For just over half an hour Wednesday morning, the Umble Center was packed for a convocation detailing the 2018 Senegal SST unit.
Goshen College sends groups to Senegal every other summer. This past summer’s Senegal unit was one of the smallest in SST’s history, consisting of only eight students: junior Ethan Lapp, seniors Naomi Peters, Lukas Thompson, Zach Ganger, Spencer Aeschliman, Ben Meyer Reimer and Alex Steiner and 2018 graduate Morgan Yordy.
The unit was led by Tom Meyers, director of international education, and his wife, Julie.
“The group was a delight to work with,” said Meyers. “Small groups can work very well if there are no personality conflicts, and that was our case.”
Meyers has led a total of 10 units to Guadeloupe, Ivory Coast, Egypt and Senegal; however, this summer marked his final unit. In his 16th year as director of international education, Meyers recently announced that he is preparing to retire from Goshen College after this year.
“I will retire on June 30, 2019,” said Meyers. “I am open to many possibilities after GC but have no definite plans at this time.”
The convocation opened with Steiner giving general facts about Senegal, including that it is located on the extreme western tip of the African continent and is a majority Muslim nation.
Steiner also explained that while French is the language spoken in formal and educational settings, as well as the language that Goshen students studied prior to embarking on SST. Wolof was more commonly spoken in everyday and social situations.
From there, Lapp shared details from the study portion of the Senegal SST.
The group spent the first six weeks in Thies, the third largest city in Senegal. Lapp explained that the students all had an approximately 30-minute walk to and from school each day. Classes included both Wolof and French lessons.
Lapp also described some of the field trips the group took during study, including excursions to the port city of Saint-Louis and the holy city of Touba.
One of the goals of SST is to push students beyond their comfort zones and into situations they could not experience at home. Aeschliman and Meyer Reimer used their time in the village of Ndem during service as an example of how SST expanded their understandings of the world.
Meyer Reimer pointed to an experience he had while on service when he went to visit his village’s Marabout, a religious leader of the Baye Fall subset of the Muslim faith.
“All the men formed a group and began singing the most intense chant I’ve ever heard,” Meyer Reimer said. “After around an hour of sing-chanting, the men stopped and one-by-one crawled forward to converse with their leader, who inquired about their lives. It was the strangest experience of devotion I’ve ever seen coming from a Mennonite background, but I loved the endless positivity and joy everyone gave off in reuniting with old friends and working for their religion.”
Peters also shared stories from service. She stayed in Gorom and worked in a health clinic alongside Yordy. Peters noted that though she did not live with a host family while on service, she was still able to form strong bonds and community with her co-workers through things such as communal meals.
Adorned in traditional clothing, Thompson spoke on the significance of fashion in Senegal. He explained that the most common piece of traditional clothing is the boubou, a long, tunic-like piece that can be worn by men and women.
The convocation concluded with Steiner discussing the group’s experiences with food
and family while abroad. He explained some traditional dishes like poulet yassa, a dish featuring rice, caramelized onions and chicken, which his host family had fed him on his birthday.
As was mentioned by numerous speakers, Steiner also said that a sense of hospitality and community was strong in Senegal.
Thompson said, “I had a wonderful experience in Senegal, and it was a very positive thing for me to go experience a small part of Africa firsthand. I think a lot of people have misunderstandings and assumptions about what Africa is and it was really valuable for me to be thrust into a new culture and learn for myself what life looks like for some people in that part of the world.”