What my students really think of me…

Today, I got a message from a parent telling me about a conversation she had with her son on the way to school this morning. He said:

“Mama, my teacher’s the best—you know why? You know, Mrs. Carlson never gets angry, even with so-and-so (read: a challenging student who I won’t name). She stays calm… maybe she gets a little bit of an attitude… but she never yells. I think that’s good.”


A little bit of a compliment and a bit of humble pie, but overall, I just think it’s hilarious. Kids see it all and aren’t afraid to say it. It’s true that I try to remain calm in the classroom, certainly that is best practice, but it is waaaay easier said than done (thankfully, the kids don’t always know what’s going through my head).

Some kids just really know how to push your buttons (a kid skill that transcends cultures). Some days it seems like everything you teach kids somehow immediately falls out of their brains (how!?) and some days it feels like they ate a bucket full of sugar before entering the classroom. I suppose those are the days or times when I get, “a little bit of an attitude,” as my student described it. Worse could be said. I do love my students.


Her Day – His Day

If only each day was actually as productive as these sample schedules make them out to be. No, this is definitely a melding of many days’ activities into one. Sill, we thought it might be fun to share some of the various things we’re doing right now!

Natasha's Schedule

Ethan's Schedule-2




Visit Home & Return Home

I didn’t think I was someone who struggled with change—if you’ve heard anything about my (Natasha’s) family, you know that we were involved with foster care and adoption from when I was ten years old. Dealing with change was an absolute necessity and I thought I had gotten pretty good at adjusting.

However, as the school year came to a close and our time to visit ‘home’ in the U.S. approached, I found myself feeling both excited to see family and friends (and of course to eat as much ice cream and cheese as humanly possible!), but also feeling nervous about leaving Rwanda.

In many ways, I am glad that I wasn’t totally amped about leaving my new home in Kigali. It seems like a sign that we are truly settling in and planting ourselves. But is also felt strange to feel a bit nervous about returning to my home culture. I found myself wondering, what if everyone has moved on without me? Or, what if it actually doesn’t feel like any time has passed and I feel too comfortable? What if this and what if that…a lot of inexpressible worries that came out of a gut feeling.

Thankfully, many of my fears were quickly put to rest as friends welcomed us with open arms. In Illinois, we were greeted by friends who loaned us their cars, opened up their homes, asked meaningful questions, and let us enter back into their lives as though no time had passed at all (or perhaps, I realized we hadn’t left their lives at all, even if it is different now). I am truly thankful!

During our visit to the Chicagoland and Twin Cities areas, we were able to be part of some really special moments and events. To share a few of the many highlights: we were able to stay with our godson as his parents headed to the hospital for the birth of their second child, we attended a family wedding, went to Grandma Carlson’s 90th birthday party, met our new nephew (Zander), saw our friends’ new baby for the first time (Willow), spent time with our niece (Adley), and stayed with our other nephew (Soren) in the old family farm house that Ethan’s brother and sister-in-law recently purchased. And of course, what visit to the US would be complete without going to a rodeo, which turned out to be extra exciting as TWO cowboys were thrown off their horses straight into the crowd (don’t worry, they were okay)!

Living cross-culturally is difficult for many reasons; straddling different worlds isn’t easy. Feeling at home in different places is a real struggle, but being where God has called us to be is worth it. Our visit to the States could be a reminder all of the things I am missing, but I think this trip reminded me how rich our lives really are. Our trip was another affirmation that we are in the right place. We have amazing friends, an incredible church behind us, and two families who love us and support us, even when it is super hard for them too!

Now that I am back home in Kigali, I’ve felt the weight of all of this—there’s no way around how hard it is to leave people you love—but even as I write, I feel grateful and loved. Thank you to everyone who traveled with us (Zosia & Alec), met with us, ate with us, and showed us how much you care. And thank you to everyone in Kigali who has welcomed us back. I look forward to all that God has in store for us in our second year, as we learn and live together in our new home.




New Role! Rwanda Ministry Partners

Natasha and I spent the last month or so in the Chicagoland and Twin Cities areas as we were back in the States over KICS’ summer break. It’s was a great time of connection with friends, family, and supporters. We’re thankful for the season to unwind and recharge (more photos of our visit will be posted soon too).

