Wednesday, August 14, 2013


Note: This is a really poorly written post that I wrote at approximately 1 in the morning, but read it anyways.

Senegal is like when you walk down a new street in a new city and the sky is incredibly blue and the sun is shining and you're humming "Viva la Vida", and you go in every building that looks interesting because you don't care about the amount of time you spend wandering.

Senegal is a place where people are genuine - perhaps that is the best way to describe it. They will welcome you with all of their heart, and take you in like they've always known you. Senegal is the place where every stranger on the car rapides will help a lost tubab (what Senegalese people will often call you, as a foreigner) get where they need to go.

Senegal is a place in which wealth does not determine happiness - it is a place where relationships, where family, and where community determine happiness. In the US, I feel as though one mistake many people make is to confuse comfort with happiness - in America, people strive for a nice big house with a white fence and a couple of flat screen TVs - but where does that get that you? How many people in this country lose themselves to materialism and work culture? How many people forget the value of prioritizing friends, family, and community?

In my host family's neighborhood in Dakar, I was able to feel like a part of the community after only a couple of weeks. The kids in the garden played with me, and the girls taught me all of their clapping games - I still find myself humming the words in French to a few of them. The guys in the garden gave me my Senegalese name. The man in the boutique on the corner knew me and we greeted each other like old friends, and the same goes for the security guard down the street (though I don't quite know what he was guarding, so don't ask). Senegal is a place where communities are tight-knit, but so incredibly welcoming.

At night, the city lights illuminate the clouds over Dakar. They shine like pieces of gold, and even from the city you can see stars. Looking downtown, the city lights blur - a reminder of the example of modernity that is downtown Dakar, with lights and nightlife and billboards, like every other major city in the world but still unique to Senegal. The night smells like the air off the ocean, and after dark, people go and meet their friends and visit the boutiques and supermarkets to buy ingredients for dinner.

This post is so disconnected, so all over the place, because it is such a challenge to describe a whole month in a wonderful country - one that occupies such a special place in my heart (could I get more cliche?). Senegal is an intersection. It is where people drink ataya, a type of traditional Senegalese tea that you drink socially, and check Facebook in the same hour. It is where trucks are Yuejin, pickup trucks are American brands like Ford and Chevy, and there's a Tata down the street from my host family's house. It's a place with both Samsung stores and Huaweis, with both shopping malls and bustling markets.

Before I left for Senegal, people would ask me if I was going to "help" the people of Senegal. I thought that was silly to begin with - I was going to complete community service, but I was first and foremost going to Senegal to learn from the people of Senegal, not to "save the poor Africans" (as many people around me implied in their questions that I should be doing). Now, I have a clear answer to those who would ask me such I question. I truly hope I helped someone - I hope I helped my wonderful English students by giving them the conversation practice they needed. But, overall, I must have learned so, so, so much more in Senegal than anyone in Senegal learned from me.

I learned about community, and what it feels like. I learned about patience and sharing. I learned to dance and I learned how to learn about a culture. I learned about car rapides and getting change for 10,000s and how to bargain and how a simple, genuine interaction really does make me happier than anything I can hold in my two hands. I learned that the call to prayer is most beautiful when it's the first thing you hear in the morning. I confirmed that public transportation is definitely the best thing ever.

I love the people I met in Senegal - Serigne and Gamo at CIEE who are just so incredible, genuine, and generous, my host family - shout out to my amazing host siblings and host family who put up with my generally confused exchange student nature, to my enthusiastic English students who taught me so much about Senegal, and to everyone I met along the way.

I'm going to just finish here with a couple of pictures so I'm not tempted to talk in circles about Senegal all night.

I struggled getting good pictures of the cityscape, but I got some when I visited the African Renaissance Monument (it's on a hill, so I was able to get some pictures of the cityscape). I'll have to upload more later. 

My host family's house!

A car rapide! It's like a bus, except it doesn't have designated stops - you just tell the guy on the back, the appronti, where you need to stop, or tap a coin when you need to stop. It works like magic. 

A picture my little host brother took of me on my last full day in Senegal when we were playing around and attempting to take pictures of one another looking "cool".

I guess I should go to bed now - I just logged off of Facebook, where I was talking to a Senegalese friend in Spanish. Ahh, language, communication, friendship! The joys of life! 

Drops of Jupiter

The best thing about my Pandora is that it knows me really well and always seems to play my favorite songs immediately when I'd like them. Hence the title.


