J-Term 2019: Senegal

Traveling to Senegal for the month of January was a life-changing experience, to say the least. The short term trip counted as a Carthage Symposium that blended the subjects of education, business and language. Senegal is a French-speaking country, so it was a struggle to communicate at first as many people didn’t speak English and only spoke their native tongues of Wolof or French. However, by the end of the trip, I could order food and have basic conversations with the locals. Also, during the trip, we visited many schools and learned about the educational system in Senegal. We saw examples of business types and discussed what other types of businesses we thought would be beneficial for the Senegalese community.

Out of all three aspects of the trip, my favorite part was learning about the Senegalese educational system by visiting the schools and interacting with the students. The students were very enthusiastic and happy to meet us. At one school, every student made an effort to shake my hand and greet me. I loved how passionate they were about learning, and I was blown away by their intelligence as many of them knew three languages by the age of ten.

However, the most important thing I learned was that education can be oppressive, and we cannot rely solely on our educational system to teach us everything. Sometimes we need to teach ourselves. Because I’m an African-American woman, I’ve probably noticed more than some that African-American history is barely taught. They mention slavery and Martin Luther King Jr. and that’s essentially the end for the black history taught in schools. Similarly, in Senegal, as a result of colonization, they learn about French leaders and wars in their schools as opposed to their own histories such as tribal wars and Senegalese leaders. But, just as progress has been made in the United States to better inform students about history that is not eurocentric, hopefully progress can be made in Senegal as well.

Traveling to countries in Africa has always been something I’ve wanted to do in my lifetime. I’m grateful Senegal was the first African country that I was able to visit and I hope it won’t be the last.