One of the questions I’ve been getting the most is, “how does it feel being home??”. I honestly wish I had a more interesting answer than the fact that it feels normal. The roads are the same, the buildings unchanged, and my room was just as I left it. So no, it doesn’t feel strange or wrong, it feels like I’ve returned home, to a safe place. But some fundamental aspects of myself have changed, and that is what makes this transition complicated.
The people in Senegal are open, generous, caring, and never fail to greet you. People in the U.S. seem so scared to look up from their phones for fear that they may have to give a slight smile to a stranger. This blatant disregard for each other honestly hurts me. Some of the people I remember the most from Senegal are taxi drivers, people I sat next to on the bus, or people I met walking on the road. It’s so sad to me that we don’t get to experience each other, learn from each other, or even talk to each other, and why? Because of fear of rejection? Because we’re scared of people who look different than us? Because whatever social media app we’re on is more important than the living, breathing person in front of us? I’ve found myself struggling with staying off my phone. I’ve had to think to myself, what type of person do I want to be now? I want to keep reading and journaling everyday. I want to spend time outside and not care about the heat. I want to keep not wearing makeup. I want to love my body and my mind. I want to feel confident in who I am as a person. And that’s been the biggest shock so far. It is so hard to love who you are, or even be self aware of who you are, or who you’re becoming, when there are so many visuals showing you what to wear, who to hangout with, what to look like, what to do.
But I am seeing what’s happening. I don’t read everyday, I watch netflix. I don’t journal, I go on instagram. But being self aware is the first step to changing that. It’s sad how actively I have to try to not go back into my old ways. But that’s one thing Senegal taught me, that you can be in control of your actions as long as you’re confident enough in what you’re doing. I will continue to smile at strangers and ask how they’re doing. I will read everyday before bed. I will journal for at least 5 minutes a day. I will call my host family and send them WhatsApp messages so I can maybe see little Cas grow up in some way. I will share what I can with the people around me. I will have the conservations that need to be had about uncomfortable topics. I will spend time with my family. I will go out of my way for my friends. But I also value myself enough to know the types of relationships to put work into. I will continue to try to learn new things everyday.
This is why I care that people do GCY, because the experiences shape you are when you come home. The past eight months will never be something of the past. The people I met and the lessons I learned will affect how I choose to live myself for many years to come. That’s why I chose to go to my high school and do presentations about GCY for eight hours because I believe this gap year is something that should be known about, something everyone should have access to, and something that young people should choose to do. Then maybe our world would be a little bit better. And maybe people would feel comfortable enough to smile at the person in front of them.
I want to say thank you to Global Citizen Year and everyone who is apart of the program- staff, fellows, alumni, you all are making the world a more kind, genuine, caring place.