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Rachel Nemeth: Teaching Music in Rwanda

A pre-student teaching internship in Rwanda helped Rachel Nemeth solidify her music education career goals. “I was able to see what a band director will do and have that glimpse of what my future might look like,” she says.

<em>Rachel Nemeth with her students in Rwanda.<br></em>Rachel Nemeth with her students in Rwanda.
Perry senior Rachel Nemeth, a music education major, has long been curious about what it’s like to teach music in schools overseas. A message at her church about making a difference in her community was the final nudge she needed. She approached her education professor, Mark Seals, for advice.

“I thought, ‘Alright, I feel this call. I think I want to look into teaching overseas. What am I supposed to do now?’” she says.

Seals connected her with Kerry Dembowski Bryan ’09 and Kelsey Merz ’11, Alma College alumni who are teaching at the Kigali International Community School in Rwanda.

A month later, the school’s principal invited her to do a pre-student teaching internship with the music classes. She applied for the Alma Venture grant and received approval to use it to fund her trip.

“I already felt like I was a part of things before I even went,” she says. “Kerry and Kelsey are just so energetic. Alma people love Alma people. We are so community-based, and everyone just wants to help other people.”

<em>Rachel Nemeth, center, with Alma alumni Kerry Dembowski Bryan ’09 and Kelsey Merz ’11.</em><br>Rachel Nemeth, center, with Alma alumni Kerry Dembowski Bryan ’09 and Kelsey Merz ’11.
And that’s exactly the kind of community she sought — and found — amongst the teachers at the Kigali School. The highlight of her internship was being able to teach and conduct in the final concert.

“I got to be in charge of the children and help all the parent volunteers and actually conduct or play in over half of the pieces in the final concert,” she says. “I was able to see what a band director will do and have that glimpse of what my future might look like.”

While in Rwanda, she also had the opportunity to substitute-teach for a week while her placement teacher was out of the country.

“I taught a choir class for the first time in my life — never having taken a choir class before,” she laughs. “It was cool to have that experience and see that it’s okay to make mistakes and learn what I now need to work on.”

Nemeth says that she’s “a band person,” and that she didn’t have much of an interest in teaching elementary-level or choir classes. However, after returning from Rwanda, she enrolled in a vocal pedagogy class.

She realizes that she may have to teach everything — including sections of a class that she’s not very familiar with — and so she is working to strengthen those areas with her remaining time at Alma.

“The Venture grant helped solidify my career goals,” she says. “I now know for sure that teaching is what I want to do.”

Watch Rachel’s Venture video.

Story published on February 11, 2016