PROFESSOR, TRAVELER, VOLUNTEER
After traveling for 36 hours straight, Human Rights Adjunct Professor Elizabeth Sausele was sitting outside a guest house on an island just outside of Thailand. It was here her relaxation she had a realization.
“This should seem weird — it didn’t,” she thought.
With six trips and counting, this native St. Louisan is no amateur when it comes to travel. Sausele’s first time visiting Rwanda was in 2005 with members from the Anglican church she attended. Though these trips didn’t last longer than a couple of weeks, the relationships she made will last her a lifetime.
“Relationships are very important to me with moving as much as I have,” Sausele says. “As cheesy as it sounds, those heart bonds pick up and it’s a gift knowing that we are really dear to each other even if there’s not a lot of communication.”
Not everyone Sausele meets on her trips is a lost connection. She participated in a 500-mile section
of the Comino de Santiago, a traditional pilgrimage held in Europe, as a birthday celebration. Sausele still remains in contact with people from various countries including Finland, Germany, the UK, Brazil and Australia she met on the journey.
“I need a ‘500’ bumper sticker,” Sausele says.
In 2011, the first Webster Rwanda hybrid course was developed, with Sausele in charge of logistics. The first half of the semester is taught online with the second half consisting of two weeks studying abroad in Rwanda. Though Sausele promises to stay in places with warm water, clean sheets and electricity, she knows this trip can be daunting for students. Sausele takes the wise words of a former professor, “Go curious.”
She continues by asking, “How do we go in [with] that attitude of not assuming but of learning, of listening, of watching, of engaging?”
Sausele has made an effort to visit various schools during many of her Rwandan trips, and notes how inspiring the education systems are, despite the limited resources. There are differences, however. The education is far more written and if an adult is speaking, children sit and listen without questioning an authoritative figure.
“It is a gift we can bring to say no, it’s okay to ask questions and fight with ideas and concepts,” Sausele says.
During one trip to Rwanda accompanied by her students, Sausele was asked to sing a solo. Performing a rousing rendition of “Oklahoma”, Sausele made her great musical.
debut in front of hundreds of Rwandan students.
Though she does not have a great desire to travel to other places, Sausele hopes to continue the hybrid Rwandan trips.
“A part of why I love Rwanda so much is because I know it so well,” Sausele says. “I’m always learning, but it feels like a second home and it’s without a doubt the most beautiful place I’ve ever been.”
Story by Madeline Johnson
Photos by Jess Wright