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Valuing the Impact of Professorial Office Hours in Rwanda

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Ever since I started teaching at the University of Rwanda (UR) as a TEFL lecturer for my Peace Corps Response assignment, I have embraced the opportunity to introduce the practice of informal teacher-to-student meetings on a regular basis via office hours. A former volunteer colleague gave me the key to her vacant office (because she did all of her work from home) when I first arrived; I was grateful to have a neutral space that I could use to do my work and to meet with students outside of class.

UR is a governmental institution of higher learning and is the largest, oldest and best university in the country. Over 8,000 students study at the main campus where I teach; ergo, the average class size ranges anywhere from 30 to 100 or more students, especially if, for example, the nursing, pharmacy and medicine students are combined into one class like Anatomy (where only one lecturer teaches it). Considering these facts, it is understandable that the instructors are so boggled down with all of the responsibility that comes from having so many students in addition to all of their other duties as full-time, salaried university employees.

Then, I arrive as a volunteer at the bottom of the institutional totem pole and with no high expectations [from my colleagues and supervisor] for my work performance, though I do hold myself to a high standard as is the norm for a perpetual overachiever. Once I started teaching classes and getting a feel for the general English proficiency level of the students, I thought that instituting office hours would be a way to offer more academic, individualized support to students who both needed and wanted it. Now having done it, I am glad that it worked.

One of the first things I noticed upon establishing office hours is that students who were usually reserved in class felt more comfortable to open up and converse with me. They really had something to say, and a one-to-one informal meeting with them allowed them to express themselves without the fear of being judged by their peers for fear of making a mistake. I was astounded! Some of them even talked about their hobbies with me and wanted to know more about me; and one person asked me to read his brief literary manuscript for a book that he wants to publish.

Getting to meet with students almost every week during the trimester has proven to be one of my favorite aspects of guest lecturing at a foreign university. It reminds me of my writing tutor days both in college and at the local university in my hometown where I worked as a graduate writing tutor for one year before my first Peace Corps stint. University instructors wear many hats; we are facilitators of learning, academics, actors, authors, administrators, mentors, role models, tutors and [life] coaches. As an aspiring professor, it is a badge or hat I wear with honor.

So… What is Peace Corps Response Anyway?

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Peace Corps Response (PCR) is an offshoot of the more well-known Peace Corps program, and its focus is on “short-term, high-impact” assignments in Peace Corps countries worldwide. Recruiters working for PCR seek to hire either Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs), people who served in the traditional two-year program, and/or considerably experienced professionals who are savvy in their field and are willing to live and work independently in a developing country for anywhere typically from three to twelve or more months.

Unquestionably, differences exist between the longer, extant Peace Corps program and its newer counterpart, PCR. For example, upon arrival in the host country of service, volunteers undergo an accelerated orientation (10 to 14 days) before they hit the ground running in the communities where they will serve in any of the six sectors (education, health, youth development, community economic development, agriculture and environment) wherein Peace Corps operates programs across the globe. This orientation can be quite mundane for recent RPCVs already familiar with the policies and procedures of Peace Corps at large (as was my experience).

However, it serves a necessary purpose in equipping the volunteers to be successful in their respective roles as not only specialized professionals in education or health (the two programs in Rwanda), for instance, but also in being outstanding cultural ambassadors for the United States of America in their daily lives as neighbors, friends, patrons and residents in the host country.

In fact, many [but not all] PCR volunteers tend to be older and more mature with more life and work experience, and the volunteer cohort is almost always much smaller than the traditional two-year volunteer cohort. As a result, the PCR experience can be all the more isolating and individualistic, requiring an extra dose of grit and gusto to maximize the experience for what it’s worth.

