For the third installment of Reflections on a Global Citizen Year, we hear from three alums of the founding class of Fellows who spent their Global Citizen Year in Senegal and have just completed their first year of college.
Every course I took this year at Princeton reflected my experience in Senegal in some way.
First, I took an international relations course trying to understand on a macro-level the big picture issues that affect the people I lived with in a small town in Africa.
I took a class on child psychology to help me explore my interest in children and childhood. For our final paper, I chose the theme of “inventing childhood’ which allowed me to write about how children’s books throughout history reflect dramatically different cultural mindsets about children. I analyzed a French film adaptation of a Senegalese folk story to understand where it did – and didn’t – reflect traditional Africa values.
I also took a class called ‘Scarcity: Origins and Consequences’ that compared the different ways people deal with situations of scarcity in the developing and developed world. Through the course we examined different types of scarcity – whether of money (in many places) or time (in our culture) and their psychological implications.
Beyond academics I know that my Global Citizen Year inspired me to approach other aspects of my college life in a way that I wouldn’t have otherwise. Today, I feel so much more confident stepping out of my comfort zone. For example, I recently joined an acapella group which has been one of my life-long dreams. This year, I have often noticed myself in the midst of challenging situations at school – whether it’s tension in the dormroom, academic stress, or a printer jam when you’re late for class – and realizing how silly and small these obstacles actually are. Having spent a year dealing with truly stressful situations in my community in Senegal helped me learn to be more patient and persistent with everything – skills that have already proven so valuable to me in getting through my first year of college.
I have also started an effort with my roommate (who took a gap year in Serbia) to create a network of Princeton students who have taken a year off. We realized that there was no forum to connect with each other, so we are creating a new campus group to address the issue. By working together we hope to encourage more students to consider taking time off before they enroll as Freshman.
Because we know from our own experiences that a gap year before college changes everything.
What surprised me most about my Freshman year at Harvard was how much more mature I am than I was before, and how much better I know myself. In high school I struggled to figure out simple things like who I was, what I enjoyed doing. After my Global Citizen Year, I was able to start college with so much more clarity around who I am, what and who I’m comfortable with. One of the most useful things we learned in GCY was to not be tricked into action by FOMO (the “fear of missing out”). I got to observe this fear in action all year in Senegal, and by the time I got to Harvard I knew it when I saw it. Today, I know how to listen to what I need – whether it means going out with friends or feeling secure and confident when I chose to stay home to take some time for myself.
It has been amazing to see how pervasive everything I learned in Senegal and over my gap year has become in my life. My Global Citizen Year year truly affected everything about how I see myself, and the world. I remember when I first came back to the US, I couldn’t go into a Whole Foods without crying -it was so overwhelming to see so much excess after living somewhere with so little. Today, I can go buy groceries without crying, but there is always something in the back of my mind that won’t let me forget what I experienced during my Global Citizen Year. Some people say that ignorance is bliss, but for me, I am so glad that I had this opportunity to learn that the world is big, complex, and often, unfair. I’m grateful that I had this opportunity to learn more about the world and apply that to everything I do – whether it’s designing my own major in human rights, or seeking out friends who share my values, my interests in the world.