The Ten Biggest Lessons I have Learned So Far

Some of these lessons I should have understood before now, but it’s very humbling to admit that I am just starting to learn them and to really understand them now.  I will probably learn most of these lessons again in the future, but for now – this is where I am.

#1. This is not a trip. It’s real and it’s hard. It’s amazing and wonderful and crazy and unimaginable. The only way to exist here, to feel all the things that  come crashing over me everyday, is to live it. This is my real life. I’m not on some adventure, journey, or a vacation. This is my life. And life took me to Senegal… so here I am, living.

#2. Don’t believe in stereotypes; they don’t really exist. I went into my host family expecting a stereotypical Senegalese family, and I think they were expecting a stereotypical American girl. But they cannot be a stereotype anymore than I can. Both of my families are nothing like I expected, but I think that is exactly what I needed.

#3. When things go wrong, the only thing to do is say bax na and keep going. It means, it’s okay. And the truth here, the big, killer secret everyone wants to know, is that it really is okay. Things will keep going. They might be hard, maybe you will cry yourself to sleep every night, or maybe you will feel so alone you don’t think you relate to anyone anymore, but eventually it will be okay.

#4. Fail quickly. Something I owe to the amazing Alice Brower. You are going to suck sometimes. You are going to fail over and over again in life, but all you can do is to acknowledge, learn, and move on. If you linger on your failures, you won’t be able to succeed. Forgive yourself and move on to the next failure.

#5. Be patient. Be persistent. Be proactive. Things aren’t always how you want them right away, but the only way to get them there is to keep going — keep asking, keep waiting, even when you don’t think you can — until suddenly, you will realize you are exactly where you want to be.

#6. Language isn’t real. Learning language through immersion is really hard. It’s tempting to run away to read or  to Facebook people from home instead of talking to people here, because every communication is like a battle; what you want to be able to say is fighting to be translated into this new language. Once you stop trying to speak English and translate to Wolof, or whatever to whatever, and you start trying to speak the new language, everything is different. But underneath all of that, real communication (at least what I have seen so far) comes in smiles and body postures. It comes in laughter and the tone of voice you use when you talk. It comes in sharing and finding ways to collaborate to meet the needs of others. Language is only a tool. Language isn’t real, but people are.

#7. On your good days, the best thing you can do is listen to others.

#8. On your bad days, the best thing you can do is listen to your self.

#9. You cannot “try” to do anything. You just do it.

#10. Be grateful. To yourself. To your loved ones. To the people who smile on the street, or the man who always practices Wolof with you when you pass him on  the way to school, even when you always make mistakes. To the people who take you into their homes, who treat you like a new child, who care for you even though they can’t even really talk to you. To the people who correct your French even though it makes you angry. To the cashier who gives a slight nod when you aren’t sure if you pulled out the right bill when trying to buy juice or a kilo of bananas. To those who have forgiven you for your failures and loved you for your successes. To the support system you have, to the people who make your life possible everyday.

So Thank You.