Unbelievably yet believably, it’s been five months since I’ve started this journey of Peace Corps Chapter Two (if you will). And what a roller-coaster ride it’s been! Unarguably, I have been challenged, stretched and developed in ways that left me uncomfortable. But as I have learned, new realms of power, prestige and prosperity are birthed from adversity, of the kind that is discomforting, different and dynamic. I have been discovering more about myself such as my inner fortitude to stay the course and learning how to perform my work and to handle responsibility without letting my fickle emotions get the best of me in the moment.

The maxim of never making a permanent [significant] decision based on fleeting feelings rings true for both the monotonous and spontaneous realities of life in the Third World. Surely, I am a work in progress, always learning, growing and seeking to actualize my best self, best life. Writing helps me introspectively to assess my journey of personal development in a way that I cannot always verbally articulate. It’s part of my self-care protocol; we all need one.

How are you actualizing your best self and best life? What advice can you share from your life experience about how you deal with adversity (be it from embracing the unknown, dealing with transition, mending broken relationships or forging new ones, etc.) Feel free to express your thoughts and insights!

Subscribe to my website in the box at the base of this page if you wish. Have a splendid day.

The Roller-coaster Journey of Launching my First Writer Website

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Tumushimire Yves and Charles McKinney IV

After years of thinking about creating and almost hiring a somewhat costly graphic design team in Thailand to develop a business website to showcase my writing and editing services, this year in 2018 I am glad to announce that I have finally accomplished this goal, which was one of my goals for the New Year. Interestingly, I managed to find an enterprising student who is passionately gifted in website development and graphic design at the university where I teach. I believe our meeting was kismet!

While he first asked me for advice in writing and editing English content for his own nutritional website, a venture he started with a friend to provide healthy nutrition advice to Rwandan citizens, I then thought of utilizing his expertise in order to establish my website, a long-time dream that fell by the wayside… until NOW! This couldn’t be a better match, a total win-win for us both. Upon asking him to embark on this endeavor, he unwaveringly accepted the proposal.

So in early April we met to map out the details of the project and from there the work began. He began his work, and I began mine. Toward the end of the month we met again so he could update me on the progress made from the content, media and design preferences I sent him beforehand. Eager to see what he had done, I was blown away by the professional work displayed in the quality of the website’s look, feel and overall appeal. I could tell that he takes prodigious pride in his work, a like-minded professional who delivers on his commitment. He had a plan, kept me abreast of it and met regularly with me to tackle the tasks at hand.

Tumushimire Yves and Charles McKinney IV

Like with any worthy undertaking in life, we encountered challenges on the path to manifesting this groundbreaking project. Unfortunately, the young entrepreneur’s computer crashed days prior to almost finishing the website and to final exam week. The timing of this quandary couldn’t be worse. However, he quickly bounced back from the event by borrowing a friend’s computer and using mine’s when we met to discuss the progress of the website. Now, for the next challenge?

Many of the photo images, including the ones that link to my digital publications, either were not clearly showing up or showing up at all on the site. So he suggested contacting the technical support team of the website’s hosting service to troubleshoot the problem. As the host server is in beta testing mode currently, he thought that this was possibly the cause of the unforeseen issue.

An experienced coder and troubleshooter himself, the student webmaster managed to resolve the kinks impeding ultimate completion success of the website and, thereby, fortifying my faith in his staunch professionalism. While I had my slight doubts, they rapidly vanished as I monitored the status of the site from both mobile and laptop mediums, noticing the evaporated glitches.

Lastly, a third but nonthreatening challenge has been the often temperamental nature of the Internet connection in Rwanda, which can unpredictably stop working or can sometimes be very slow and admittedly frustrating. Nonetheless, it hasn’t stopped this show of producing the website and makes its mere existence that much more special and appreciated.

Tumushimire Yves and Charles McKinney IV

Finally, after nearly six weeks of ongoing communication, meetings and problem solving, the website is ready to be released and shared into the world of cyberspace. I humbly gratefully thank Mr. Yves for his faithful commitment to facilitating the achievement of this enduring vision that came into fruition at the appropriate time. If you like what you see on my website, check him out by clicking on his name at the bottom of this page. Welcome to my writer website!

