I was very lucky to have been able to study abroad in Paris, France, and Dakar, Senegal, from May to July of summer 2014. The program, Summer Francophone Studies, explored the questions of globalization and culture through a study of literature and film of France and other francophone countries, such as Senegal, who were former colonies. I had an amazing experience; I was able to spend a month in each city in a homestay with local families, and I learned about the differing rhythms of life in each place and culture. The experiences I had, from going to the top of the Eiffel Tower, visiting the catacombs, and touring a chateau in Paris, as well as travelling to other French cities, to navigating the markets of Dakar, swimming on the westernmost edge of Africa, and learning Wolof as well as riding a camel in the Lompoul Desert really did change my worldview, and have stayed with me.
I had wanted to study abroad since freshman year, and I had a couple programs which I’d been interested in but things just hadn’t fallen into place for. I knew I wanted to study abroad in French-speaking country to practice my language skills, as it is one of my majors, and wanted to visit a developing country, as that and globalization are my areas of interest and concentration in my other major, IS. Finally, I found a CIEE program which combined the two, and other than wishing it were longer, it was a perfect fit!
I gained self-confidence and language skills – I also learned how to bargain! (Very important in Dakar markets…) I was able to conduct interviews in French for my Honors thesis project and gained insight on my topic which I could never have gotten from simple research here in the U.S. I formed lasting friendships, met amazing people who inspired me and pushed me to grow, and I evolved as a global citizen. It was very challenging to get around places at first – in Paris, I had to use the metro, and I’d never been on a subway before, or even in a large city. In Dakar, sometimes taxi and bus drivers only spoke Wolof, and I only spoke French, English and a tiny amount of Wolof, so I ended up visiting lots of new places on accident! The most challenging aspect for me, however, was learning to let go of my preconceptions of each place, most of which were subconscious, and taking my vastly different and novel experiences and negotiating a new framework for myself and how I saw complex issues. This helped me learn much more about the practical “real world” side of International Studies and to stand on my own two feet – to accept being lost occasionally, to accept discomfort, to accept novelty, and to embrace whatever comes my way.
I think that having lived, studied and conducted research in two other countries which share a language but have very different cultures will prepare me to be more understanding and “savvy” in my career, as I plan to work in non-profit/NGO sector, either globally or in the U.S. I think that my experience cemented my love of French, sharpened my skills through the necessity of communication, and will set me apart, as most students choose to travel to developed (mostly Western) countries. I experienced the reality of the developing world, or at least a corner of it, in Senegal, and saw the issues of globalization which I studied in textbooks in real life. I spoke with Africans on their views on my thesis topic, aid and its representations in and of Africa, and so my views on my career path have evolved, and will help me help my career path change too.