Huskers at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln explored Rwanda and global entrepreneurship from the comfort of their own homes thanks to a virtual global experience program coordinated by the College of Business. The new virtual five-week course called Global Startup Communities: An Examination of Entrepreneurship in Rwanda and the United States (MNGT 398) offered an alternative to studying abroad while enabling a cross-cultural experience through the lens of entrepreneurship.
“Through videos, movies, personal stories and demonstrations, the students were all able to ‘visit’ Rwanda in a meaningful way. With the desire to experience the many aspects of Rwandan culture, the course was beneficial for students from any country who wanted a global immersion experience,” said Mikki Sandin, international business and inclusion coordinator, who helped coordinate the virtual program.
Nebraska partnered with the African Leadership University (ALU) so students currently living in Rwanda shared their insights during the course. A shared interest in entrepreneurship served as the common denominator for the Rwandan and Nebraska students.
“The university has several partnerships in Rwanda, and more than 200 Rwandans have been Huskers in the past four years. Entrepreneurship is integral to the development of the economy in Rwanda, as it has been for decades in the U.S., so we focused on this mutually beneficial topic,” said Sandin.
Taught by Dr. Andrew Hanna, assistant professor of practice in management, the course featured presentations about Rwanda’s culture through real-life stories shared by two Rwandan students currently studying integrated science at Nebraska. Both juniors, Japhet Ingeri and Shema Yahya, showcased Rwanda’s community and customs, as well as their history, economy, food and wildlife.
“We watched tour videos and discussed Rwandan government, food, history and geography. We also learned about the history of The 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi and some Kinyarwanda, the national language of Rwanda,” said Hanna. “With half of the class’s students being from ALU in Kigali, Rwanda, they gave the class a more personal experience by sharing about their lives and backgrounds.”
Hearing the history of Rwanda and learning more about its culture provided Ellie Moncrief, senior international business major from Hastings, Nebraska, with a broader perspective on cross-cultural communication.
“This course taught me a lot about Rwanda and how important it is to be aware of things that may affect people. I learned a lot about The 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi and how we need to be aware of how these events in people’s past still affect the person they are today,” she said.
Students also heard from numerous guest speakers who joined the course through Zoom to share insights into both Nebraska’s and Africa’s entrepreneurial community.
“We had speakers from the Lincoln entrepreneurship ecosystem, such as Senator Adam Morfeld (who represents the Northeast part of Lincoln, Nebraska) and Mike Dunlap (’86 & ’88), executive chairman at Nelnet in Lincoln, Nebraska, talk about their view of startup communities. We also had a daily speaker from Rwanda or Central Africa; most notably, the Permanent Secretary of Innovation for the Rwandan government, Yves N. Iradukunda,” said Hanna.
For ALU student Jean Luc Nsabimana, the program provided an opportunity to bolster his entrepreneurial talents to help address various social causes in his home country. He plans to take what he learned to help launch his project called Iota Missions, which aims to develop homegrown entrepreneurial policy solutions to problems faced in Rwanda.
“I believed being part of this program was a great opportunity for me to successfully launch my project through learning various ways within which we as young people can leverage the opportunities that my country provides while simultaneously learning from the U.S.,” he said.
Hanna noted the contrast between the United States and Rwandan perspectives on entrepreneurship. He shared how conversations between the two groups of students generated a more cultural perspective on the topic.
“Rwandan students are so motivated to be entrepreneurs in order to contribute to their country and help it thrive, whereas in the U.S., we tend to see people motivated by the lifestyle or possibilities for economic growth success. Each view is valid, but having each group talk to each other about their motivations helps them get a more holistic view of the role of entrepreneurship and its ability to make amazing things happen,” said Hanna.
The virtual abroad course concluded with a free concert from the Live Lyve Band, a Rwandan student band at Nebraska. The event welcomed all to join in the festivities to celebrate community.
“Startup communities are founded in the shared value of community. Therefore, we desired to reach the community of UNL and Lincoln by offering a free concert and food from the restaurant Stur22. Japhet was a teaching assistant for the course and is the lead of the Live Lyve Band,so it was a perfect fit to have their band perform and share their Afro-fusion music with us. It was also a celebration of the completion of a successful course and experience for all involved,” said Sandin.
Similar to the Rwanda course, business students also experienced a global experiences program with Brazil, led by Rob Simon, associate professor of practice in marketing. Much like the Rwanda program, students from the university and Brazil came together to experience a unique cultural learning opportunity.
“It really added to the class that the UNL students came from very different cultural backgrounds. We had Huskers from Nepal, China, Oman and a student whose family had emigrated from Ukraine, as well as all the students from Brazil who participated. It was fascinating seeing them all come together by the end of the class,” said Simon. “The collaboration between UNL and Brazilian students was a great experience and really made the class a true hands-on learning opportunity.”
Due to the success of the Rwanda and Brazil global experiences programs, Nebraska plans to offer additional faculty-led study abroad trips. As of the date when this story was released, students will travel to the countries for study aboard trips in May 2022.
To learn more about study abroad experiences at the College of Business, visit: https://business.unl.edu/studyabroad.