Days I've waited to go on exchange: 405
Days I waited for a Speedwell notification: 40
Days I waited to be accepted to be accepted by Argentina: 33
Days I waited for a host family: 22
Number of essays I wrote: 13 
Number of sugary Rutters' iced teas I've had because of the excuse "Well, I won't get to have any for eleven months": 12
Number of countries shot down by my mother: 7
Number of countries that were at one time my first choice (across scholarships): 4 
Number of countries my mother suggested that I didn't apply to: 4
Plane rides ahead of me: 3
Number of times I used biome differences to determine country rankings: 2
Number of fuzzy stuffed animals I'm taking to Argentina: 2
Numbers of times I attempted video-logging the application process: 2
Number of times I've felt amazingly greatful for this wonderful opportunity: too many to count

Days left before departure: 6

Regrets: 0

"...We've got a lot to learn; god knows we're worth it" - not from Drops of Jupiter. Oops. 

Monday, August 12, 2013


Senegal was amazing - I'll have to write about it later. But the people were the friendliest and most welcoming I've ever met, the spicy food was some of the best I've ever had, and the city of Dakar was the most beautiful city I've ever been in - it looks like a mix of Paris and what I imagine of Tunis, and with sand everywhere, so it reminds me a bit of Ocean City.

But now, I might as well share some pictures of packing for Argentina!

See? I started packing!

My carry-on suitcase (left) and my checked suitcase (right). Also pictured with Simba and Baby Cundiff, who are both coming with me.

Yes, I know - "Baby Cundiff"

Oh, and those bags are still fairly empty! Oh well - I have nine days!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

29 Hours

In the grand scheme of things, I barely have any time at all in Senegal, but I hope I'll be able to see at least some of the beauty so eloquently described by this author. 

For years, I have imagined Africa. When I was very young, it was the continent I always wanted to visit, and my admiration for the continent, and the desire to understand the lives of those who live there, only grew as I aged and learned about the unique cultures, countries, and languages of Africa. However, going to Africa was something I never knew I could actually do: for years, I dreamed about the vast savannas and colorful coastal plains, the mountains, the valleys, the churches and mosques and cities where traditional and modern lived on the same block, never knowing whether I would experience it for myself. I dreamed about the downtown markets, bustling with activity, not knowing if I would ever visit one. I dreamed about the west coast of Africa, so much unspoiled, without knowing if I would ever see for myself the African sunset over the eastern Atlantic. 

But now, I leave in 29 hours; one day. Destination: Dakar, Senegal. Africa. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

Viva la Vida

Like my title?

I have the right to be hyper - I woke up at 4:28 this morning after approximately four hours and 28 minutes of sleep.

DC rocked, as always. I'm going to miss my regular trips to DC while I'm in Argentina - as soon as I get back, I'll want to take a trip to DC. The city is amazing, purely amazing. It's full of cafes, well-dressed professionals, beautiful architecture, rich history, international influence, and government buildings that shine orange and yellow in the morning sun. Every time I walk around DC, I marvel about how well-put-together the city is: monuments to influential figures, fountains, squares and circles, and parks are artfully placed between beautiful unique buildings. Every building in the city is uniquely decorated and/or created with elements of abstract form: because the buildings have a height limit (so they don't overshadow the Capitol and White House), they demand attention through unique form instead of imposing heights. I've been to a variety of cities in the mid-Atlantic: Baltimore, NYC, Philadelphia, Wilmington, Harrisburg, and Annapolis, and DC's atmosphere is much, much different from any of these other mid-Atlantic cities. It's truly one-of-a-kind. If you've never been to DC, go.

Here's the report of my day, and, well, my conclusions from the day!

If you ever go to DC, eat lots of pastries. I ate an unhealthy amount today. Yum. No regrets there! Considering there are, oh, only six or seven little cafes and bakeries every block, that shouldn't be a problem. And eat pastries at the bakeries with the comfortable lounge chairs. No explanation necessary. Don't worry, you'll find them.

I made a rather ridiculous mistake. Lesson: if you have an appointment to submit something, make sure you have the document you need to submit (and did not leave it in your scanner the day before). Long story: so, I came to DC with my dad (he had a meeting, and my sister and I tagged along) because I had an appointment about the Department of State to submit my FBI background check. In the morning (before 5AM, remember, and I got less than five hours of sleep), I grabbed my folder with my visa documents, including (I thought) my FBI background check and the ID and check I needed for the appointment. After lunch, my dad brought the folder down from his office, where I'd kept it in the morning, and I checked to make sure the background check was there before I headed to my appointment. It wasn't. After a few minutes, I realized where it was - still in the scanner, where I'd accidentally left it after scanning it to send to the translation service. I called the DOS and rescheduled my appointment to Tuesday. Second lesson: if you want a second day in DC, leave what you need for your appointment at your house. Hey, that's what I call a bright side.

DC nap tip: the grass on the mall is extremely comfortable to lie on. It's, uh, rather bumpy, to say the least, and there are random patches of dirt, but when you get past that, it's incredibly soft grass.

