“After much anticipation, we hope you will be excited learn that you will be spending your Global Citizen Year in Senegal!” As these words sunk into my head, a memory surfaced amongst waves of excitement and nervous energy. The memory is that of an event which seemed insignificant at the time.
It was a typical day in Ms. Lentz’s AP Literature class. We came in, sat down, and complained about our workload until the bell cut short our lament. Ms. Lentz began to walk around the room, passing out introductory materials for Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. As I skimmed through articles about the urgent need for African authors to “decolonise the African mind,” I realized that I had never once been taught about African culture. Sure, I’d taken United States History and learned much about slavery and civil rights, but my formal education had never addressed the ancestors of the people behind these social issues. No one told me who they were, where exactly they came from, or what they valued and believed in. It seemed strange that my only exposure to African history was during two weeks of my senior English class.
At the time, I never would have guessed that the concerns of post-colonial Africa would have personal significance to me. I never imagined that I’d set foot on the very coastline immortalized in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. And just like that, with a simple email, I found that this continent I knew nearly nothing about would be my home for the next 7 months.
Thus begins my Global Citizen Year. In many ways I’m not unlike those protagonists of colonial literature, marching right into an unknown world. But where they saw darkness, I see opportunity. They were armed with guns, I’m armed with a camera. They went to gain riches, I go to gain perspective. I may not know what this next year holds for me, but I know I’m going to soak up every minute of it.