UNC Around the World

Entrepreneurs, social workers, teachers, actors and volunteers are among the 800-plus UNC alumni living and working abroad. Ten graduates share their stories following their life-changing decisions to take their talents to countries spanning the globe.

AnnaBuilding Health Care Clinics and School Classrooms in Rwanda

Anna Russo fell in love with Africa on a mission with the Peace Corps. She didn’t know how much until it was gone.

Russo graduated with a degree in French and a minor in visual arts. She worked various jobs before joining the Peace Corps. She listed Africa as one of her choices for volunteering. Fate took over from there. Her French skills landed her in Cameroon.

It was a different life than the one she had growing up in Fort Collins. She didn’t live in a mud hut, but the small village had no running water or electricity. She liked that the people there lived as a community, and not as individuals, as they can in the States.

Following her Peace Corps mission, Russo earned a master’s degree from the University of Denver. She then applied for jobs specifically to work in Africa.

That led her to taking a position in Rwanda’s capital city of Kigali, where she helped people as a social worker of sorts for a U.S. company that buys coffee from the country.

VideoShe worked with farmers and community leaders to determine what they need to improve their lives and the lives of their fellow residents.

The greatest needs generally are in health and education, Russo says, and she recommended and then managed projects including building small health clinics and schools.

The elementary schools will have more than 100 students in one classroom, even though the government-imposed limit is 45. When the company adds more classrooms, the class sizes shrink, making it more likely the students will get a better education, she says.

The need for health care is just as strong. In some villages, people will walk for 10 miles just to get to a clinic, and that’s not a hospital, she says, just a little clinic.

Russo says Rwanda, notorious for the stunning genocide that killed as many as a million people, is actually one of the better places to live in Africa. It’s clean, the infrastructure is good and there’s good public transportation and grocery stores.

Before returning to the U.S. last December, she lived in a threebedroom house, with a nice view and a garden, and had electricity and running water. She sometimes got frustrated with living in Rwanda, even with things such as spotty Internet service. But she loved her job, especially when she saw the faces of the children who live in those villages, and she knows she helped give them a better life. NV

—Dan England is a Greeley journalist.




• Learn a foreign language — Many get a job simply because they can speak the language over there.

• Get some experience abroad — A stint in the Peace Corps or internship overseas builds the résumé.

• Teach or volunteer — Opportunities abound in those two vocations, even for first-year teachers. If you’re willing to go anywhere, you will get a job, and usually schools will help you with the paperwork.

• Do it — It’s difficult, and the transition, especially at first, will probably be tough. But it’s worth every experience.

• Think outside the box — The jobs available overseas are probably different then in the U.S. But that means opportunity as well. Find a way to combine your skills.

• Go somewhere you didn’t expect to go — Many interviewed for this story wound up in a place they didn’t expect to go but also wound up loving their lives there.

• Use an agency — There are many agencies and opportunities online. Just be careful about which agency you use.

• Understand it’s going to be different — You left the U.S. to experience other cultures, so enjoy the differences and embrace them, even if that means changing the way you dress or act in public. Life overseas is a new adventure. Treat it that way.

—As told to Dan England by graduates
working abroad