I spent the past week at Pre-Departure Training, an experience almost as hard to fully process as it is for me to picture the year before me. The week, split between Alliance Redwoods and the Stanford campus, was simultaneously camplike – with all the dynamics of 18-year olds shoved tightly together – and a uniquely intense emotional experience.
There was no way I could have foreseen the amount of personal growth I would undergo this week. The staff asked us Fellows not only to consider many varied aspects of our identities, but also to share our self-assessments with one another. Thus, at the speed of light, perfect strangers became old friends.
One aspect of my identity I was surprised to have shaken up was my concept of family. I've seen demographic statistics of the United States, yet growing up where I did, I still felt that coming from a single parent household made me something of an anomaly. However, as this week progressed I quickly began to realize just how many of my talented and thoughtful Fellows came from families just like my own. In one meeting of our tribes, small breakaway discussion groups, we were asked to share one line descriptions of where we come from. I and the two Fellows beside me proudly stated that we came from strong single mothers.
This experience was an important example of what it means to see yourself outside of your context. I'm still working out my thoughts on family, but what I do know is that I feel stronger now than ever before. I cannot wait to discover who I am in Senegal, completely outside of my context.
I couldn't fully understand my own culture through statistics until meeting these Fellows. I am about to get to know a Senegalese community in a way that I could never hope to from afar. Please remember not to extrapolate, as this blog won't tell you much about Africa or even Senegal. What I will do is promise to bring you into my community and share my experiences with you as honestly as possible.