Now that we’ve had the opportunity to talk with many of you in person (sadly, not all), I want to publicly share more about a development that’s happened over the last few months. As of July 1st, I began serving as the executive director of Rwanda Ministry Partners (RMP), a ministry that nurtures healthy, mutual, culturally respectful, and missional relationships between people, churches, dioceses, and organizations in North America and those of the Anglican Church of Rwanda. Since RMP’s beginning in 2016, I’ve served on the board as treasurer and then chairperson. Conversations began this spring with the founding director of RMP and the archbishop of Rwanda about the possibility of my transition into this leadership role on staff. When the board affirmed this proposal, and the KICS leadership team also supported my transition to half-time at the school, I prayerfully accepted the offer.

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Potential new logo… thoughts about it? Email me!

Since RMP is young and smaller organization, my new position is half-time as well. I’m very thankful to contiune my role as the university guidance counselor at KICS. Remaining faithful to my committment at the school and to my students was a high priority in the decision process; I enjoy teaching, mentoring, and walking with students as they tranistion to life after high school. My other KICS administrative and development work will be carried on by others. The stipend I receive from KICS will change, but RMP is able to cover the adjustment and leaves us in similar situation — thankful for a monthly stipend while needing to partner with individuals and churches for financial support as well.

I am very thankful and honored to serve as the new director of Rwanda Ministry Partners. The previous director was based in the U.S. and will remain connected to the ministry as a board member, liasion to Compassion International, and volunteer. RMP serves an important role of connection and communication between our two countries. Our living in Rwanda and spending time in the church’s provincial office (i.e. ‘national headquarters’) provides opportunity to listen and learn, and then share what God is doing as we walk together in unity. We will follow the direction of the Rwandan church leaders and be a catalyst for alignment among the many ministries and projects shared between Rwanda and North America, with a primary focus of relationships. I’m very thankful to have a wise and experienced board that has committed to support me in this role. Your prayer is especially appreciated in this next season too.

[RMP’s website will be reworked in the coming days, but additional information about the ministry is available online for those interested in learning more.]



First Year of First Grade: What a Great Year!

Field day has taken place, autographs have been signed, hugs have been shared, the walls are cleared, and the cupboards are organized again.

My first school year in Kigali has officially come to an end.

My teaching dreams have finally been fully realized. Have you ever been doing something and thought “this is what I was meant to do?”  Although, everything wasn’t perfect, and definitely not always easy, I had this thought many times this year.

This is what I thought teaching could be! This is why I spent so much time and money pursuing another degree. This is what God has called me to right now.

The school year has been full of so many wonderful moments. Here are a few of the highlights.

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Everyday started with morning work. The students loved using their whiteboards!

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Guided Math Groups

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Using playdough to practice spelling words was a favorite.


Writers working hard on their stories.


Sharing stories during one of our publishing parties!


“Mama Hannah” sharing with both first grade classes about Rwandan culture.

Exploring ‘air’ during science.

More air exploration with bubbles.


Visiting a nearby school to read with other first grade students.


My lovely first grade teammate!


First Grade 2017-2018 (sadly a couple students were absent when this was taken)


I loved this year and I am even more excited for next year! I am already thinking of ideas for improving and ways to make the learning even more fun and engaging. There is also one way I could really use your help in making next year even better: I am hoping to add a few iPads to my classroom next year.

This year, the school was able to install more reliable wifi! Internet has been extremely slow and hard to use in the past, but this year it was much more accessible.

Now that we have fast enough internet, using iPads in class is a real possibility. iPads will help me differentiate instruction and provide extra practice for students who really need it. It will also help with reading as many of my students are English Language Learners and need to hear English in addition to reading it themselves.

I would like to purchase 3 refurbished iPads (Generation 2 or 3), durable cases, and headphones. To make this purchase, I need to raise $350.00.

 If you would like to contribute to this need, please click on this link.

Or if you have an iPad you are no longer using and would like to donate, my students would really benefit from it! You can email me at: natashamcarlson@gmail.com

Thank you for your continued support and prayers over this last school year. I cannot express how truly grateful I feel to be here and be doing this work. We’re looking forward to a restful summer break and a great school year again in August!

A look at life

If there’s a theme to this post, it’s ‘everyday life’ photos – some snapshots of our day-to-day here in Kigali. Enjoy.


When our pantry/shelf is stocked and colorful


Brochettes for days


School lunch… (at least there’s a few greens?)


