To Senegal and Back Again

Aly Counsell - Senegal


July 17, 2013

“I just knew.  The moment I stepped on campus, I knew it was the school for me.”

This is what I heard time and time again from graduates of my high school when they talked about choosing a college, and those were the words that comforted me as I plunged into the unnerving labyrinth of the college process.  Even though I didn’t know exactly what I was looking for in a college, I was certain that, by visiting schools and learning more about my options, I would someday have that same feeling and there would be no doubt in my mind when it came time to choose where I wanted to spend my next four years.   

Searching for my perfect match, I visited hordes of colleges and went to countless information sessions and tours, but I never found a college that stood out to me as the place where I belonged.  By March, as I was waiting to hear back from colleges, my mind was flooded with anxiety—if I didn’t even know which colleges were my top choices, how would I ever decide where to go?  That’s when I found out about Global Citizen Year.  I was sick at home the day that I stumbled upon Global Citizen Year’s website while absent-mindedly scrolling through my school’s daily announcement email, so I took some time to explore the website.  I was very interested and exceedingly impressed by the mission of the program and the amazing experiences that past fellows had had, but not enough so that I would consider veering from the path to college that I had been on for years.  That is, until I learned that Senegal was one of the countries in the Global Citizen Year program—then I was hooked.  Let me explain….

My high school has always had an emphasis on global learning, and several years ago we started a Global Service Learning program, which sends groups of students to travel to other countries to live with home stay families and engage in community service for one month.  Last summer, I went to Senegal with the Global Service Learning Program, and was able to see the world through a completely different lens after being effectively adopted into the Diop family of Keur Demba.  Simply put, the experience changed my life.  When I was in Senegal, I felt the greatest sense of purpose I have ever found.  Everything I learned on the trip seemed to give my life a heightened sense of meaning.  I don’t know exactly what it was about my experience that drew me in so forcefully, but, looking back on it, I finally understand what the college students were talking about when they described the feeling of knowing where they were supposed to be.  And when I reached this realization, I knew that Global Citizen Year was the perfect match I had been searching for.

Interestingly enough, while the rigorous coursework and competitive atmosphere that came with attending a private prep school drove almost every student in my class to follow a traditional path of attending college, my next step was inspired by a far different aspect of our school—namely, the opportunity it gave me to experience global service learning.  And even though I had always thought my school was preparing me to go straight to college, it actually was preparing me for a life of continued global service.  

This time last year, I was just about to leave Senegal, the country that I had come to love so dearly, and now I’m eagerly anticipating my next journey back.  It’s amazing to think how much my life has changed over the course of one year.  There’s something about Senegal that makes me feel like it’s somewhere that I belong, and I could not be more excited to explore what it is that makes me feel so at home in a place that’s so radically different from what I’m used to.  

Aly Counsell