When I was 15

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Happy 15th Birthday LinkedIn! I cannot believe it’s been that long since its inception. I did not really start using LinkedIn seriously until 2011 when I first started teaching abroad. And I’ve been hooked ever since, ever grateful for LinkedIn’s evolution and for this all-inclusive blogging platform that allows me to share my professional journey with other passionate, intelligent and career-minded networkers. I salute you LinkedIn!

Fifteen years ago I was still in high school trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. College attendance was the sure path I wanted to take as a student back then, but I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to study. Clinical psychology appealed to me during those years as self-help and positive psychology books attracted my interest.

I thought of earning a Ph.D. in the field and that would lead to the opening of my own private practice. Psychiatry even struck a chord with me. My former pastor gave me wise advice about going into such a field. She said it is something that you really have to be cut out for and gifted to do otherwise your clients could make you go cuckoo. It was straightforward counsel that I carefully considered as I made my way through high school.

Upon entering college, I decided to major in International Business Foreign Language with a minor in Entrepreneurship. It turned out that the foreign language and international aspect of the interdisciplinary major intrigued me more than the business aspect. The same is true as of today, 15 years later, as a global educator and traveling wordsmith ever fascinated with cultural anthropology. My education prepared me for the trajectory my life work has taken.

Never in a million years did I imagine embarking on a career in international education by traveling and teaching English around the globe. Nonetheless, in retrospect, I have no regrets. Now as a second-time Peace Corps volunteer working in Africa at the University of Rwanda, I continue on the path of intellectual and spiritual self-actualization inspired by all the possibilities inherent in my worldview of anything is possible. Because it really is if only you believe! What did you want to be or do when you were 15? #whenIwas15

New Year, New Goals, New You

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New Year, New Goals, New You

Happy New Year! Can you believe it’s 2018, only two years away from entering a new decade? I can hardly believe it but as they say, the older you get the faster the time goes. The arrival of a new year brings with it the promise and possibility of new beginnings. Many people have a goal or goals in mind that they would like to achieve so that by the end of the year, they can reflect on and celebrate all that they have accomplished.

Some people make these goals visible by creating a vision board while others write a simple list of what they plan to achieve (this is more of my style though I would like to create a vision board at some point as I am a visual learner). The important thing is to ensure that you write it down. As the Good Book records, “write the vision and make it plain.” Writing it somewhere solidifies the idea, making the goal(s) more concrete and, thereby, attainable. So with that said, I’d like to provide a few of my own for 2018:

  • Securing a mentor to coach me to higher professional/personal success
  • Taking a DNA test to trace my family tree
  • Visiting 3-4 new countries
  • Writing and publishing my first book (and creating a writer/author website)
  • Saving money every month and investing in stock/bonds

I’m not one for using the term “resolution”, given the bad rap it often gets because of the willpower it takes to bring it to pass. Goal setting seems more realistic and something you can do any time of the year and in your life and not just on January 1 as if to jump on the bandwagon of wishful thinking that plagues many good-intended folks.

How I Earn $500 Per Article as a Writer for My Alma Mater

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One day three years ago, I received a LinkedIn message from the alumni magazine editor of the graduate school I attended and had graduated from just the previous year. She had stumbled upon an article I had written for the National Journal (now The Atlantic) and wanted to know two things: if she could republish the article in the revamped alumni magazine and if I’d be interested in writing for the new interactive digital alumni magazine.

Completely elated about and interested in this opportunity, I promptly accepted the invitation. In this case study, I will discuss how writing for publications distributed by your alma mater may prove as a viable method of earning freelance income, the importance of contracts and maintaining a decent, ongoing relationship with the editor.

Viable Source of Income Writing About Compelling Topics

Writing for your former college or university alumni magazine can be a worthwhile opportunity in building your freelance portfolio and making extra income because as a graduate of the institution, you are already connected to it in ways that non-graduates are not. Therefore, you can capitalize on the chance to not only write for the publication(s), but also to pitch feasible story ideas so you can write on the topics you most care about and will enjoy.