More typical Rwandan food — matoke (type of plantain), beans, and dodo


Ikivuguto: described as buttermilk-like fermented milk, more like kefir


Kimironko market


Fried sambaza from Lake Kivu


Sunday school at St. Etienne. Natasha regulrarly teaches ‘Middle Class’


Prayer during St. Etienne’s ‘Walk to Remember’ commorating the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi and specifically those from the congregation who were killed


Oyster mushroom growing!



Cactus gardening. I’ve had fun finding various plant cuttings to transplant into our yard .


Having a lime tree is pretty great.


Thanks for polinating.


My first commisioned painting


Small shop or botique/iduka (sp?) down the street. Great avocados sold here.


Making our livingroom home.


Bean table and kitenge pillows


Buying electricity through phone (paying in cash down the street is the other option)


Looking out from our neighborhood


School cat the meows until I feed it


Familiar sign, font, and logo. Ha!


Running some errands in town


Hiking behind our place



Facetime and Skype nights!


Hey buddies!



Leaky window that causes way too much trouble.


Saturday KICS ‘Mission Time’ planning session


Ethan’s office


Natasha’s 1st Grade Classroom



Getting junior students to hold hands and sing a song as part of a cross-cultural communication simulation. Some were more enthused than others…


If the clothes line is full…


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Birds like to fly into our house. Hilda then chases, sniffs, gets scared, and runs away.


Pride in my quick break-in skills. Shame in the need to do this at all.



Places & Podcasts

Our church in Kigali has been a great blessing to us. It’s a community that has welcomed us, it’s a place where we consistently hear the word of God preached, a place to serve, and it’s a space to worship with our new neighbors. It’s obviously different from our sending church in the States where we know each person and are surrounded by so many who know us well, but that too will come in time. As we progressively root ourselves at St. Etienne, I’ve also enjoyed journeying with Redeemer from afar via its weekly podcast.

I put on my headphones today and cued up the latest sermon.  I listened to Fr. Jay begin his message with a story about dreams — the passage was on ‘Jacob’s Ladder.’ Jay’s story sounded pretty familiar to me, but I assumed that was because I’ve been around him a good amount. Then, halfway into the sermon there was a reference to the church’s hopeful new building (see here and you’ll realize that the new facility is way past the theoretical stage at this point). I looked down at my phone and realized that I had somehow played an old sermon from last July. Oh well, I’m sure it’ll be good to hear again. A few lines had already grabbed my attention, especially about the reality of God meeting people in specific places (see Genesis 28, where Jacob has his dream at Bethel). Jacob says, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” God met Jacob, the schemer, the guy who one commentator called “more scoundrel than saint” and decided to use him. God promised to watch over him wherever he went.

At this point in the sermon, Jay spoke directly to me. I don’t mean that in a theoretical sense…his next words were actually addressed to Natasha and me. Turns out, this was the sermon from the last week we were at Redeemer before leaving for Rwanda. Whoops… I guess that day was a bit of a blur (teary eyes and all) and I didn’t remember all that was said 🙂 Here’s a the ending:

“Ethan and Natasha… the Lord will be with you. He’s not just sending you; he’s going with you and is already there. I pray that you will hear the words that were spoken over Jacob… God will keep you, God will be with you, God will provide for you. There will be hard times, harder than you think. There will be times better than you think. We pray God gives dreams and insights in those times.”

My accidental podcast selection seems less of a coincidence and more of a God appointed insight, even a dreamlike incident. I don’t think I’m currently in a “harder than you think” moment (not that I’m great at identifying those times… Type 7 – for all you lovers and haters of the Enneagram), but a reminder that God goes with us, that he’s here, feels very timely. It’s been easy for days to merge together, for time to slide away, to feel more scoundrel than saint, and to lose sight that God is present and working. I was out on a walk in our neighborhood as I listened today. I was in a place that overlooks a valley and the outskirts of the city. It’s become a specific place where I’ve been able to pray, even when that task seems more difficult everywhere else. One year ago, when Natasha and I were in Rwanda for the first time together, I remember the sense of God speaking to us and confirming our call to be here. I’m thankful to know that affirmation again today, and to have places and spaces where God meets us.


A recap of travels & staying put


We returned to Illinois and Minnesota over our Christmas break. Since I already had to come back to the U.S. for a school trip (see below), it made sense to visit friends and family as well. We’re very thankful to have connected with many of you! Highlight: meeting our nephew, Soren James Carlson, who was born on December 4th.




