Wednesday, October 27, 2010

What I plan to do with my experience:

I plan to do a whole lot with my experience.  My future has changed to one surrounding human rights violations and international law.  I’ve become much more impassioned about the need for ‘basic’ health care at a global level.  Even though we as Americans might think that health care services are of no importance, just stop and think for a moment all of the people you know that have gone abroad.  Think about the friends they have made while abroad.  Think of the family members of those friends, and even the people they know.  We live in an interconnected world, where health care systems in Senegal actually can affect the lives of those living in the United States.  No one deserves to have bloody, unsanitary needles stuck in their arms or male doctors pressing so hard where the pain is it makes one cry.  No one deserves to be forced to take any medicine or receive any treatment without knowing the purpose.  No one should be forced to strip almost completely naked in front of a male nurse that had been stalking her all day in the name of an ‘examination’ that she needs to have in ‘order to get better’.  No one deserves that: not you, not me, not anyone in Senegal or Sri Lanka or Japan or Russia.  

Coming home:

Returning to the US was very much of a shock for me.  I had literally been torn from one culture and jammed into the next, never having planned to return to the US so early.  At that point, however, I think I very much needed my friends and family around me so I could recover.  Because of this, I think after the first few days I was doing fairly well.  What was difficult for me was knowing that the rest of my exchange friends and my host family were still in Senegal, and that I should still have been there with them.  Many times I will think back and wonder what would have been different had I been able to stay longer.  Would I have created more and stronger relationships?  Would I have ended up loving Senegal more than I did?  Would my experience have been more fulfilling?  I try not to dwell on these questions anymore and make the best of what did happen and the time that I did get while I was in Senegal.  I made as much out of the experience as I could while I was there, and I regret none of that!

What I have learned from the experience:

I’ve learned my limits and I’ve learned that my health is of extreme importance to me.  I’ve learned that relaxation techniques are KEY when you are studying abroad.  I’ve learned so much about the medical system in Senegal that I plan to make a future out of the knowledge I’ve gained from the experience.  As negative as my stay in the hospital was, I plan on making something positive out of that experience.  I’ve learned so much about Senegalese culture and their way of life.  I’m comfortable saying I’m fluent in French.  I’d return to Dakar, Senegal’s capital, any day of the week to stop in a small restaurant, eat some mafe, and drink some bisaap under the hot African sun.

Challenges met during my stay:

I’d have to say that my largest challenges in Senegal were with the medical system. I cannot say that I have ever experienced anything more terrifying or more difficult to cope with in my entire life than being sick in a place where I was completely unfamiliar with how the system was being run around me. 
During my stay there I became sick with a urinary tract infection and later on with a gastrointestinal infection.

During my first visit to a medical center on campus I was given a sticky, fuzzed over test tube to put my urine sample in. I was alright with that. I was later given medication, which ended up not curing my UTI, and so I ended up having a follow-up visit.

During my second visit to the same medical center I was given a matchbox to put a stool sample in.  I was a little upset with this.

During my third visit to another medical center off-campus, in hopes of finding slightly superior service, I was thrown different pills without an explanation of what they were or what they were for.  The doctor ran no tests and explained that he didn’t have any more time for me.  By that point I was becoming a little more distressed. 

During my fourth visit I returned to the medical center on campus which was covered by my insurance.  This is where our director highly urged us to go for treatment.  During this visit some more distressful events occurred, they ended up injecting me with some sort of sedative and I was brought in an ambulance to the ER in the hospital in St. Louis. 

Right about there is where I feel comfortable ending my explanation of my experience with the medical system in Senegal.  As I said, I spent three days in the hospital and then was flown home. 
I do not believe that I coped very well with the situation at all. In fact, I wish that I had coped with it much differently.  I think, had a felt more comfortable in my surroundings I would have healed much more quickly that I did.  What I’m saying is that my being sick was very much enhanced by my mental state and the stress of the situation.  All of my preconceptions of inadequate health care facilities in developing countries did not help me heal.  And, I didn’t.  After returning to the US I only spent a couple of days in the hospital after which I was released.  

A description of my adjustment period and any resulting culture shock:

Senegal has a completely different way of life than anything you can ever imagine in the United States.  You can tell yourself that there won’t be indoor plumbing, that you’ll be eating rice every single day, that no one will speak English but you and your fellow exchange students ---but that reality won’t really hit you until you’re actually there.  Arriving in the beginning was fairly easy:  it was fun and different, with new people and a new language.  Even the first month with my host family was pretty great.  I’ll admit I got a little bored now and then, but my host sister kept me fairly busy cooking breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Picking up the language was difficult, considering most of them spoke a kind of broken French and always spoke Wolof around the home.  I’m happy I had some close friends from Hamline near me while I was there, or the beginning would have been a little rougher than it was!  I’d definitely say there was a fairly large amount of culture shock.  Becoming used to their slow pace of life was something I probably never got used to.  Now that I’m home, however, with more homework than I can handle…I can’t help but look back on my time in Senegal, and wish I had nothing to do but lay out in the sand and sun on the beach!  

An Overview of Senegal:

Senegal is located in West Africa right along the coast.  It is about the size of the state of South Dakota.  It is composed of low, rolling plains, desert, foothills in the southeast, and also contains Gambia, which is another country almost making up an enclave of Senegal.  The population is around 11,000,000 and the major languages are French, Wolof, and Pulaar. 94% of the entire population is Muslim.  Their type of government is a republic and their president is Abdoulaye Wade.  The currency in Senegal is the CFA franc.  About 581 CFA francs = $1.  There is a great amount of French influence in Senegal (as they were colonized by the French) and Dakar the capital, is sometimes known as the “Paris of West Africa”.  Senegal is known to be the most successful democratic state in all of Africa. 

Suggested Web Sites:

A Brief Chronological Overview of my stay in Senegal:

I left near the end of January and once I arrived in Dakar, Senegal, the capital, I stayed in Dakar for a few days with other exchange students to become familiar with the capital. 
After that, we were moved to St. Louis, Senegal into our separate host family homes.  We stayed with our host families for about a month until March when we moved on campus to live in the dorms with other students.
Once on campus we started our classes as well as our internship and required Wolof courses (the native language).
My stay ended up slightly different than the other exchange students at Hamline as I became sick a few months into my stay.  After several visits to different medical centers in St. Louis, I ended up being brought to the hospital.  After spending three days in the hospital, I was flown home to the United States for care.