family swing

One year ago, I was in Senegal with the Bridge Year Program, but really, the situation wasn’t so different than it is now. Halfway through the program was a difficult time for me. In Senegal, the issues were homesickness, language difficulties, finding my role in my home and service site. All these experiences were the trough of the so-called “adaptation period.” I was struggling to find a rhythm, but I had one big thing to look forward to: my family’s visit for Christmas and New Year’s.

I distinctly remember the day, Christmas Day in fact, of their arrival. It was a Tuesday morning in Yoff, the neighborhood of Dakar that the Bridge Year program is based in. After dropping their luggage off in the hotel, I led my family through the Tuesday market, stopping to get them some powerful Café Touba, a spiced coffee, and baguette for breakfast. I realized how excited I was to show them everything I had learned in the past four months, and it was during this week, as I brought them to meet my new family and community, that I became aware of actually feeling settled in my new home: Their visit restored my perspective on how far I had come and the identity I had carved out for myself in Senegal.

Seynabou, Boussrai, and Assane
Family outing to a local park, Boussrai is a big fan of the whole "playground" concept

And now it has come full circle. At the end of November, my host family and their 3-year-old were granted what very few West Africans ever receive: tourist visas to the USA. This news came in the thick of my first semester at Princeton, as, just like in Senegal, I struggled to find my own identity on an academically intense and fast-paced campus. After the phone call, I remembered my parents’ visit a year earlier, and I reflected on the possibility of spending this Christmas with both of my families again. I realized that whatever struggles I encountered at Princeton, I had already come a long way. I had the fortune and privilege of continuing a special relationship, and a restored perspective of my identity at Princeton.

Assane, me, Seynabou, and Boussrai
Family shot at the table.

After having found last minute airfare, my host family flew from Dakar to Atlanta, where I picked them up six days before Christmas. We celebrated the holiday together with close (Mexican) family friends (talk about a cultural experience), and I’ll see the three of them again in New York before they return to Senegal!


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