Natasha traveled back to Kigali so she could resume teaching and begin the second semester. I traveled to New York where I met a group of 11th grade students from KICS. We spent the next couple weeks visiting universities on the East Coast. Highlight: Seeing the students (mostly Rwandese) deal with blizzard conditions and visiting the African American History and Culture museum in D.C.









Soon after returning to Kigali, I was unexpecedly asked to join the KICS director on a school fundraising trip back to the U.S. So I jumped back on the plane in early Febrauary and spent a couple weeks in D.C., Virginia, North Carolina, and Texas. Highlight: Texas BBQ and more development experience.

Thankfully, Natasha wasn’t left alone the whole time I was away. Her sister, Alex, came to visit (Feburary highlight)! She was still around for another week or so when I got back. We were able to see some places around the city together, do some hiking, and we got Alex on safari as well. She was also a big help in Natasha’s classroom, I’m told 🙂



Staying put! I Our friend from Redeemer, Otto, also came to see us in March. It’s really encouraging to have friends visit and be reminded of our support and connection. Otto’s been to Rwanda several times, so it was less about seeing things and more about being together.

I was finally able to get into a groove teaching my Grade 11 Seminar class each day, or at least until we got to Easter break. (I’m realizing now why teachers always talk about how choppy and quick the “spring” semester can feel.)  We were thankful to be home with our St. Etienne church community coming into Holy Week at the end of the month. On Easter Sunday (sliding into April now), we had our first large (-ish… 15+ people) party at our house. We failed to take any photos as a group – sad day – but you can check out the beef brochettes we had. Easter = highlight.



Starting on April 7th, Rwanda begins it’s annual time of remembrance and commemoration of the 1994 Genocide agaisnt the Tutsi. It’s a somber time, the country mourns, and people unite together in the healing and continued reconciliation process. For seven days following the 7th, work stops in the afternoon and shops close so that everyone can gather in their various communities for meetings, walks of remembrance, and discussions. As a westerner living here, it’s not easy to know exactly what to do during this time, but we knew that we wanted to stay put and not leave the country. It was a time for us to learn and be present as much as possible.


Sub-Saharan Skiing

I used to go skiing several times a week while in high school (I worked at a small ski resort in Minnesota). My time on the slopes lessened in college as I moved to the even flatter state of Illinois, but I still made trips out to Colorado now and then. Now, I live in the Land of a Thousand Hills (and even Mt. Kilimanjaro – the highest point in Africa – is only 500 miles/800 km and one boarder crossing away), but of course being on the equator and all that ruins any chance of snow around here. Sad day.

But really, it’s okay everyone – I get to go skiing every day. I’m convinced that the best way to describe driving a car in Rwanda is to compare it to skiing or snowboarding. Here’s my rationale:

  • Conditions always change. Some days a road is potholed and rough; the next day it’s paved and smooth. Moguls vs. groomers.
  • Signs are somewhat taken seriously, like the orange slow sign on the mountain or the red stop sign by our house. But let’s be real, if the road is empty or the run is clear, you’re flying past that that sign and not worried at all.
  • Patrolling happens unexpectedly. Ski patrol or the police randomly (it seems) make a big deal about things that didn’t matter yesterday. (Confession: I probably just don’t know the rules of the road well enough yet and the police are doing fine work here.)
  • Falling in tree wells and rain ditches – get too close to a tree while skiing, you’re sinking down… veer off the road a tiny bit in Kigali while looking at Google Maps on your iPhone (Note: not a reliable idea to begin with. Further explanation: both looking at your phone while driving or attempting to use Google Maps is risky business), it’s game over.
  • Weaving and adjusting your route is the norm. When lanes merge, when runs cross, or when you’re at an intersection of any type, you look around, you might slow down or speed up, but the goal is clear: don’t get hit and don’t hit anyone. Honk often or shine your brights. Yell at the kid who cut you off on the slope. It’s a dance and you eventually learn the moves.

Endnote: This post makes driving sound much more fun than it actually is. Even if there’s a sense of the “I’m in a videogame” feeling that many expats initially experience, real life includes many more moments of frustration, near accidents, delays, and road closures. I’m glad the school is a five-minute walk from our house. I’m also glad that many roads are comparatively great here.