My students wanted to know if and/or how students in Senegal were similar to them or different. They had an idea that their hopes were probably going to be the same but wanted to know if they would manifest differently. So I chose it as my research question for my TGC Field Experience in Senegal. How are my students in an urban school in Chicago similar or different from students in an urban school in Senegal? Are their hopes the same? Do they see their futures differently? I felt that it would help my students understand that creating a new and just world meant that we needed to share and understand who we are and what we value.
Since there was going to be a language barrier, I had my students create small posters that would show students in Senegal who they were. They had to create collages about their families, their school, their city and also what being an American meant to them.
I shared these with the students in Senegal and they in turn created amazing collages for my students to see who they are. It was one of the most touching experiences of my life.
When I returned, my students and I parsed through to see what major trends emerged about the similarities and differences and also about what my students found most surprising.
Here is what we discovered:
School is important for the students on both sides. Most of the students see education as the key to a better life. Since both the populations of students are urban and not really part of the middle class in their respective countries, they all saw it as a means for social and economic mobility. On both sides the aspirations were high. Senegalese students however, more often seemed to see education outside of Senegal as a key to success.
Role of Women:
While researching about Senegal, my students learned that it is a predominantly Muslim country. They did read that it was a peaceful and tolerant society but were curious to know how teenage Muslim girls would be. To my student’s delight they saw that the women in Senegal enjoyed a lot of freedom in school and in society. Although many of the girls were wearing head scarves, it wasn’t symbolic of any great restriction. It was eye opening for many of my students. They also saw that women in Senegal had careers and roles in all levels of society.
Expectations of Family and Society:
Most of my students belong to ethnic minorities within the US and have very strong ties to their families and their communities. The expectations of the family generally supersede that of the individual. This was something they found to be similar. For many of my female students and for students in Senegal, the expectation for girls especially is to help out with family and child care. So there were many ways in which my students felt they understood how families functioned in Senegal. The polygamy aspect of family life was something my students felt was very different and complicated.
Students on both sides were comfortable with communication through social media and inhabiting an online life. Most students have smartphones, and all of them use them extensively. My students were extremely happy that many students in Senegal were using the same type of social media they were. They had been unsure if this was something they could expect. The students in Senegal were excited to share their favorite media stars and their online life.
Providing this opportunity for all the students to share this experience was one of the best parts of this entire experience. My students were so excited that they could connect with students across the world on social media and that they could continue to keep in touch. I’m glad that this question, although not an in depth analysis, provided an opportunity for such a life changing connection for so many.