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Travel, learn, live: why we should never stop exploring the world

Kiva Fellow ready to explore the world!

When I write this, I have just arrived in my new hometown for the next four months, Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. Slowly I am getting used to being in one place for more than two consecutive weeks after having spent the past few months travelling over three continents to twelve countries with more than 200 hours on at least forty flights.

It still blows my mind that within 24 hours you can go almost anywhere in the world by plane. Flying is an incredible concept. 300 people moving at two hundred miles per hour at 38,000 feet and quite frankly you feel no different to when you sit at your kitchen table having breakfast. With the evolution of low cost and local airlines we can now reach all corners of the world much easier than ever before and enjoy the true beauty of our planet. 

Perhaps one of the most beautiful places on earth? Cinque de Terre in Italy


My father, now retired, spends his time backpacking through Mongolia or exploring the rain forests of Paraguay. He has, since I was young, nurtured my appetite for discovering new places. I have him to thank for my status as a globetrotter three times over and for the blessed state of having friends all over the world.

Hiking with my dad in Virunga, Rwanda

Most of you probably agree with me that travelling is fantastic. Yet, it can sometimes also be challenging and stressful as you are thrown between time zones, have to stay on top of itineraries and means of transport and find your way through unfamiliar territory, often hampered by lack of local language skills.

The other night, sitting on the back of a moto taxi, taking me to my little house in one of the suburbs of Kigali for my third sleep in my new home, I felt exhausted. It had been one of those days when everything had gone wrong. I was sweaty and covered in red dust and all of I sudden I wondered why I bother travelling at all.

View from the back of a moto taxi in Kigali, Rwanda. You better hang on!

It travelling really worth it? Why do I keep doing it?

I immediately started smiling because the answer bounced back to me in an instant.

Every trip changes you. Big or small. You never come back from a trip quite the same as before you left.

Primary school kids marvel at their own photo and I marvel at their excitement and energy, Botswana

If I would ask you to tell me about your past year - what stories would spring to your mind? It is almost never the days you spent in the office. Or the hours you spent in the gym. It is the travelling you did. The people you met. The extraordinary experiences you had that you didn't expect.

You would tell me about the exhilarating feeling of freedom when you finally summited mount Kilimanjaro. Or when you shared the strongest caipirinha you have ever tasted with a stranger in a bar on Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro.

Go for a run along Copacabana and see how you might meet! Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

In my case, I would tell you the story about when a my third day of my Kiva fellowship 50-kg strong Rwandan farmer carried me on his back over a muddy river so the new Converse of this slightly desperate mzungu (read: me) wouldn’t be ruined. Needless to say – I had an audience of 30 other farmers, co-op members and Kiva borrowers laughing and cheering wholeheartedly.

Made it to the other side! Ruhango, Rwanda

These memories make up that we are. They shape our identity. They make us smile. Most importantly, they make us feel alive.

In 2012 I decided to take a break everything that defined me; my job, my home in London, my friends, to go and explore the unknown. I took the step to apply for a Kiva Fellowship with the opportunity to get a placement somewhere in the world - destination unknown. The desire had been burning for a long time but I had always found excuses:

Yeah, I would love to go but… what about debt? … what about my job? … what about my boyfriend?  Since I took the step I can honestly say I haven't looked back. The beauty of the Kiva Fellowship is that you meet so many people, who are in a similar place to yourself. With their lives packed up in boxes they are ready to head out and take on the world! What could bemore inspiring?

Most people I know who waited to travel the world never did it. Conversely, plenty of people who took time to live or study in a different country back to build very successful careers later in life. In my humble opinion, travelling is the most precious investment you can make in your own development.

Explore the Taj Mahal with locals

So... how can an experience like the Kiva Fellows Programme improve your career and leadership skills?

I believe there are a number of skills you can develop whilst travelling that can be very useful at work.

  • Travelling helps you to become comfortable with pushing your boundaries outside of your comfort zone
  • You learn to be flexible and adapt to new environments
  • You learn the importance of listening to others; in fact this can sometimes be key to survival!
  • You learn to find your way when you are lost

I would say that exploring new places makes you a wiser you.

What can we learn about leadership from buddhist monks in Tibet?

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, founder of The Art of Living, says:

"If you move through the world guided by your intellect only, then you walk on one leg. If you move through the world with compassion only, then you walk on one leg. If you move through the world with both intellect and compassion you have wisdom"

Sharing stories with a Kiva borrower, Kigali, Rwanda

Let intelligence and compassion inspire your leadership by becoming more adventurous! 

Leaders are people who think new thoughts. Intelligence and compassion are both key to build a character of strong leadership. Both I believe you can further develop whilst travelling in a new country. 

One of the most inspiring leaders I admire is Jacquiline Novogratz, who founded The Next Generation Leadership programs at the Rockefeller Foundation and the Acumen Fund and has appeared on TED several times.

She writes about her passion for leadership in her book The Blue Sweater:

"People who see themselves as outsiders have had to learn how to navigate the dominant culture to be successful. Ultimately becoming attuned to how others act and make decisions is a key skill that all emerging leaders need to possess".

You have probably heard all about how your actions become your habits, and your habits will ultimately shape your character. If you become comfortable operating in environments where you might look different or are not familiar the local language and customs, you learn how you can flex your style to be able to lead and influence in an effective manner. Leadership is all about influence.

Helping farmers to establish a corn mill co-operative - not so easy! Ekotsi Ekumfi, Ghana

Life is a result of intentional habits. So I decided to let the things that are most important to me guide me through life, not only during my youth. Travelling is not only for young people. Travelling is for the rest of your life. It is an investment that will change you forever.

Discover the beauty of the world and learn from it at the same time!

View from a mountain top, Le Grand Bornand, France

Rarely have I learnt so much about myself and about life as whilst travelling. It was in South Africa I became familiar with Ubuntu - the essence of being human. Ubuntu, explained by Desmond Tutu, means that you can't be human all by yourself. We are all connected and what you do affects the whole world.

To me, Ubuntu is the acceptance of others as parts of the sum total of each of us. Travelling allows you to feel more connected to your fellow human beings in a deep and lasting way, like little else can. Travelling has taught me what is means to be human from the bottom of my heart. I doubt that I had been able to gain those valuable lessons any other way.

Some people would say I am a hopeless wanderer but I would say I am just smitten by wanderlust.

A normal day as a Kiva Fellow, Naivasha, Kenya

About the author

Louise Ronnerdahl

Louise grew up in Stockholm, Sweden, and studied International Business at the University of Stockholm. From a young age she has been a passionate traveller and was always keen on living abroad. The majority of her professional career since graduation has been in management consulting and investment banking in the City of London, helping different clients to respond to unprecedented challenges and delivering sustainable transformation with global remit. Inspired by the global conversation on sustainability and the role of corporate leaders, Louise decided to leave London to support this agenda at its roots in the developing world. Based in Nairobi, Louise has leveraged her experience of strategic change to help nations generate youth employment and responsible leaders by teaching leadership and entrepreneurship to vulnerable communities across Sub-Saharan Africa. Louise now aspires to pursue an international MBA as a springboard into social entrepreneurship and is very excited about the practical experience and knowledge that she will be able to acquire as a Kiva Fellow.