Salaam aleykum Dragons students, friends, and family!
Greetings and welcome to the Senegal Summer 2021 Yak Board. My name is Jenny Wagner and I work as the Africa Program Director with Dragons. Although originally from Colorado, I live full-time in Senegal and have worked extensively with Dragons on a variety of programs as an administrator and educator for the past decade. This summer I’ll be based at Dragons HQ in Boulder, CO. Please feel free to reach out to me with any concerns you might have as the program approaches, or post your queries here on the Yak Board so others can also benefit from the response.
To those who are new this year, I’d like to welcome you to the Dragons community and to the journey ahead! And to those who have joined us for another year, we are excited to have you back!
Spring is a celebration of transitions; a transition that marks the beginning of a summer-long journey to give life to our aspirations and imaginations. We hope that the Yak forum encourages you to voice your excitement, anxieties, thoughts and questions–it’s a great place to share a bit about yourself. In the coming weeks, instructors and students will post their own introductions and begin sharing more information about the journey ahead. From here, discussions will begin to build and your instructors will offer advice for course preparation regarding packing, recommended readings, the itinerary, and topics to consider for your Independent Study Projects (ISPs).
Your instructors for this summer are incredible! Collectively, they bring multiple lifetimes of in-country experience, are seasoned guides and educators, and as you will discover over the course of your journey, are some of the most thoughtful, kind, and inspiring folks in our community. As your Program Director, I’m here to support and steward the overall process from our offices in Boulder, CO before, during, and after the course. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me directly to say hello!
Dragons prefers to keep our hands in the dirt, allowing us to sculpt courses that represent our unique goals of profound cross-cultural learning and self-cultivation. When it’s all said and done, and you finally gather in late June at your course’s point of departure, you should know that you are about to embark on an adventure that is intensely personalized and has been many months, and in many cases, years in the making!
The Yak board is also the most appropriate place to address your pre-course questions and concerns. We hope that you will discover the magic of the Yak forum (have a look at past courses to get a sense of how the Yak board can be used), and learn to love it! It’s a powerful tool for communication and community building, and once you head into the field, it will undoubtedly become the default homepage of your parents and friends at home – all of those who WISH they could be out there with you! Our friends and hosts in Senegal (some of whom have not had opportunities to travel around their own country) will also be following along as you post about your experiences.
Senegal is a country of contrasts where the latest trends in fashion and technology can be seen alongside centuries-old traditions. The Muslim call to prayer sounds five times a day as hundreds of people stop to worship on the city’s sidewalks. Senegal’s famous hospitality, called “teranga,” is in the air from the moment we step off the plane and into a friend’s living room for a cup of tea.
The core of a life-changing Dragons experience is community, and Senegal is home to some of our longest and most cherished relationships. Our hosts in Senegal open their homes and hearts to Dragons students, creating a sense of home for students. This happens most often via the networks and connections of our Senegalese instructors. Years of positive experiences with Dragons students and staff have helped build deep trust with the rural communities we visit, and because of this, these communities are excited to welcome us back for the first time since the pandemic began. We are counting on all of you to help nurture these relationships of trust.
We ask you to respect that this summer is a sensitive time to travel, especially when visiting communities who might not have the means to access quality healthcare. Senegal has received international praise for their rapid nationwide response to the pandemic, and for continuing to take it seriously. Life in Senegal has been stable throughout the pandemic and has in many ways returned to a pre-pandemic normal, with relatively few restrictions currently in place. That said, many of our hosts in Senegal have questions and concerns about the health implications of receiving visitors from abroad. With support from the instructors, your group will engage with local communities in ways that are reciprocal and take precautions that are agreed upon by all parties in advance.
At a time when global inequalities have been heightened in numerous ways, it is perhaps more important than ever to engage in intercultural experiences that shed light on those disparities in ways that are thoughtful, intentional, and informed. We feel confident that we can help you celebrate the beauty and complexity of this part of the world safely and ethically. To make that possible, we ask that you come to Senegal prepared to engage with new and sometimes difficult topics, and respect the guidance of your instructors in shaping an experience that is responsive to unique needs and conditions. Along the way you will discover new joys, community, and meaning-making in the world around you.
And finally, as you prepare for the upcoming summer, be prepared to be challenged, to be inspired, and to learn and grow in ways that can only come from living these experiences. Most of all, be prepared to have fun and to see yourself and your life back home through new eyes.
Again, welcome to Dragons. I look forward to hearing from you all, and vicariously journeying alongside you this summer.