Summer Martin '07
With the vague requirements for this report about my experiences over J-Term, I am overwhelmed by the assignment. I have a plethora of stories – frustrating, hilarious or enlightening – that I could tell. I could tell you what we did every day, and exactly how I feel in retrospect; however, I would rather explain the benefits of such a trip, especially with the guardianship of Professor Gadjigo, which are so easily recognizable to me.
As a language student, when one is not forced to practice the language on an hourly, day to day basis, language immersion is necessary for language comprehension and utilization, but also in understanding the culture of that language. In going to Senegal, from talking with our families, bargaining for various goods, buying necessities such as water and food, and even talking with Senegalese friends, one has no other option but to speak in French (or Wolof). French is the official language of Senegal; all governmental affairs are conducted in French, and Senegalese education and academia is in French. To become successful, one must achieve not only the highest level of education, but also the highest proficiency or fluency in French. Needless to say, the consequences of colonization are readily apparent. This remains a key to understanding Senegalese culture, from the La Negritude movement to apparent inefficiencies in the Senegalese economy due to former colonial reign.
In my opinion, this trip was quite beneficial for my own education in French and politics. I was able to practice my communication skills in French, which, although practiced in class, became critical to because what I needed or wanted depended on my communication skills. Going to Senegal also offered the opportunity to learn to understand other French accents. For my studies in politics, however, I had a very different experience. I could point out a handful of consequences of imperialism and colonization; however, I quickly realized that although the political life in Senegal may be dominated still by those consequences, the culture itself remains potently, traditionally Senegalese. In other words, although considered by western missionaries to be degenerates, sinners, and uncivilized, the Senegalese maintained and cherish their pagan traditions and practices through dance, music, sculpture, art, and ritual.
From the beginning of the trip, Samba made it clear that although he knew we were all individually responsible and competent women, he would always make sure we had his cell phone number, Honorine's (the program organizer) cell phone number, and the contact number for her assistant. If there were any issues in the home stay, or just in general, Samba was always able to be contacted. In the long run, not once did any student call his cell phone. Samba introduced us to his closest and best friends. In all of our opinions, I would say, he was quite honorable. Professor Ousmane Sène, who gave two lectures while we were there, could not have been any more welcoming, outgoing, respectful, funny, and appreciative of our efforts in gaining an understanding of Senegal. Professor Sène made that clear from the first day we were there through to the last dinner we had together. Honorine, the program organizer, was like a mother to us. She made sure we knew our schedules for the next day, that we had our internships organized, and that we felt at home and grounded. In the same sense as Professor Sène, she was unfailingly generous.
I thank Samba more than I could express in words. My gratitude is immeasurable. This program is one that I feel many students must involve themselves – whether through this trip with Samba, or through another language department.