Africa exchange uplifting and challenging

At the end of February, 11 students returned from a three week trip to Senegal and the Gambia.  The participants had prepared long in advance for the experience, some studying and fundraising for three years prior to their departure.

“Before we went we had to read some books and do several assignments like responses to literature, ideas about the trip, and language learning,” said ARHS senior Elende Connor.

In addition, each member of the organizing African Scholars program was required to raise $500 for an internal scholarship fund.  Students sold chocolate bars, got jobs, and applied for outside grants and scholarships to help cover trip costs.

Accompanied by former special education teacher Momodou Sarr and assistant principal Ericka Alschuler, the students spent 10 days in Senegal, three on the road to the Gambia, and eight in the Gambia.  They stayed with individual host families in both locations, and although the experience was made somewhat challenging because of the language barrier and some poorly matched host-student pairs, the stay was overall positive.

“Both of my families were really nice and just laughed at me when I did something wrong.  They were both really inviting and tried to include me in life at home,” said Connor.

“After dinner we would all go to Forest’s host’s house and watch bad American movies together,” said senior participant Nevin Murray of his time in the Gambia.

Members went to several classes, traveled to notable spots such as the Senegambian Stone Circles and a slave island, and helped their host families around the house.

“I spent a lot of time with the younger kids, and that was probably the best time I had while I was there: just hanging out and listening to music.  That was really meaningful to me,” said Connor, who collected a notebook of her family’s artwork and writing over the course of her time there.

“Make sure you know what you’re getting into before you commit,” said Murray as advice for future participants, saying that the experience was good but also challenging and he wished he had been more prepared initially.

Dietary needs, underprepared hosts, and the length of time spent in the two locations were a few things that Connor and Murray both agree could be positively altered for future trips.

“I’m still talking to my hosts from Senegal and the Gambia, and they might be coming to visit in the spring,” said Connor, urging ARHS students to consider hosting their acquaintances from Senegal and the Gambia this April or May.