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Stephanie Gentle

MIIS Program: International Environmental Policy, 2016

A look at an experiential learning experience…

What woke you up in the morning? I always looked forward to breakfast in Senegal: my host family would give me instant coffee mixed about four heaping tablespoons of powdered milk and an equal copious amount of sugar, half a ‘baguette’ that I could squish into the palm of my hand, and the bucket of Chocoleca chocolate sauce to spread on the bread. Trust me, this was always tastier than lunch or dinner. Gross as it sounds, my roommate and I really had fun with breakfast.

A daily task that you had to do differently? Balancing the shower process. Always remembering to bring a candle because lights could go off at any minute, and the real balancing act – try to keep myself from being eaten alive by mosquitoes!

A surprising sight? The women are so beautiful, and always elegantly dressed. Senegalese women never cease to surprise me with their beauty and grace.

Most memorable experience? Hitchhiking from Dakar to Guinea with several friends, without our passports. I laughed when I looked through my photos and read the following caption: “So Lauren was sitting on a bar in front in between two Gambians; Holly and I were holding on for dear life on two smaller bars in the middle of the truck; Carla was squeezed somewhere behind us in who knows where and some woman kept wiping her hand on her pants (which she later told us was really annoying); Alan was somewhere in the back with some of our bags; and Kari was way in back next to Alan trying to clean up the tub of peanut paste that she knocked over because she accidentally stepped on it and then it was oozing all over our other backpacks…” Best Spring Break ever! (Study Abroad, Senegal, 2006)

Challenges? Communication can be tough when some 39 languages are spoken in the country! A smile is a great icebreaker.

Funny moment? My friends and I made an effort to swim in every single river in Senegal that we could. One time we all came out of a river and were covered with little worms everywhere. Was it gross? Of course. But our crazy dance moves to fling the worms off were hilarious!

Insight? Some friends and I were camping in southern Senegal in a place in with row boats. When we asked if we could use them to row down the river, the answer was “no” but the person didn’t tell us why. Annoyed, we took the row boats anyways and paddled our way down the river. We were having a blast just leisurely floating when we noticed we weren’t alone – there were hippos in the river. Suddenly, it occurred to us that the hippos remain submerged in the water during the day to keep cool, and come out of the water in the evening. Aha. Hippos. Good to know.

Tweet of advice? Don’t be afraid to ask people if you need help!