e-collaborate is excited to have one of our own volunteers contributing to our blog.  Enjoy reading a college student’s perspective on a global experience:

It’s been almost two years since I embarked on my trip to Senegal, Africa. As part of the Global Education program at my alma mater, all students are given the opportunity to travel to India, Senegal, or Costa Rica, for about two to three weeks after their junior year.

Today, I want to tell you about the time when I finally learned to let go and push myself. Although it was scary, I learned to not let my past notions shape my future ones. It was the first day of the trip, and we had just arrived in Dakar. From the airport, we went straight to ACI, African Consultants International, to receive our itinerary and talk a bit about our focus for the trip, “Women, Islam and Society.” From there, we drove around the different sectors and neighborhoods to drop off each pair of students with their host families.

Mary and I were paired together, even though neither of us spoke French, and our host parents only spoke only French. On our second day, when we returned home for dinner, our mother had prepared chebujen, the traditional fish and rice dish, that is shared communally by hand. As a vegetarian, I tried a few bites, but I just couldn’t swallow. I gathered up the courage to attempt to explain to her that I could not eat it. But she couldn’t understand. Not only was there a language barrier, but there was also a culture barrier. A minute later, she sensed my discomfort and told me to go sit on the bench a few feet away. I was essentially, banished from the table. I did not get dinner that night, simply because of our miscommunication. I tried my best to hide my tears, but I know Mary could tell that it was all coming down. My host mother started laughing and speaking in French with her extended family.

Looking back now, I realize that it made sense given the culture differences. I should have had someone properly explain to her that I wasn’t ungrateful, but rather that I couldn’t eat the food. That night, I told Mary that I wanted to go home, back to America. All I wanted to do was run away, back to the familiar. After communicating with my trip leader, I was able to switch host families, and move in with two of my other classmates. My new family was Christian, a rare occurrence in Senegal, and my host mother had experience cooking vegetarian meals.

The reason for this story is to share with you how I learned that I couldn’t let that one bad experience shape the rest of my trip. While the challenges seemed impossible to face at the time, I finally realize how they helped shape who I am today. I was able to keep an open mind and enjoy myself. Studying abroad was definitely an integral part of my education. Especially with the increase in globalization today, visiting Senegal and gaining these real-life experiences have already set me up for a lifetime of value. I have learned to leave my comfort zone and dismiss certain stereotypes.

One experience that I also really enjoyed included visiting Mariama Ba, an all-girls elite school on Gorée Island. Since my classmates and I attended an all-girls school in Maryland, both schools’ students had an interesting debate on feminism. We brought up topics like polygamy in Muslim culture, and the Mariama Ba girls responded by equating it to LGBTQ relationships in American culture. I learned to listen to and respect other people’s views, and understand that the “American” way of doing things is not always going to be the only way. There are several issues, such as water shortage and poverty, that are being analyzed globally, and each potential solution can have serious lasting impacts.

All in all, I ended up loving Senegal. I still keep in touch with my five host brothers and sisters on Facebook. Going abroad has allowed me to see the necessity of developing a global mindset that is so important in our world today. Since my trip to Senegal, I have gone off to travel to a few other places. On our way to India, my family stopped in Turkey, where we stayed just blocks from the Hagia Sophia and were awoken in the morning with prayer calls from the Blue Mosque. These trips have changed me, each in their own unique ways. I can take what I learn about different cultures and customs, and apply them to my own understanding of the world.

While being abroad is vital to helping you understand global issues, it is not a necessity. Stay on top of these pressing issues and try to make a difference. E-collaborate has pioneered this concept of virtual internships, and participating in the program can only help you succeed. Just by working with NGOs around the world, you yourself can gain valuable life skills and be a part of the change.

-Sachi K.