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Mesmerized by the Land of Boats

A Comprehensive Overview of My Gap Year in Senegal

Gap Year in Senegal
Post contributed by Peter Dull

A Gap Year in Senegal

As you noticed from the title, I did something my peers would deem as “unconventional” for someone my age. Instead of going straight to college, I did a gap year in Senegal through a program called Global Citizen Year. Now that I have completed my time abroad and am now re-assimilating to life back in California, I am creating a portfolio from my perspective. Before continuing, I would like to appreciate Demand Africa for allowing me to use their platform to publish my way of storytelling and to work with their team again – shout-out to the Emma Bowen Foundation too!

I want to start this project off by expressing how I found my place in Senegal.

There is a theory of how Senegal’s name is derived from “Sunu Gaal”, meaning “our boat” in Wolof – the language I spoke during my gap year. When I first arrived, I was apprehensive to put myself out there in another societal context and stood by my “western ideals” to take care of myself. Whenever there were conversations in Wolof, I avoided the chance of ever talking, not because of the language barrier, but I didn’t feel comfortable talking to others who were different from me. About a month into my experience, I was reminded why I wanted to do a gap year in this West African nation.

Compassion is the mother of understanding.

When I became sick to the point I couldn’t eat or get out of bed, my host mother called the rest of her family in my room and we had dinner together. I hadn’t seen my host family since I’ve gotten sick, so it was great to not be by myself. We discussed the upcoming religious festivities that were going to take place in my host city (Thiès) and how I was going to get an outfit tailored for these events. At the end of the meal, I watched my host parents pray as they recited verses from their booklet and wished me good health. They cared so much about me, even though I was a foreigner to them, and it made me perceive others differently. Regardless of our origins, we should treat our universal friends with compassion.

After I got better, I took a different approach in my gap year. Instead of being so rigid about my aspirations and perceptions of others, I tried to be more relaxed with the unknown and experience an adventure without hesitation.

What’s in a name?

As time went on and I began to understand more about Senegal, I grew into the culture and began to comprehend how Senegal’s name came to be – we were all in the same boat. We all shared a common environment that made us rely on one another. I became more open with the locals, often making fun of myself by dancing in front of others and making jokes about being a foreigner in Senegal as a way to make new friends. To this day, I consider my Senegalese experience as a hallmark of my character development and have adapted to ways now I could have never learned at a traditional university.

Gap Year in Senegal 2

Now, this is only one narrative of my time in Senegal. This summer, follow my experience in Senegal, and let’s demystify the perception many people have regarding Senegal. Feel free to check out some of the links on how you can get involved with the Emma Bowen Foundation and Global Citizen Year.

Check out other student experiences in Senegal!