STEP Reflection Senegal 2017

My step signature project was an education abroad experience to Senegal, a country in West Africa. Within the study abroad program we studied West African and African American culture, covering perspectives on gender, religion, and urban culture. I stayed in Dakar, Senegal for four weeks with excursions to San Luis, Touba, and Joal. When I was in Dakar, the biggest change I noticed within me, was the perspective I had on what it means to live a fulfilling life. Especially in America, we have this idea that success looks like accolades, achievements, and monetary success. America is a capitalistic society where we are always challenging ourselves to achieve more and rise to the top. In addition to this, we have a huge educational opportunity gap that many people at the top do not acknowledge. So we’ve developed a point to believe that going to Harvard or Stanford means that you worked your way up to be there and you’ve achieved success. Even within a smaller institutional scale, we aim for achievements of 4.0s and believe that if one pulls off a 4.0, they must’ve work really hard that semester, completely disregarding educational background, upbringing, stressors, and oppressions.

My perceptions of the world have centered around social constructed achievements, where the scale of opportunity is weighed against the majority of the world. After returning to the United States, I look around and suddenly everything seems so trivial. Our imperialist country is no longer so great to me. I can see the lasting effects of exploitation from what we’ve done to countries in Africa, Asia, and South America, and why living a fulfilling life can’t be dependent on what we’ve constructed. Slavery alone has caused a such a huge gap in the access to greater opportunity for African Americans, and we see this exploitations lasting effects on the states of certain countries within Africa as a whole.

There were three moments I had on this trip that really shaped my perspective on how I got to where I am in life. The first of which was with my little brother, Iba. One day, in the morning, my cousin Pape Samba picked up Iba and I to bring Iba to soccer practice, before Pape Samba and I left for an excursion to Touba. We had to pick up croissants and juice for breakfast for the other students before we left, so Pape Samba stopped at a store and went in. I waited in the car with my brother Iba, and within 3 minutes the car was surrounded by little boys begging for money. Now my literally brother Iba is incredibly bright. He has been studying English for one year, and I have only been studying French for 2 months at this point. So we have some language barriers, but I thought how strange it must be to see boys that look like you, and are your age, and to see them begging while you go to school. So I turned to Iba and I asked him as best as I could what he thought. He replied “You mean, what do I think when I see boys in the streets?”, and after a few moments he said simply “I think that it’s not their fault.” I asked my older friends from Senegal what they thought, and they gave me very long drawn out answers that were very good, but not as powerful as Iba’s simple statement, it is not their fault. Too often in America we make the judgement that those at the top worked hard to be there and those at the bottom didn’t. I had always felt in my heart that this was wrong, yet it was never so clear and true to me than in this moment I had with my brother. To see Iba, this smart, caring young boy be able to look at these boys and know without a doubt that he is not one of them because of his privilege was astounding. Iba is twelve, and he can understand this. It is not a hard concept to grasp and I will always remember it.

The second moment I had was with a tailor near my house. My littlest brother, Sidy, and I went together to the tailor to pick up a dress I had made. Sidy does not speak any English, nor does the tailor, but when we got there we met this really outgoing, smart girl named Tina. Tina had studied English for 8 years and she was extremely helpful. While I was talking to Tina, she explained to the tailors there that I was American and on a study abroad trip. Then the tailor told her that he wanted to go to America for work, and asked her to ask me what he had to do to get to America. I thought about it, and I realized I had no idea. In that moment, I felt an incredible wave of gratefulness flood over me when I realized how privileged I was to be from America, this place that many people only dream of. I told him to maybe speak to the embassy, although I knew how difficult it would be for him to immigrate into our country, especially at this time. At first I was sad that he would have to face so much difficulty bring this dream into fruition, a dream that I was born with. Then, I realized something a bit more peaceful, that a fulfilling life is much deeper than achieving milestones and dreams. If a successful life were one based on how many milestones we hit, then who really lives a fulfilling life? What determines a ‘milestone’ and aren’t people just born into positions of hitting more milestones than others? No, I realized that life is much greater than any accolade, amount of fame, or money. Life is about the moments you have like these. Moments you have with strangers that make you reflect on life. Sitting with your host mom barely being able to communicate but feeling loved and cared for. Having a late night talk with someone you love, or that giddy feeling you have right before you see a friend. Moments that are accessible to all, but only appreciated by some. These moments are what make life fulfilling, and I chose to fill my life with more of this .

My third and final moment, was when I talked to my good friend, more like a sister to me now, Charlotte. Charlotte is Senegalese and she studied abroad in the states during high school. She told me about her experience in the United States, and explained to me something she thought was incredibly odd. She said, “In America, you are so obsessed with the little things. If someone compliments and says your hair is so beautiful! You are so amazed and you talk about it for days.” I quickly knew exactly she was talking about, this obsession that people have with what others think and the need for validation. Upon receiving that validation, we soak in it reliving the moment, these things that make us feel special. Charlotte continued, “In Senegal, if you tell someone how beautiful you think they are, they simply wave you away. Because, in Senegal when you wake up you don’t have time to worry about who thinks you are pretty or not. Families in Senegal worry about when will I eat, can I feed my family, will I make money?” This hit me hard as well. In Senegal, having something as simple as a Wifi connection is considered a luxury. Internet is a powerful tool, it allows you to empower yourself and not have access to a computer or the internet is a really good way to stay in poverty. People have real problems, and although I don’t believe anyone should invalidate their feelings in the states, I was reminded of just how trivial I can be in my daily life. If I were to spend more time focused on big problems, I would lead a more fulfilling life and probably do something good on the way.

Senegal was one of the best trips I could have asked to take. I came into the trip not expecting much, really just wanting to meet more people and gain a deeper understanding of difficulties that others face in different parts of the world. In Senegal, I received all of that and more. Academically, I have decided I want to change my computer science course focus into artificial intelligence, to further automate education online. I have decided to continue on to grad school to study design and technology engineering, and my senior thesis will be a study on Wifi; how to make Wifi and technology more accessible to people in remote areas. I realize that these achievements of 4.0, getting into an amazing graduate school for the name, are not the end goal. I want to partake in work that is fulfilling to me, and that doesn’t look like Google, Microsoft, MIT or Stanford. That looks like, working on projects that I feel make a difference. Pursuing fulfilling relationships and aspiring to be the best person I can be will allow me to really make the most of my education and time here at Ohio State. Although achievements and accolades are good things to strive towards, just knowing that these are constructed achievements allows me to maintain focus on goals with more important meaning to me. Achievements I strive for now are focused on the greater good and spending more time with the people who make life worth living.



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