St. Mary’s Students Participate in Senegal Study Tour over Winter Break

Over winter break, eight St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM) students visited Senegal, West Africa to experience Senegalese culture and become familiar with the history of the nation. The trip lasted from Jan. 3 through Jan. 17, and included sites of historical, cultural and environmental significance. The study tour was led by Maribeth Ganzell, the club coordinator at SMCM, and Professor Bill Roberts of the SMCM Anthropology Department. 

Lily Pohlenz (‘21) stated that she was most looking forward to “Meeting new people and experiencing life in a third world country.” The experience of the study tour gave SMCM students a glimpse at another part of the world and showed them the importance of awareness of cultures different from our own. 

The local language of Senegal is Wolof, and SMCM students were able to experience the basics of this language through lessons and interactions with local Senegalese students. In a collaboration with a local high school, SMCM students met and interacted with members of the school’s English club as well as students at five different Senegalese universities. Ganzell remarked that one of her favorite moments from the trip is when “a SMCM student and Senegalese student found common ground through a conversation or shared joke.” Along with Wolof, French—the official language of Senegal—was frequently heard as well, which provided SMCM students with a background in French to practice their language-speaking skills outside of the classroom. 

Aside from making Senegalese friends, the study tour took students on a tour of the holy city of Touba Mbacké, which is home to the largest mosque in West Africa. It is Senegalese custom for both Christian and Muslim religions to coexist peacefully, celebrating holidays together and appreciating the beliefs of their different faiths. 

Senegal provides countless beautiful scenes, such as the towns, universities and the Saloum River Delta. Ganzell noted that one of her favorite parts of the trip was when “the water spray hit [her] face while zooming through the Delta du Saloum river on a brightly painted pirogue.” A pirogue, to which Ganzell refers, is a long, narrow canoe usually made from a single tree bark. Another exciting site from the trip included those experienced on a safari through the Bandia Wildlife Reserve. Some of the animals spotted were monkeys, rhinoceri, antelopes, giraffes, ostriches and zebras.  

Ganzell has helped to organize this study tour on three separate occasions, including the first Sights and Sounds of Senegal tour in 2017 for a group of first-year Global Scholars. She explained that she hopes that this tour can become an annual trip offered to SMCM students, since it provides excellent opportunities to experience the world outside of Southern Maryland. 

In order to organize such a phenomenal experience, Ganzell begins her planning process far in advance of the trip. “Planning for the trip usually starts almost a year in advance,” she noted. Ganzell explained that the application for the trip is typically due about nine months prior to the study tour, and information is made available to students usually around late spring. Preparation for the students included background information sessions in order to familiarize them with the Senegalese culture. Students were given a set of readings along with written and oral material in order to better understand Senegalese history, society, and geography. 

While the trip did not count for any specific course credit, it did allow students to fulfill the ELAW requirement while experiencing society in a different part of the world. Ganzell believes the experiences obtained on this trip will stick with SMCM students forever, as they were able to make new friends and see a different yet beautiful culture. She mentioned that “When your trip is over, you are headed back to the comforts of home, but realize this experience will stick with you for a long time, changing the way you look at your world.” 

Studying abroad serves as an opportunity to better understand the world outside of our own campus. The Senegal study tour and many other opportunities to experience education abroad are available through the Office of International Study located in Glendening Annex. 

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