Senior Snapshot: Weinberg senior to ‘teach for impact’ abroad

Sammy Caiola

When Weinberg senior Lydia Hsu made her first trip to Rwanda, she had designed a curriculum for teaching English to a group of 20 students of intermediate proficiency. Upon arrival, she was asked to take on 60 students with varying levels of English. She said she threw away her curriculum and took it day by day.

Hsu is the recipient of the Projects for Peace grant, a $10,000 award that allows 100 students to pursue a grassroots peace project over the summer. She has also been accepted into the Fulbright Program, which offers teaching opportunities graduates who are interested in international education.

With her Projects for Peace grant, Hsu will travel to Rwanda in August to implement “Vocation for Education,” a program that will pair students with local business owners for internships. When Hsu taught English in Rwanda with a Northwestern University grant last summer, she set her three best students up with internships with local vendors.

This summer, she will expand that project. In November she will use her Fulbright scholarship to work as a teaching assistant at a Rwandan university while continuing to put students in internships.

The students Hsu works with are people between the ages of 20 and 55 who were orphaned after Rwandan genocide, she said. Hsu said since the atrocities, Rwanda has tried to reform its educational system to involve more critical thinking, and she would like to contribute to that progress.

“The reason Rwanda is trying to redesign their curriculum is because their culture used to focus on obedience, and now they’re focusing on critical thinking,” Hsu said. “They think a lack of critical thinking is one of the causes of the genocide, because everyone just did what they were told.”

At the Rwanda Multi-Learning Centre in Kigali, Hsu said she taught students who were walking two hours each day to her class because they could not afford bus fare. She said she hopes teaching them English and setting them up with internships would lead into their future careers.

“Since middle school I’ve wanted to work in education,” Hsu said. “I had really bad teachers, and I saw the difference that education made in the lives of my friends. My philosophy has always been to teach for need and teach for impact. Every teacher should teach where they can maximize their impact.”

While teaching last summer, Hsu kept a blog about her experiences through the NU website. Though she started writing to inform her friends and family about what she was doing, she said her posts also acted as international forum where teachers from all over the world would give her suggestions on how to teach English to Rwandans.

In addition to her work overseas, Hsu has improved education about Africa close to home. This Saturday, she will present a keynote about the African Studies curriculum she designed for Highland Park High School. David Kanamugire, an adviser to the Rwandan president and United Nations employee that Hsu met while working abroad, is flying in to speak, and a panel of NU faculty will also be present.

On campus, Hsu has served as event coordinator for the African Students Association, has represented African studies on the undergraduate advisory board, and has helped organize the Africana collection in the University Library.

“As a senior, one of the things I appreciate most about NU is that it opened up so many doors that I never thought would open for me,” Hsu said. “It has enabled me to do so much.”

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