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Pre-Course Assignment

Dear All,

Hello! My name is Penelope, and I’m super excited to be traveling with you all this summer! I’m 15 years old (turning 16 in three days) and I’ll be a junior in high school next year. I live in Madison, Wisconsin (what you’ve heard is true – there is a LOT of cheese). I spend a lot of my time working with a club I helped found called MEGA for SEGA – we work with the SEGA girl’s school in Tanzania to provide access to secondary education to girls. MEGA stands for “Madison Empowering Girls’ Advancement”. As a club, we had the chance to travel to Tanzania last summer (therefore I have experience taking antimalarials – and yes, the dreams are weird!!!). I’ve wanted to go to West Africa for some time, and I found dragons after a bit of research into programs online. I was drawn to Senegal for several reasons. First, I’m currently learning French, and I think Senegal will be an amazing place to use the French language to connect with others. Second, my grandfather was a diplomat, so my mom grew up in Burkina Faso and Mali (two West African countries). Therefore, West Africa has always been a big part of my family’s identity, and I’ve wanted to go there for some time. I’m so excited to have the chance to go now with all of you! In terms of chocolate, the choice is pretty clear – dark (aka the only kind of chocolate with caffeine).

For my research topic, I decided to focus on one of the most influential figures in Senegalese history, Leopold Sédar Senghor. Senghor wore many hats but was primarily a poet and a politician. He is known as a proponent of Aimé César’s négritude, a concept which emphasized African consciousness. Négritude influences many of Senghor’s poems, in particular his earlier works (one such work, “Lettre à un poète”, is dedicated to César). His poems also bring in his experience as an African in France. Senghor studied in France, and later worked there as a politician, given Senegal’s position as a French colony. One of his more famous poems, “In Memoriam”, speaks of Senghor’s feelings as an African in the European world.

In 1960, Senghor was elected the first president of Senegal. Throughout his time as president of the Republic, Senghor introduced many proponents of a well-functioning democracy. He established a multi-party system, as well as a strong education system. What I find particularly amazing is the way Senegal was able to recover from the oppressive system of colonialism. As I’ve studied Tanzania, it’s become clear to me that for many countries, the exit of colonial powers allowed Authoritarian rulers to come to power (or, what’s happening now, remnants of colonialism are allowing such leaders to rise). Therefore, the fact that Senghor was able to establish a firm democracy in Senegal is a true testament to his love for Senegal and its people. The democratic tradition in Senegal continues to this day, with president Macky Sall having been re-elected a few months ago.

I would highly recommend reading Senghor’s poetry. I’ve been reading his Oeuvre Poetique (Poetic Works), and I’m completely blown away. The poems are originally in French, but many of the more famous ones have been translated to English. A short one that made me anxious to go to Senegal was “Porte Dorée”. I would highly recommend this one, and frankly, all of his poetry!

I am so excited to meet all of you and travel to Senegal together! I’ll see you in a few weeks (!!!!!)!

-Penelope