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Sears Visits Senegal on French Study Abroad Program

Darien Sears spent part of her summer in Senegal on a study-abroad French program.

July 23, 2012

Sears in Senegal Photo Gallery

ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- Navy women's tennis player and rising junior Darien Sears spent part of her summer in Senegal on a cultural, learning experience as part of a study abroad program for French. One of a handful of students to make the trip, including classmate and Navy women's lacrosse player Jill Coughlin, Sears wrote about her experience in the African country below.

My trip to Africa was the best trip I have ever been on in my life. I did not know what to expect, but regardless I knew that it would be very rewarding - and indeed it was.

The purpose of this trip was a study abroad program for French. While in Senegal, we took a few French courses and Wolof (the local language) courses per week. Five students from my French class went, including four girls and one guy. We each stayed with different host families around the "Centre Baobab," the center that hosted us.

The moment we arrived, we were warmly welcomed into Senegal and into our host families. The volunteers that coordinated our entire stay were extremely nice and helpful. Everyone was glad to have met us and to teach us all about Senegal so that we could return to the U.S. with a different mindset and spread good things about Senegal and Africa. The culture was so different and I could go on for days talking about all of the different things we saw and experienced. Basically our days were set up so that we had our classes in the mornings and "field trips" in the afternoon. Sometimes we would have different lectures in the mornings on Senegalese culture, Islam, the role of Senegalese women in society and much more.

On the weekends we always took an overnight trip to a different city in Senegal. We went to Goree Island, which is the island the slaves went to before they were transported on ships across the Atlantic for the slave trade. We stayed in St. Louis, the city once colonized by the French. The following week we visited Touba Diallaw where we went to a beautiful beach, climbed a huge baobab tree and learned a few more Senegalese traditions. We took many trips to downtown Dakar into the city to go bargaining (because there are no price tags in Africa, only bargaining), and purchased many clothes and souvenirs for our friends and families back home.



There wasn't a teacher that went with us, which was a lot more rewarding so that we could be more independent and handle situations on our own. I know I may not be the smartest midshipman, but it certainly does pay off to have a larger culture awareness. I love learning new things and meeting new people and sharing stories, so this experience definitely allowed me to get a short taste of that.

I take French very seriously, so I felt very prepared going into Senegal with my skills, and it surely helped because another student and myself had to translate almost everything for the rest of the group. I understood almost everything and adapted very well.

As a midshipman, future Navy officer, and regular civilian, it is important to understand how different cultures and people do things compared to ours, understand how we work together and just have an open mind to new things. I don't think anyone can truly be successful in life if they don't posses an open mind for understanding and accepting different things other than their norm. It's so fun and refreshing to be immersed in something new and be able to tell others of how great or even how bad things are. But being immersed in different cultures allows one to break those stereotypical barriers they created back home and reshape one's thinking.

I feel like I learned so many life lessons in just one short month during my trip. Ever since I got back I have been trying to change my way of thinking and my entire attitude on life. Here in America, we take so many things for granted, and don't really appreciate the blessings we have in the present. I learned the true values of family and building relationships just from a simple greeting. I always remember that everyday is not promised, so I seize the day and make the most of everything I do now. I try to teach my family the things that I learned so that we can become closer than ever, and so far it has turned out great! Africa has so much to offer and it is not only the negative images of starvation and poverty we see in the news. I hope to stay in contact with my host families and all of the teachers that helped us during our stay. The two things I miss the most are the food and my wonderful host family.


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