Photo by: Henoc Kivuye
A night of dancing, fashion and traditional Rwandan food and drink provides international students an opportunity to bring a piece of their lives back home to campus.
“Rwandan Night is a time for all the Rwandan students to come together and show the OC community our culture,” junior Rwandan student Veronise Umutoni said. “We try to mix it up every year, but it doesn’t really change much.”
Rwandan Night usually features a dance, a fashion show and a display of traditional Rwandan food and drink. There were around 250 people at the event this year.
The dances are usually traditional, things that would be done at weddings, and the fashion show gives students the chance to see that the dress isn’t much different than what they might wear.
“We mostly hold the night to give back to the OC community,” senior Rwandan student Jean Paul Tugirimana said. “We benefit a lot from this community, and we want to give back by showing our traditions, how we worship God in our songs and just show people how we do it in Rwanda.”
Planning for the Rwandan Night starts the semester before it happens. The students get a little help from the university, but they mostly plan everything themselves.
“It takes a little bit of time to get everything together,” Tugirimana said. “We have to get the auditorium reserved for it, we have to let UDining know that we are going to have it so they can prepare the Rwandan food, and we have to make sure everyone is rehearsed and knows what they are doing.”
Umutoni said the biggest thing students can take away is the opportunity to learn about what the Rwandan students are doing to give back to their country.
“Most of the students at OC see us, but they don’t know about us,” Umutoni said. “All they have are stories about our country, and some of them aren’t true. When they come to Rwandan night, they get to learn more about us. They get to learn about what the Rwandan students here are doing, like Rwandans4Water, and they get to become involved in that.”
The Rwandan students host the night almost entirely single-handed: it is their night.
“The [best thing] about the night for me was how it was put together entirely by the students themselves,” International Student Advisor Jacob Shuart said. “Usually, when it comes to putting things together, we have to help out a lot, but the students in charge came in and asked what they should do, and I didn’t hear from them again, and they did a fantastic job.”
Tugirimana said one of the biggest things students can gain from going to Rwandan Culture Night is the opportunity to grow as individuals by gaining a new respect for a different culture, and in return, gain a new appreciation of their own.
“I personally believe that people shape each other,” Tugirimana said. “We always have something to learn from each other. I think it’s good to find out about how other people live and what they hold important. I think that students from OC can see that about us, and it can change you, and help you learn who you are.”
Junior Kristen Lindsey said this was also an opportunity for students to get to know more about the people around them by getting out of their comfort zones and making new friends.
“I think the biggest thing I took away from the event was getting closer to my Rwandan friends,” Lindsey said. “Once it was over, we were hanging around and talking and they were just thanking everyone for showing up, but honestly I wouldn’t miss it. Every year I go I feel closer to them.”
Rwandan night also gives students the chance to see how Rwanda is today, instead of just what they’ve heard in history class.
“There has been a genocide in Rwanda and a war,” junior Rwandan student Anitha Ingabe said. “Some of the students here were involved in the war and lost family, and sometimes when students talk about Rwanda, all they think of is the war, and it really isn’t like that anymore: it’s a happy place. So it’s good to see the human side of how things are today.”
Umutoni and Tugirimana were grateful to Oklahoma Christian for allowing them the opportunity to have the night; they thanked students for coming and learning about their culture, and they encourage students to come if they haven’t before.
“Next time, students better come,” Umutoni said. “The people who came were so excited to see everything. They were glad to learn about our culture and where we are from. Plus, it’s a good time to relax and get away from school for the night.”