I call DC "the city of cranes" because there is always construction. For example, today, besides the array of cranes one can always see in the skyline, I passed three construction sites with roaring jackhammers, not to mention the fact that part of the mall is closed off because a new museum is being built, and that the Washington Monument was surrounded by scaffolding. So if you go to DC and everything is covered in scaffolding, don't be annoyed. It's part of the experience. 

Now, finally, here's the song this blog post was named after! And, yes, this does fit in with the theme of the post, because this song reminds me of DC; I'm always tempted to hum it when I'm wandering the city.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Patagonia, Rio Negro, Mi Espanol, DC, and Danza Kuduro

If you can't tell from the title, this isn't going to be a very focused post!

I should be going to bed right now - I need to wake up at 4:30 tomorrow to get to DC early. You won't hear me complaining about getting up early to go to DC! I love that city - I usually spend the day walking around, though tomorrow my itinerary will be interrupted by the fact that I have an appointment to get an apostille of my background check from the Department of State for my Argentine visa. Ah, well, I still have plenty of cupcake-getting, traffic-dodging, and metro-riding time even with my appointment!

I love DC - I love it because I've had unique adventures there (to say the least: ending up in Uruguay, silly and interesting tourists, crazy drivers, bad and wonderful Chinese food, creepy strangers, and the like). It's interesting to see, thinking of places that I have made connections with, places I have a unique relationship with, that the most important factor in determining whether a place is a place I "love" is whether I've had unique, everyday experiences in that city. Besides the places I've lived, DC and Ocean City, Maryland, are the places I have the strongest connections to - both cities in which I've had many "everyday" experiences in, such as walking around and getting hot chocolate. It's too late to truly think properly, but I think what I'm trying to say is that the best way to get to know and love a place and to truly "take a piece" of that place with you when you leave is to have everyday experiences in that place, not to visit the coolest attractions or run around trying to see the entire city.

Anyway...a change of topic, brought to you by random Patagonia pictures I found on the internet!

GENERAL ROCA! Mi ciudad nuevo! Says the internet - for all I know, this picture could be of some city in Nevada, as there aren't really any specific identifying characteristics. Isn't the sky beautiful though? I posted on the 2013/2014 Argentina exchange students group on Facebook at one point, saying I was going to General Roca, and someone who lives in General Roca commented saying " Welcome to the best city in the world". Seeing pictures of General Roca makes me so excited to see the city for myself!

I realize that this paragraph had no transitions between thoughts and probably didn't make sense to anyone's brain except my own excited brain. Oh well. 

A penguin - which can only be found in the southern Andes, the very south of Patagonia, and the southeast Atlantic coastal regions of Patagonia. Therefore, there are no penguins in General Roca.

Lastly, because I need to get off here, finish an email, and go to bed to get up at 4:30 AM, I'll leave you with one of the theme songs of my outbound life: Don Omar's "Danza Kuduro"!

The Alternate Species Called "Outbound Foreign Exchange Student"

Before I begin the bulk of this blog post, I'd like to share an image:

To the trained and/or, more likely, squinting eye, this image may represent the unpredictability of the modern world, or commercialism in society. To me, this best represents the Argentine visa process. It's interesting. Yeah, interesting is a good word for it.

It can also be called "an educational experience" or, just as accurately, "sticker collecting". Ah, but to an extent, it's good fun! It's an excuse to drive all over the tri-state area and go to DC a couple of extra times.

Now to the bulk of this post:

Telling others that you are an outbound foreign exchange student, especially those whose only experience with foreign exchange students has been through "That 70s Show", can be interesting. In rural south-central Pennsylvania, where foreign exchange students are a rare species and even international travel is uncommon, I've been looked at like I have sprouted three heads for planning to go abroad as an exchange student. Here's a list of some of the questions and comments I've gotten, both normal and abnormal:

1. "Why would you want to do that?" Well, there are these things called other countries, and other cultures, and other languages, and they're pretty darn interesting! Not to mention the benefits of being fluent in two languages and cultures, gaining insight on your own culture and other cultures, reducing stereotypes about your home country and your host country, being able to look at life with the values, attitudes, and views of two cultures, growing as a person, and making lifelong relationships.

2. "Will you be going to school?" Well, actually, I was planning on staring at clouds all year while my peers attended school.

3. "Do you speak Spanish?" No, solo un poco espanol mal. Actually, my usual response is, "Nope! But I've studied German and Chinese!"

4. "When do you arrive in Italy/Spain/Germany/Europe?" Me: *blank, confused look* "Do you mean Argentina?"

5. "You're going to be in Buenos Aires (or a city that isn't in Argentina: I've gotten Rio de Janeiro and Santiago), right?" Me: Uh, no, though I'll fly into Buenos Aires! I'm going to General Roca. Them: *confused look* Me: *talks excitedly about the size and location of mi ciudad nuevo*

6. "11 months, that's a long time!" Me: Depends how you look at it.

7. "You must be excited." Me: YES YES YES YES YES YES!!!