By: Kate Williamson
Major: Special Education
Cultural Connections in Senegal: Causes of Globalization and Consequences on Systems
Today we were asked by our professors to reflect over our time here in Senegal and think about what we have learned about ourselves: good and bad. This experience, while only taking place over the course of three weeks has been a period of extreme growth for me (and not just my growing belly from eating so much bread). Stepping out of my comfort zone into a place like Senegal is hands down one of the best decisions I could have possibly made.
For starters, I have realized how unaware I am of the world around me. It’s easy to accept the way in which you live in your own small world as a reality of life, but challenging yourself to look beyond personal assumptions and attempting to learn from others is what makes that life meaningful. As I have mentioned, one of the most difficult aspects of this trip has been the language barrier. I have spent a lot of time frustrated with myself and the society that I was brought up in that I did not pursue another language. Yes, I have two semesters of ASL and two years of high school Spanish, but compared to people here that are learning English on top of four or five other languages it doesn’t match up. I have grown up in a place in which I was under the impression that I wouldn’t ever need to know more than the English I have been taught.
Another lesson that I have learned is to truly be grateful for all that I have. I know it sounds cliche but I have never had such an appreciation for such simple things. The conditions that so many people here live in each day and accept as normal make my old beat-up college house look like a dream. But the thing is, they don’t complain. People in the U.S. constantly find something to gripe about; the phone service is too slow, my heating bills are too high, walking to class takes too long. When the power was out for almost 24 hours, we were happy to be able to wash ourselves with buckets of clean water and the family came together to make shadow puppets with our flashlights. I’m not saying that people are perfect or don’t get frustrated, but there is a difference in the things that matter.
One of the most common responses to telling people of my travels was “Wow, you are going to do so much good there! Africa could use the help of someone like you.” More and more I am understanding the misconceptions that both worlds have about each other. Here, the United States is idealized. So many people tell me they would love to come to America and that everything seems so much better there. It’s hard to explain to these people that I actually prefer many parts of their society and culture here compared to western society. In the three weeks I have spent in Senegal, I have felt more welcome and safe than in much of the twenty-one years I have spent at home and that’s without even speaking the same language. I wrote about this on the first day I was here: you can feel a deep sense of community here that is not common in the United Sates. It can be seen even in the laws and public policies in place. For example, in the U.S. we have the “Individuals with Disabilities Education Act” and “Individual Education Plans” whereas in Senegal their policy for education is titled “Education for All.” We are so wrapped up in our own worlds and striving to propel ourselves forward that looking out for the betterment of society isn’t even a thought for most people because we feel that it is not our responsibility to look out for anyone but themselves. Many people here speak about how the experiences and words of other people is more valuable than money. Children walk around by themselves from a very young age because they are not taught to be afraid of strangers, they don’t have to be. I guess my point is that the way of thinking and way of life that I have been taught and grown accustomed to is not necessarily the way that I want to continue living.
Something else that I have experienced as a result of all of these things is a regained excitement for learning. Simple observations I make have me asking questions, building a curiosity for the world that I feel I had somewhat lost. It’s hard to want to research and read up on things when you already spend so much time on college studies during the school year.Through my research I have been able to find commonalities in the ways that people see and treat people with disabilities. I truly do love the field that I am going into and that is something that has translated over into a very different environment than I am used to. It’s a great feeling to be so happy with the career path that I am on!
Overall, this trip has been more than I ever could have imagined. It has made me a stronger person and a hopefully will push me to become a better human being. I’m extremely thankful for my time spent living in the Senegalese community.