What you give to others bears fruit for yourself. — Senegalese Proverb
I’ve lived in Africa for almost twenty years but have barely explored the continent. The only country, other than Morocco, that I had visited before Senegal last year, was South Africa.
Because of my unfamiliarity with my continent of residence, I was hesitant about going to Senegal.
I went down a rabbit hole reading about the risk of contracting malaria and other diseases, as well as crimes in the capital of Dakar. Quickly, a very dark picture of this beautiful country was being painted in my mind.
In the end, the three weeks (October-November 2019) I spent in this magnificent nation transformed my life and ended up being the highlight of my year.
1. Build confidence in a foreign language.
“Going to a country where you don’t speak the language is like wading into the sea when you can’t swim — it’s intimidating at first, not impossible, and ultimately manageable.” ― Stewart Stafford
While exploring the Island of Gorée one afternoon with our guide, another guide friend of his came up to him and said, laughing: “Wow, are these your wives?!”
I instantly glared at him and responded, in French, about how inappropriate of a comment that was, clearly showing I wasn’t impressed by his supposed “humor.”
I’m not usually the type to speak up in public, especially in my third language.
However, I managed to muster up the courage when I felt that I could contribute something meaningful to a conversation, change someone’s mind, or defend myself against sexist comments.
I even went so far as debating our driver, sharing my views on having multiple wives, when he shared his plans to take a second wife.
These experiences instilled me with so much confidence, especially since I had to say what I felt in a language with which I have a weird love-hate relationship.
Sometimes we struggle to speak about mundane things, but getting fired up about a topic, as I am about women’s rights, is actually a great way to connect with locals in their native language (while keeping it respectful of course)!
My main goal in Senegal was to improve my French but I struggled quite a bit throughout the course because of my stutter.
At first, I barely spoke up. I was so scared of making a fool of myself.
For years, I had done everything in my power to avoid speaking French. I stutter the most over words that begin with vowels and the French language has quite a few of them!
In the end, I decided that I had to let myself stutter, even if it meant stumbling over my words and making glaring grammatical mistakes.
You can’t learn a language without speaking it, and being pushed to speak with complete strangers on a daily basis for three weeks was exactly what I needed to get out of my comfort zone.
2. Embrace friendship.
“There is nothing better than a friend, unless it is a friend with chocolate.” ― Linda Grayson
Traveling with friends showed me the value of friendship. I am someone who could be defined as a bit of a loner.
I don’t have many friends and thought for years that I was better off alone, but this trip showed me how important friendship could be.
We took turns doing chores, buying groceries, and planning excursions. We had each other’s backs when things went awry or when plans had to change.
Having supportive people around you becomes especially crucial when you’re in a foreign country and looking out for each other suddenly becomes a necessity.
No trip is perfect and there was definitely some anger, frustration, and sadness mixed in with the joy, but this taught me how to better manage my emotions as well as those of others.
It doesn’t matter how old you are or where you are in life right now, keep your friendships strong.
Many of us focus so much on romantic and familial relationships, forgetting that friendship can be such a rewarding, amazing thing to have.
3. Dive into the unknown.
“Letting there be room for not knowing is the most important thing of all. When there’s a big disappointment, we don’t know if that’s the end of the story. It may just be the beginning of a great adventure.
Life is like that. We don’t know anything. We call something bad; we call it good. But really we just don’t know.” ― Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times
After Senegal, I was suddenly more eager to visit other African countries.
Talking to the locals and getting to know them made me connect, on a much deeper level, to Senegalese culture. This experience also helped me embrace my own African identity.
I learned to stop overthinking things and take the leap when opportunities like this came my way. I decided to go for things despite my fears.
You need to embrace what scares you.
Over and over again this lesson appears in my life in different ways. I now catch myself earlier when I am presented with an opportunity and quickly try to find reasons why I can’t say yes to it.
You need to realize that remaining where you are comfortable is much more dangerous than stepping out onto the precipice with only a positive mindset to hold you from falling.
Because at least on the precipice there is a chance of something great happening: Of you flying, rather than crashing.
You just never know when a trip you weren’t so sure about could end up being such an amazing, transformative experience.
Next time an opportunity you aren’t so sure about comes up, try not to find excuses as to why you can’t pursue it so quickly.
Many of us end up overthinking and overanalyzing decisions when the simplest thing could be to just say yes and try something new!
When you’re traveling to a new destination, remember these three things:
- If you’re going to be learning the local language, immerse yourself in it, and don’t be afraid to speak up, even if it means making mistakes.
- Whether you’re going with friends or planning to meet some new ones at your destination, cherish everyone you interact with and strengthen those relationships.
- Don’t shy away from visiting destinations that maybe aren’t on your bucket list. You’d be surprised at how fulfilling the most unplanned trips can be.
Hey there! I’m Razane. Thank you for taking the time out of your busy day to read my story! I really appreciate it.
I write about self-improvement, mental health, and productivity. If you want to read more, check out my other stories here.
I hope to see you again soon!