Learning About Education Through Travel: L'Ecole Secretaire

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From the Fall 2011 Caller

By Siobhan Furnary '13

We strutted along the cracked sidewalk for about one and a half miles until we arrived at the school. It was the first time I’d seen a cloudy, hazy sky during our time in Kaolack, Senegal, a rural town populated by about 172,000 Senegalese.
 
As we passed a multitude of one-story homes along the main pothole-riddled street, a worn, white-stucco building, better known as “L’école secrétaire,” or “Secretary School,” loomed ahead. A group of 18 young women and just a few men, all in their early twenties, waited outside with handbags and meticulously done hair and makeup. Although a session of chatting and gossiping seemed essential before a morning of two two-hour classes, five or six students welcomed me with a gentle high-five followed through by a clasp at the hands.
 
Once their principal unlocked barred double doors, the students flooded inside, most making their way to the morning’s lecture class.
 
Women reached into their handbags, whipping out notebooks and pens as the lecturer began his talk on subjects unfamiliar to me as he spoke in French. My eyes couldn’t help but wander around the room while he gave his talk: a narrow, rectangular shaped classroom, with turquoise-painted walls, a chalkboard, wooden desks stretched down the room, and framed windows that peered down into a concrete courtyard—a lecture hall that would feel misplaced almost anywhere in the U.S. The second and last class of the morning was a proctored two-hour class, led by a computer program designed to teach the prospective secretaries how to type efficiently. Pairs of two shared a computer, much like the Macs we had thrown out of our garages years ago, and took turns striving to perfect the exercises at hand.
 
Although the young men and women weren’t enrolled in journalism, philosophy, environmental science, or neurology classes, their collegiate education promptly gave them the confidence to seek a secretarial position, exceeding their own and their families’ expectations.  
 

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.