Learning About Education Through Travel: A School Day in Senegal

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From the Fall 2011 Caller

By Hannah Hay-Smith

In the spring of 2011 we, a group of 14 students, embarked on our trip to Senegal. The goal was to improve our French, explore a new culture, and work with a program called 10,000 Girls. Viola Vaughn created 10,000 Girls to help Senegalese girls stay in school and to teach them entrepreneurial skills. We spent a week doing home stays, in Kaolack, with some of these girls.
I lived with an 18-year-old named Mhakbé, who attended the public high school. Every day she walked two miles to her overpopulated school, which consisted of three concrete buildings and a large soccer field. On my first day of school, we had morning track and field. Each exercise was a competition, in which the most and least athletic students in the class were revealed. The most competitive of these activities was the high jump. We jumped, one at time, over the elevated bar and landed on the mat below. If you successfully cleared the bar and stuck your landing, you passed on to the next round. The other students, along with the gym teacher, judged each high jumper. I passed the first two rounds, but in the third round I hit the bar on the way over. The class snickered as I joined the other girls who had already been eliminated. I felt annoyed that the teacher let us be publicly humiliated and realized that no Catlin Gabel teacher would allow our peers to laugh at us, as he did. It was a reminder of the differences between the two schools.
In the afternoon, we attended math class. The room was dimly lit and crowded with students. The girls sat in the front of the room, while the boys were seated in the back. Once we’d taken our seats, the teacher, a tall Senegalese man, read everybody’s test scores aloud. For the second time that day I was surprised. I hadn’t taken the test, but I could still feel how embarrassing it would be to have my test scores read aloud.
As Mhakbé and I left her school, we walked by a pair of goats nibbling on grass. I realized that even if the classes and teachers were different than Catlin Gabel’s, some things were still the same: the kids were still eager to learn and still hard-working, and even six thousand miles away they still had goats on their school campus.  


Catlin Gabel now makes it possible, through financial aid funds, for every Middle and Upper School student to participate in at least one global education trip abroad during their years at Catlin Gabel.