After years of trying to break into the freelance industry often doing pro bono work or work for meager pay, I was delighted at the prospect of working from home, interviewing accomplished fellow alumni, and then composing interesting feature stories for the magazine, all while getting featly compensated for it. My writing dreams were finally manifesting in profitable ways!

I have interviewed professors, students, and alumni- people all connected to the university- on themes related to human trafficking, the TV industry, national and international volunteerism and worldwide campus growth. So far I have earned $2000 from such gigs [with no plans of stopping], working anywhere in the world, hence the beauty of freelancing.

Never Underestimate the Power of a Contract

When I agreed to work as an independent contractor for the university magazine, a contract was never established between the editor and me. Unfortunately, the thought never entered my mind. I accepted her word at face value that I would be paid $500 per article equaling $1000 for the first gig because I agreed to write two articles. Things became problematic compensation-wise once I had completed the work on deadline and submitted the invoice for payment. Weeks and months elapsed, the magazine was published, and I still hadn’t received my payment.

Upon asking about the delay in receiving payment, the editor explained something to the effect that the payroll department was undergoing a system overhaul and that it would take longer than usual. At this point, I was incredulous of this explanation and wondered if my freelance colleagues had gotten their payment but did not attempt to ask them. Long story short, after two months of waiting patiently for the check with no results, I contacted the University President via LinkedIn about the issue. Once notified, she took immediate action on my behalf and then assured me of the resolved issue. Thanks to her efforts, I obtained payment within 7-14 days.

As a freelance writer, it is essential to know the terms and conditions of the project for which you’ve been hired by the client. A verbal agreement usually does not suffice for this, especially if you’ve never worked for the client before, let alone met him or her. Make sure you have a contract drafted stating the stipulations of the work involved, including compensation, deadlines and any other pertinent information. Then sign and date it only after the client has done so first.

Maintain Professionalism to Sustain Continuous Work

Now that a new editor has been employed (for reasons I know nothing about), we have been in contact. She quickly displayed her professionalism by sending me a complete contract with the details of the writing project. I could not wait to build a working relationship together, glad to connect with another professional. Once I completed the assignment and e-mailed the invoice, I promptly received payment within a month via direct deposit. This was success!

Forward thinking about the next issue, I decided to pitch a story idea to the editor based on my fond journey as a US Peace Corps volunteer, and that initial pitch looks something like this:

Dear (Editor’s Name),

Thinking ahead to the next issue, I wanted to propose a story idea related to volunteerism and service. We could locate and interview alumni who have served or are serving in the Peace Corps with a broader theme of paying it forward, gathering information on their unique service experiences, career paths following service and how they were led to serve in the first place. Do you think this would be a workable article?

Thanks, Charles

Fortunately, my idea was approved and expanded to include AmeriCorps volunteers, all connected to the thread of national/global service and volunteerism. Having a direct link to the topic inspired me to pitch a story idea that turned into a feature story for the magazine. Use your own personal/professional life experiences as fodder for potential writing material that will assuage the editor’s workload because, as we all know, editors are really busy people.

To sum up, I look forward to sustaining this gig for as long as possible and would like to encourage readers to consider this option. You have nothing to lose and lucrative income, exposure and intrinsic fulfillment to gain!

P.S. Ensure your LinkedIn profile is thoroughly completed, active, and visible to potential clients as you never know what leads it may generate for your freelancing business.


Charles McKinney is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer who served in Macedonia teaching English in a rural village school. He writes for various online/offline publications and is working on an e-book about his Peace Corps adventure while preparing for a new stint in Eastern Africa. He can be reached via LinkedIn.  

