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Senegal – A Year of Discovery

As someone who aspires to work with nongovernmental and intergovernmental organizations to promote positive sustainable development, I knew international professional experience would be key to my future career success.  As an International Studies major with minors in French and African Studies, Senegal appeared to be the perfect location for me to go abroad. I signed up for a six month IE3 internship program with nongovernmental organization Tostan. Tostan is an organization which promotes positive social change through non-formal education in rural Senegal. I immediately fell in love with the work and the people and quickly realized six months was not nearly sufficient to get the sort of professional and cultural experience I was seeking. I quickly extended my trip another six months.

The second half of my internship was where I truly grew both professionally as well as personally. Senegal stopped being a new and shocking experience and started becoming “home.” That was when I truly began to connect with the culture and the people. I started out my internship as Assistant to the National Coordinator in the small city of Thies, Senegal. The work included writing village portraits and international donor reports in French and English. After three months in the position taking on odd jobs, I realized I wanted something with more direction and focus. I transferred departments and became project manager of a partnership focusing on microcredit and maternal health integration. I developed annual budgets, evaluated the first year of collaboration, planned the second, wrote reports, managed donor relations, planned and led project meetings, analyzed project sustainability, created solutions for project challenges, managed project personnel and worked directly with the community to conduct needs analyses.  Working so closely with the villagers not only opened my eyes to the realities and hardships of rural life in Senegal but also to the positive social and economic change which can occur when a community is given the tools to manage their own development. I now have a broader perspective on how people live, the realities of global poverty, and what people are capable of achieving when given the opportunity.

The 12 months I spent in Senegal have been the most important and fulfilling of my life. I have discovered my love of development work and have begun to sculpt my future career goals. With my graduation approaching quickly in December, I will be applying for a bilingual Master’s degree in International Development at the Graduate Institute of Geneva, Switzerland. My time spent in Senegal has helped shape my perspective and will continue to contribute and influence my future work.

Justine Jensen is a French minor in the Department of Romance Languages.