This is a post from Mathew Davis, a Global Citizen Year Founding Fellow in the class of 2010.
Being a Founding Global Citizen Year Fellow has enabled me to see the world with a global perspective. Realizing both how small the world is and how much I don’t yet know, I feel like a man of the 21st century—because I view the 21st century as an era of global unification (for better or for worse) and my time in Senegal gave me a taste of just what that unity means.
Living in a completely different culture and way of life allowed me to look at my upbringing with new eyes, and see how far I’ve come. Anyone who does a Global Citizen Year gains new insight on growing up in United States of America, whether they grew up “at-risk” like me or not. Ever since my return in May I have noticed one common thread in my conversations that wasn’t there before: I view things from a completely different perspective than those around me. I notice that once this new perspective seeps into a conversation, one of two things results: either it deflates discourse by poking holes in our elaborate American constructs or it adds life and fervor to the dialogue. No matter who you are or where you come from, having an experience like GCY will give you an awareness that takes your curiosity far beyond where you thought it could be, and sets you apart from those who haven’t had the same opportunity. You just have to be open to it.
Beyond giving me perspective on my own life, Senegal was important to me culturally. To be a young black male and have a life-changing experience on the West African coast—from where I know I descend—was a paramount to my growth. It was not only a cultural immersion, but also an intellectual investigation of pre-colonial history and the other side of the slave trade, thanks to the rigorous academic research elements of GCY and the sharp intellect of the Senegalese. It was also the first time I ever saw myself as a member of the African diaspora as opposed to just another kid trying make it out of the hood. I saw that I am bigger than just black.
I’m someone who likes to do a lot of thinking on a regular basis, but my apprenticeship was an intellectual workout every day. I remember watering tomatoes early in the morning before the sun came up with thoughts of underdevelopment and neo-colonial policies running through my head from the graduate level research articles I had read the night before, courtesy of our program manager. I feel so much more prepared for not only the demands of academia but also to be an active agent in pursuing the things I care about. This is one of the main reasons I didn’t go straight to college after GCY. I took another internship in Albany, New York teaching at a private alternative school where I develop my own curriculum and pedagogy and teach critical thinking to middle schoolers. I probably wouldn’t have taken that opportunity to further cultivate my passion for teaching if I hadn’t done GCY. It gave me the confidence to take charge of my education and helped me realize that I can control what I want it to look like. Now, when I enter college in the fall, I won’t be another passive learner but rather a passionate practitioner who can contribute something of substance to the conversation.
My friends say I came back from Senegal more focused than I have ever been. Being away for so long opened and stretched my mind out so much that I could inspect exactly where I needed to focus my energies. GCY didn’t change my aspirations, but it helped me polish and refine my skills. And being in Senegal gave me a maturity to pursue my passions from more than just one angle. Thinking about issues and problems on such a sweeping scale, with so many layers and complexities, planning for my own future now seems a whole lot easier than ever before.