“When I was up there teaching a class, I was just on. After I was done, it was just the best feeling in the world.”
Liz spent a year in Dakar, Senegal as a scholarship recipient with the Learning Abroad Center’s scholarship exchange program, IRSEP. As an elementary education major, her time in Senegal boosted her confidence as a teacher, while also allowing her to learn about another culture by living it.
Liz chose to apply for the IRSEP scholarship because she wanted a program that would challenge her to use her French language skills. The university in Dakar did not start as scheduled due to student and faculty strikes, so Liz was able to take classes with other Americans, and other international students before finally entering university courses with Senegalese students. Each situation had a different teacher–student relationship. The courses with all American students were taught in a very similar fashion to courses at the University of Minnesota, with a discussion format. However, in the Senegalese classroom, Liz found that professors were treated as experts to be listened to, and not to be questioned or treated as peers.
Outside of the classroom, Liz found herself teaching, although not for credit. She had an internship with a local school, teaching English to 13–17 year olds. For Liz, it was a profound experience in terms of her professional preparation. "I was always jumping around, and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. But when I was up there teaching a class, I was just on. After I was done, it was just the best feeling in the world. This has got to be what I’m supposed to do." The challenges of working and studying in a different educational system helped Liz understand how to create a more global classroom. "It’s a great way to help you affect change, and see what you want to do, and reflect on what you plan on doing. I would say definitely, if you’re an education student, even if you don’t get the chance to teach, just to go and experience something different, because here sometimes things can get very cookie cutter, and over there, it’s just never cookie cutter."
Living with a host family was another highlight of Liz’s experience in Senegal. Her family allowed her to really connect with the culture, to practice both French and Wolof (the local language), and to feel safe in her new environment. Because of her experience, Liz felt that she learned enough about Senegalese culture to act just like any other citizen. However, she found it difficult to realize that no matter how much cultural knowledge she had, she could never truly be “one of them.” “I could bargain with all the guys on the street like the best of them, but I could never be Senegalese. Whether it was the color of my skin, or my accent or something. That was really hard for me, because I knew everything, and I really wanted to be in the culture. It’s awesome, and I loved it so much, and my family accepted me and everything.
Once I was riding in a taxi, and a little boy was talking to his mom, and he was pointing, and questioning, and I just realized, ‘I will never be a Senegalese.’ I mean, obviously, I won’t, I could never be. But even though I could do everything that everyone else could do, I could never fit in completely, which is what I really wanted to do.” Overall, Liz felt her experience was worth any sacrifice she made, even the fact that she’ll spend extra time at the University finishing her degree. “I went to Senegal, I spent 8 months there, and I taught there. How awesome is that, compared to a semester late that I’ll have to graduate?”
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