Teaching Understanding and Empathy through Diversity and Inclusion

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Teaching Understanding and Empathy through Diversity and Inclusion

Peace Corps Macedonia created a Diversity and Inclusion Working Group (D&IWG) in early 2016 when I was still in the early part of my service. The staff established this committee in the effort to be a healthy resource for volunteers who identified with various aspects of diversity (e.g., racial, gender, age, religious, sexual orientation, mental health, etc.). The founding members of the group would play a critical role in forming the structure and procedure of the committee’s function as delineated in the bylaws and would eventually elect leadership that could ensure adherence to its newly drafted constitution. With a plethora of diverse volunteers in Macedonia, the D&IWG had no shortage of individuals with passionate and creative ideas to build momentum for trying to make a difference in an Eastern European Balkan country with little to no exposure of diversity (at least in the way we possess and, perhaps, define it in the USA).

During my service, I had an opportunity to be part of the process of striving to educate the local people (referred to as host country nationals or HCNs in Peace Corps lingo) by agreeing to take part in an enlightening video project devised by a friend who really wanted people (both in Macedonia and America) to know what it is/was like to serve in Macedonia as a person of color. Fortunately, Peace Corps approved the project and my friend partnered with another volunteer friend skilled in videography to produce a short-length documentary on the forenamed topic. I was one of nine volunteers interviewed (each of us in our respective communities around the country) on a series of questions related to our ethnic identity and the challenges we have faced as volunteers accordingly. The documentary depicts the interviewees interacting with colleagues, students, and host family members as they navigate normal life in their communities.

Primarily meant for Peace Corps training purposes, those of us involved in the project ultimately hoped that our voices would be heard, unique in that we symbolize segments of the United States that are often underrepresented or misrepresented by mass media. We do not fit the status quo of how we tend to be portrayed to people around the world who may have never met someone of our racial background or cultural heritage. Thus, this video project has served to enable our Macedonian counterparts a closer look into life in the shoes of a culturally different other and how building bridges of unity and understanding through friendship and empathy can nurture a deeper respect for all people and things colorful and beautiful in their own natural right. Enjoy the video!

College Media: Learning in Action – A Short Book Review

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Over two years ago when I was working on my first scholarly chapter-essay for publication in an academic textbook, I published a LinkedIn post in an effort to solicit interviews from relevant professionals working in the field of higher education student media. After a tedious yet teachable journey, my research and writing were published in the textbook this past January and, more recently, a short book review of the academic literature was published by Afterimage periodical. You can read it here below.

A useful guide for those actively involved in today’s higher education media milieu, College Media: Learning in Action is an academic text compiled by Morgan State University Associate Professor Gregory Adamo and retired philosophy professor Allan DiBiase that highlights the enduring value that undergraduates gain by working in student media, be it print, broadcast, or digital journalism and communication. The book features a rich collection of essays by media and communication academics across the United States, many of whom conducted original research related to the topics they authored or coauthored.

The book is segmented into four sections. Section One, “Theory,” explores the conceptual underpinnings of experiential learning, most often manifested through student leadership opportunities, the focus here being college media. Section Two, “Description and Narrative,” delineates the formative experiences of two different chapter-essay authors, fond of the radio medium, who worked in college radio and how those experiences positively impacted their careers after college.

The third chapter in this section provides a succinct view of how college newsrooms professionalize students for the real-world media industry after graduation. Section Three, “Case Studies,” evaluates the genuine legal implications of student journalists’ defense of their freedom of speech, then goes on to examine the challenges associated with media convergence and, thereby, citizen journalism in a rapidly obsolete traditional model of journalism.

Finally, Section Four, “Contextual Issues,” pinpoints various situations affecting the efficiency and effectiveness of the student media workplace and how those issues can be ameliorated: through campus media advisor support, by examining student media learning outcomes, by utilizing the hospital teaching model of journalism education, and by promoting diversity and learning that enhances cultural intelligence (CQ) on college campuses.

