Bonjour! My name is
Danielle O'Neill and I am a junior Culture and Communication major, french
minor at Ithaca College in upstate New York. My favorite color is burgundy
and i am a sucker for old films...(An Affair to Remember anyone?) I
also love learning about different cultures which is why I left my warm showers
and toilet paper behind in suburbia New Jersey to embark on the adventure of a
lifetime in Dakar, Senegal for the spring semester.
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First off- I want to let every know that Africa is a continent, not a country. I get way too many , "HOW WAS AFRICA?" questions, as if i took on the second largest continent in the world.
The first few days I was home seemed like I was stuck in some sort of bizarre haze. I forgot about how different American values are compared to Senegalese values. I did not fully realize the effect that Senegal had on me until I got home. My friends and family will be freaking out about something mundane like traffic and I just look at them and say, "laisse tomber" "or c'est pas grave..." -basically translating into..its not a big deal, there are worse things. Then there are all those things I have been craving like CRAZY for four months (starbucks, full fridges, movie theaters, driving, blue moon beer, etc) that I was so excited to get home to that seemed foreign to me for the first few days. I am still having trouble opening my fridge here -my fridge in dakar usually consisted of one water bottle and a plate full of fish. I have also just started noticing how beautiful nature is here. There were very few trees in Dakar, so when I returned home to The Garden State, I could not help but notice how beautiful it is! My family thinks I am crazy, because I am driving 10 mph below the speed limit so I can take it all in.
Explaining to people in America how my life in Senegal was is impossible. My pictures and blog posts only represent a small fraction of my trip. However, I have had some practice this past week and have developed a sort of script to explain to the best of my ability.
If they are close friends or family members who care I start by telling them how different it was and how difficult it is to explain it all. Then I give examples of stories from the past few months to sort of give them a mental picture of things I went through-showing pictures helps. Talking about it to people has helped me cope with being home.
If it is an acquaintance who is just asking you to be polite, I say something like , it was an incredible, yet very challenging adventure that I will never forget-and I can't wait to go back.
Another weird thing about being home is that I felt like I just had the most eye-opening experience of my entire life and I come home and things are moving like they were when I left, and a lot of people just do not care. It is difficult to explain, but it is weird to get back in the swing of things.
And then there are the extremely ignorant comments I have received, about my new clothes and new hair being 'tribal, if we listened to african chants in the nightclubs, if people there wore 'normal clothes'...etc. These comments infuriate me and make me sad to think about ignorant people here can be and why African studies is not taught in schools...but i digress.
I mostly miss my friends in the program and my friends from Dakar. Of course I have talked to my friends from the program everyday and have talked to my host family and my other senegalese friends on the phone already, which is nice to know that they are just a phone call away, if I ever feel like I need to get some Wolof out of my system.
After my first few days of moping and being frustrated because I did not want to talk to anyone, I decided that this was the worst way to cope and started making myself busy. I snagged a job and an internship and have been with friends a lot which helps, trust me- sitting at home alone is very bizarre and makes you more upset. Also wait a few days before looking at your photo albums and driving....driving is scary.
Listening to senegalese music that I was exposed to on a daily basis also helps, and is great to share with your friends and family so they have a taste of senegalese culture (or what ever your host country is, especially if they have a music scene that it as vibrant as in Dakar) right in your hometown in the US of A.
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