, and says before coming to Rwanda, she only knew Rwanda as the greenest country on the continent. She got to know about the university through a family member and later found out that it was actually in Rwanda. She chose to travel to Rwanda even though South Africa has some of the best universities on the continent. Born to Congolese refugee parents, Muludiki said the way the law is structured in South Africa does not favour non-nationals and refugees, even when it comes to education and other opportunities. “In as much as South Africa is a beautiful country, there’s not a lot of opportunities for refugees, especially when it comes to university. There are a lot of sponsorships, there are a lot of scholarships and bursaries but 95 per cent of them are only for South African citizens.” Private sponsorship can also be pretty costly, she added, and by God’s grace, she got a scholarship to come and study in Rwanda. “I am doing my best in entrepreneurial leadership, a three-year programme. By 2026, I should be graduating,” she said. For Muludiki, it was much more than just moving to Rwanda, it happened at a time when her native DRC was going through tensions, which caused quite a bit of unease for her and her parents “Everyone was scared for me, you know! Everyone was calling me to see if I was alive,” she said, adding that there were a lot of political speculations going on, which made her parents worry, but once they realised that she was safe, their fears were allayed. Muludiki also said she feels safer living in Rwanda because security is guaranteed. She can move freely at any time of the day or night unlike where she lived before, where she could not go out of the house after 6pm. Long Deng, a South Sudanese student at ALU but a refugee in Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya, landed on a message calling for applications at ALU and thought it was a scam, but later he realised the university existed. He did his research and concluded that he wanted to come to Rwanda. Security, cleanliness and good internet are some of the attributes that made him choose Rwanda instead of the other ALU campus. “Rwanda is the best country that a foreigner can live in,” he said, alluding to his own experience and the warmth he was accorded. The 25-year-old software engineering student said he loves the people and the culture, recommending the country to international students looking to further their studies. Adventurous experience “My experience in Rwanda has been adventurous. I’ve never experienced anything like this before because it was my first time leaving my country,” said Emmanuella AfoyoWere, a Ugandan student at ALU, pursuing business entrepreneurial leadership, majoring in governance and regional integration. “I come from a very big family, so I’ve never been on my own before, so it was a huge surprise,” she said, adding that she got interested when she heard that ALU was an African university, created by Africans, for Africans. “Because I’m passionate about politics and regional integration, I was interested and so I came here,” she said, pointing out that much as Rwanda and Uganda are neighbours, the two countries differ in terms of culture and lifestyle. “Coming to Rwanda was a choice because of the political advancement that they have here,” she said. She pointed out that she was interested in learning about the progressive governance models the country has deployed under the leadership of President Paul Kagame, within a short time, something other African countries can learn from. “I had to come here because the best way to learn is first-hand. It was a no-brainer for me,” she said. Simeon Azeh Kongnyuy, a Cameroonian student at ALU, says that he opted for Rwanda because he had heard a lot of stories about Rwanda, how the country is progressing and having an open visa policy for all Africans are some of the things that motivated him. “I believe coming to Rwanda will be a way for me to gain more, learn more, and probably experience new culture and be part of the diversity. I've been in Rwanda for eight months, and I can pretty much say the people of Rwanda have been very welcoming,” says the 19-year-old software engineering student. The diversity at the university and within the communities has helped him to become a better person, discover his abilities and also his adaptability skills, which have been honed at a young age, thanks to the opportunity offered in Rwanda.