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Return to Senegal: Reflections on Exchange
By: Cricket Liebermann, YES Abroad 2016-17, Senegal
I have realized that the impact of exchange begins to show more and more in the years after returning home. I see this in the people I meet, the connections I make, the interests I develop, and most importantly in my curiosity about other places, cultures, and people. This, I believe, is the true impact of exchange, and I’m not sure I will ever fully realize just how large of an impact my year in Senegal has made on my life.
Two years ago, when I flew home at the end of my exchange year, I made a promise to return to Senegal and to give back to the country that taught me so much. Coming to Senegal in high school gave me many things, including the confidence to travel and meet new people in unfamiliar places. And my YES Abroad year was critical in my decision to take a year off after high school to work, travel, and volunteer in different corners of the world.
My travels this past year have culminated with a couple months back in Senegal, spending time with my host family and friends, as well as volunteering on Taaru Askan, a friend’s organic farm just two hours south of the capital of Dakar in the small village of Mbodiène. I had the pleasure of visiting this farm briefly during my YES Abroad year in 2017, and I knew that I wanted to come back and volunteer one day.
In coming to Taaru Askan, I have met some amazing young Senegalese people who are passionate about organic agriculture. This farm proves that organic produce is possible in Senegal, and I believe that this is such an important piece of knowledge for their country. What I also love about the farm is that it’s located in an area with very little tourism, and so it feels like the “real” Senegal compared to the capital, Dakar, a place I lived while on YES Abroad and love. Dakar is also real, of course, but with its bustling traffic, air pollution, and cosmopolitan atmosphere, it is unique. The farm has been a whole different experience from the country I’ve known.
It is also here on the farm that I found a sense of family and community, which is such an important part of Senegalese culture. Working on the farm has been such a humbling experience. It’s given me the chance to work side-by-side with people who are truly passionate about what they do and who do not come from a privileged background. When I was in Senegal before, I lived with a more privileged family and went to school with many privileged kids. This time spent at Taaru Askan has given me an appreciation for the opportunity to really connect with locals from different backgrounds and to gain a deeper understanding of Senegalese culture.
When I reflect on it, it’s evident that my travels this year have been made possible by the fact that I went abroad in high school. My YES Abroad year gave me the confidence to travel and volunteer in countries that I had never been to and where I didn’t speak the language. In total, my travels have taken me from Asia, to Europe, and to West Africa, giving me the opportunity to see similarities and differences between cultures and traditions all around the globe. It has been incredibly humbling and an honor to meet so many new people and to learn so much, all of which was made truly possible because of YES Abroad. Connecting with people from different cultures is crucial in creating acceptance. There are so many conflicts and issues in this world, and many of them stem from a lack of understanding between people and cultures. I am forever grateful to programs like YES that provide us with the opportunity to discover a culture different from our own and the skills to build understanding as global citizens.