All in all, this unique resource provides pragmatic and timely research from experienced professionals who can attest to the benefits that student media involvement has on college students passionate about media production. Undoubtedly, College Media highlights the breadth and depth of heterodox education acquired by student media workers. 

Peace Corps Traveling Camp Teaches Youngsters Global Awareness

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Hearing about the traveling camp from my site mate and how much fun she had had two summers ago running it with fellow volunteers, was the impetus that caused me to apply to host it last summer for the village children. I thought that teaching the youngsters about foreign cultures and peoples would be a wonderful way to expand their minds and to introduce them to the concept of global citizenship. Happy was I when the hosting committee selected my site to organize the camp for the third consecutive year. Each volunteer who has served in this community has hosted the camp. How cool is that?

When I notified my school officials about the good news, they were thrilled to help me make it happen for the students. The principal made photocopies of the permission slips needed for the intended campers, my counterpart helped me announce it to all eligible participants, and my other counterpart expressed interest in coming to the camp in July. It was a piece of cake, thankfully, recruiting other volunteers to help me run the camp, and my students expressed their excitement in joining the camp. This was my first time ever doing such a thing.

The first day of camp started on July 18, and everyone was ready to embark on this adventure Around the World from the villatic milieu of Slavko Lumbarkovski Primary School. On average, we had about 20 children each day, some younger and some older than the targeted amount. My site mate’s colleague came daily to help with the interpreting, and her counterpart visited on the final day of camp for the local mayor’s appearance. The mayor shook every camper’s hand as I distributed their certificates, which featured a map of each country they learned about that week (i.e., Egypt, Peru, New Zealand, India, and the USA).

One of the highlights of this camp for me was when one of my stellar English students took the exuberant initiative to prepare a Power Point presentation on world currency that he gave with his older sister after some encouragement to overcome his public speaking jitters. He asked for my advice days before the presentation and was so enthused to work on it. While hosting a traveling camp took much planning and energy to organize, I could not have done it without the cooperative aid of my volunteer friends and colleagues who gave 110% every day.

Undoubtedly, the children enjoyed having my friends here and were sad to see them go. But some of them asked me about hosting one the following year, and when school started in Sept., some of them shared their experience in English class. Many of them would like to travel to the countries that we explored through music, dance, games, sports and arts & crafts. I believe that they will as global citizens in the making!

Under the Microscope

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Under the Microscope
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I brimmed with enthusiasm at the thought of living in a country I always wanted to visit since childhood. China fascinated me in every way from the rigorous language structure to the diverse and tasty cuisine to the incredible fact that it constitutes the world’s biggest country (1.3 billion people and counting). Once I officially accepted the English instructor position, the intensive preparation began. However, no amount of preparation I did before arriving to Beijing could have equipped me for the real life experience of being a foreigner in a homogeneous place, this time in a megacity (my first time ever residing in a city of now 21 million people).

The culture and country shock seemed unbearable, at times, in the early stage of my time in China. A new workplace with new colleagues, a new apartment in a new neighborhood, and a whole new lifestyle all needed my adjustment. The language aspect did not daunt me too much in that I had previously studied Mandarin; but now I had the opportunity to be linguistically immersed in a language that boasts the largest amount of speakers. The sheer size of the learning curve at my new job was enough in itself to make me question my ability to maneuver the expectations of my role as a foreign expert. But I had primarily taken the job because I wanted a challenge in my work. And no doubt I received it.

While I worked alongside other foreigners [including Americans] at the private language school, part of a global education management company, within the same age range, I was the only African American teacher in the school. This situation presented unique challenges and opportunities for me as a young black man in the minority class of TESL professionals in China. I had met other black teachers who worked for the same company but at different schools throughout Beijing. We all could relate to each other’s sentiments in feeling the pressure that came with looking, talking, and behaving differently than our white counterparts. Some teachers had such a hard time with this pressure that they did not remain in China long enough to finish their teaching contracts.

Read the full article on The Black Expat website where it was recently published.