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Photo by Elke Schmidt, Senegal Bridge Year Program.

Hello from Jenny Wagner- Associate Director

Salaam aleykum!

My warmest greetings to you and all the people who have supported you on your path to embarking on the Bridge Year Program in Senegal. Our nine months together in Senegal will be filled with learning, challenges, transformation, community, adventure, and the beauty of the unexpected. Bismillah… welcome. To start, I want to share a quote from the Sufi poet Hafez:

“Change rooms in your mind for a day.All the Hemispheres in existenceLie beside an equatorIn your Heart.”

Bridge Year is all about changing rooms in your mind. Many of your interactions in Senegal will ask you to try on new ways of thinking and being, to engage with world views that you may find challenging, and deconstruct your assumptions about what you might take for granted as “normal” or “true.”

People often ask me why I keep going back to Senegal. I sometimes struggle to answer this question, because so much of what I value about Senegal isn’t something visible that you could put on a postcard. On my first visit to Senegal in 2013, I found myself in a village in southern Senegal, stooping to enter a small and cluttered mud hut and kneeling before an old man on a straw mat. This old man was a marabout who many people believed could receive messages about the future. Examining a calabash full of water, the marabout proceeded to tell me my life story in perfect accuracy. Then he paused and looked at me. “You love your hometown very much,” he said in Pulaar, “And you like Senegal. But if you start to love Senegal, this country and people will give you more than you can ever imagine. And you will keep coming back here.”

These words have repeatedly proved true in my life, and I’ve observed the same thing happen over and over in the lives of Bridge Year participants in Senegal. There are many layers to this country. The connections you build with your neighbors, your homestay families, and your co-workers at your work placements will slowly transform the sleepy lanes of Yoff and bustling autoroutes of Dakar proper from an unfamiliar gritty African capital to a beloved landscape of stories, jokes, and cherished friendships. For me, these relationships are what have pulled me back to this small West African country every year for the past four years, and what might lead  Bridge Year Senegal alumni to pop in and visit our community during our nine months.

As we’ll be spending lots of time together in the next nine months, I want to briefly introduce myself. I’m writing this note from the Shan hills of Myanmar, where I am leading a 4-week course on politics and development with a group of students from different universities. I was born and raised in Boulder, Colorado and first traveled to West Africa after college to study dance and volunteer in public health education in Ghana. I transitioned from rural Ghana to rural Colorado, where I spent three years as an environmental educator at a wolf sanctuary in the remote Wet Mountain Valley. For the past seven years I’ve been traveling as an experiential educator in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. I took a short break from working with students to attend grad school at SOAS University of London, where I studied Social Anthropology with a focus on development and tourism. I have also served as an administrator in the Dragons office in Boulder, but I find that my favorite part of this work is facilitating experiences with Princeton Bridge Year students.

I have been working as a supporting instructor with the Bridge Year Senegal program every year since 2014, and last year I also supported the Bridge Year programs in India and Bolivia. This will be my first year working at the Senegal Bridge Year site for the full nine months, and I am especially honored to be co-facilitating this experience with my colleague Babacar Mbaye, who has been one my most influential mentors in this work. This year’s program is also lucky enough to be supported by instructor Berte Gielge for the first six weeks of our program. Berta brings a unique perspective on intercultural living, sustainability, and community service in a Senegalese context from her five + years of community work in rural Senegal.

This Yak Board will also serve as a forum for questions and (hopefully) answers as you prepare for your trip. Keep an eye on the board as Babacar and I post additional notes, sharing resources and inviting you to participate in the exchange as well. During our time in Senegal, the Yak Board will serve as a place to share thoughts and experiences along the way, culminating in a shared journal to share with friends and family, and as an archive to look back on after our return home.

Babacar or myself will be reaching out soon to connect with each of you before your arrival at Princeton, and both of us look forward to getting know you better. We are always available to answer any questions that you may have as you prepare. You can reach me at [email protected] I may be a bit slower to respond until August 1st, as I have limited internet access here in Myanmar.

Jerejef. Be ci kanam!

Thank you and until soon,

Jenny