It is hard to find the words to completely describe what I have seen, heard, tasted, and felt during my two-week stay in Dakar, Senegal. My first voyage to the continent of Africa, I knew too little to expect anything specific. I went into this journey with an open mind but I was not prepared to have it filled with so many memories and lessons and simultaneously experience an expansion of this mind with my newfound belief in the power of experience to broaden perspective. Complete immersion in a francophone country was so much more than just an average vacation; it has renewed my commitment to mastering the French language, has caused me to dispel many of the stereotypical images and ideas about Africa, and most significantly has allowed me to form connections with people that I would otherwise never have the chance to. I am forever grateful to the coordinators of this program, Professor Samba Gadjigo and Professor Ousmane Sène for making it possible for me and the other ten Mount Holyoke students to experience as much of what Senegal has to offer and exposing us to as many aspects of the culture as possible.
Personally, the most memorable feature of this trip was the stay with my host family. This was the experience that taught me so many important lessons. Even just sitting around with them in the living room was such a memorable time. Observing them, having conversations with them, watching them dance, and eating with them. The latter is the memory that isolates itself from all the rest and remains in my memory as a very humbling encounter. Eating with people who were at first naturally strangers to me in the way of their tradition was at first very difficult for me. Not accustomed to such a communal way of dining and on top of that, not automatically loving the food, it was hard to be grateful and refuse more at the same time. Eating with hands and having food pieced for me while eating really pushed me out of my comfort zone. I soon learned that this form of eating was representative of many other assets of Senegalese tradition; the idea that everyone is family and that teranga is one of the most important values of a household became to me a highly admirable trait of the Senegalese way of life.
The actual itinerary of the two-week program was also intriguing, although I would have enjoyed longer, more detailed schedules for each day. Meeting breakthrough writers, analyzing Senghor's poetry, the batik and West African dance session distinguished this trip from any other, namely because it gave me the opportunity to be in direct contact with things that I have only heard and read about here at Mount Holyoke.
To me, the single most worthwhile experience is encountering what we learn in the classroom in different contexts of our lives. These are the instances that validate anything ever taught and essential to my future pursuits. Thus, I am a firm believer that traveling and experiencing diversity is critical to the college experience. As a French major, I believe it is necessary to study abroad, and as a Psychology major I know it is crucial to be exposed to as many people of diverse backgrounds as possible. For example, I had the privilege of interviewing and speaking with Anta Germaine Gaye, an artist who defied the cultural norm for women by expressing herself through a form of artwork that was traditionally reserved for men. Aside from her account of her career, what made this session significant to me was the conversation I had with her. Through it not only did I discover that I could actually hold an intelligent conversation in French, but I also learned about the role of women in Senegalese society andwhat it means to liberate women.
Visiting the Island of Gorée was another unforgettable experience. To see the actual cells where slaves were held captive before taken overseas was a visual that cannot be replicated by any photo seen in books and so I am grateful to have been allowed to go to Africa to witness such sights. However, I know that I have been to just one city among the many areas of Senegal and just one country in the whole continent of Africa. This program inspired me to do whatever is possible to return to Africa so I experience yet another part of its awesome wealth of culture.