Today I started taking Lariam, an anti-malarial medication that I will now take every monday for the next 23 weeks. (The alliteration was a suggestion made by my doctor to help me remember when to take it.) Although not the most exciting topic for a blog, my new weekly routine signifies two things for me: 1) I have some crazy, freaky dreams to look forward to (an unfortunate but entertaining side-effect of this medication), but more importantly, 2) I will be in Dakar, Senegal in less than a week!
For those of you who do not yet know, I have been accepted to participate in CIEE‘s Dakar: Development Studies study abroad program for the upcoming semester. The first question I typically get is, “Where is Senegal?”
So here it is! If you are like me and didn’t know much about the country, here is a very, very brief overview of some background information. Originally desired by European nations as a link to trade in the region, including the Gorée island as one of the ports in the Atlantic Slave trade, Senegal became a French colony in the 1850s. In 1960 it gained its independence and is now a republic under president Macky Sall. Senegal’s population of over 13 million people is made up of many different ethnic groups, the most populous being the Wolof people. Approximately 94% of the population is Muslim and 5% is Christian. The capital city, Dakar, sits right on the coast and is where my study abroad program will take place! You will have to forgive me for these very basic facts. I will post more as I learn more during my visit!
The next question I usually get is, “Why Senegal?” Believe it or not, this is my first choice of location to study for various reasons. First of all, I knew I wanted to study somewhere I had never been before and someplace off the beaten path of typical study abroad locations. The next deciding factor was my heart, which has been pulling toward Africa ever since my first visit to Kenya. This significantly narrowed my search as most study abroad organizations have very limited options in Africa compared to other continents. After considering my own personal desires, I had to take into account some more practical factors, namely those that satisfied my academic advisors back at CU. They were mainly concerned with finding programs that pertain to my fields of study (Anthropology and French with a certificate in Peace and Conflict Studies) and those that I can apply to my prospective career. This final factor pretty much sealed the deal. CIEE’s Development Studies Program in Dakar fit these conditions perfectly.
All of my classes will be taught in French (aside from the Wolof language for beginners class) since Senegal (or Sénégal) is a francophone country, taking care of my French requirements. In addition, all of the classes will deal with the issue of development, which happens to tie in nicely with my interests in Anthropology and Peace and Conflict studies. So that was that! Almost a year after having made the decision to apply for this program I am finally starting to pack up and get ready to go!
This is my first attempt at having a blog (writing a blog? keeping a blog? I don’t know the lingo yet), so you will have to bear with me as I learn the tricks of the trade. I have a few different goals and hopes for this blog.
First and probably most obvious is that I want to share my experiences with those of you back home. It will be hard to be away from all of you for 4 months, but I hope that this blog will be a means of staying connected. Know that I am eager to hear about what is going on in your life too!
As an amateur cultural anthropologist another goal I have is to practice immersing myself in a culture, gaining the insider’s perspective by practicing participant observation, and sharing my findings with others! I hope to quash any false perceptions I and others might have, as well as gain and give further insight to how communication and understanding between cultures can be improved. I want to promote and encourage a deeper understanding and appreciation of Senegalese culture, hoping that my stories will make it more personal.
Finally, as much as this is an academic journey for me, it will also be a spiritual journey. I am very excited to see how my view of God changes and expands as I watch Him work in other parts of the world. I’m anticipating my faith to undergo some trials and hardships, but I cling to 1 Peter 1:6-7, which says “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith– of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire– may be proved genuine, and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (NIV). I’m trusting that the Lord will use these trials to refine my faith and to prove it genuine and bring Him glory. I hope that this blog will be a way to maintain some fellowship with those back at home, bringing encouragement to you guys as well as letting you know any prayer requests or other ways you could help encourage me.
Well, I guess that’s it for now! I plan to try and post once or twice a week… we’ll see how realistic that is once the semester gets rolling. Oh, and in case you were wondering about the subtitle of my blog, “toubab” is the Wolof word for a white person, like the Swahili word “mzungu.” I’ve been told I will inevitably be called toubab while in Senegal, so I figured I may as well embrace it now. Also, the main title “Under African Skies” was inspired by the Paul Simon song. You can listen to it here! Thanks for checking in.