The week of November 11th to 18th was an incredible one for Charlie Lange. After successfully pushing the school to allow him an extra week in Senegal to complete research for his senior project, Charlie found himself deep in the heart of West Africa’s most stable country. He came to research ecotourism in the real world – what does it look like? how does it work? what are its challenges? He found many answers and a place beyond his expectations. He spoke with Senegal’s Minster of Tourism, many stakeholders, people from communities across the country, and people working for various NGOs. He also saw almost every inch of the southeastern and northwestern parts of the country – ~2,000 kilometers in a week!
Here’s some of what he experienced and a taste of what he has to say on the eve of the rest of the group’s arrival:
- “I felt the weight of expectations coming into this experience – I didn’t want to waste anyone’s time, anyone’s resources, or my own academic experience. After just one week, I have gained so much more than I could have lost. I learned so much more than what I set out to learn in the first place – not just about Senegal and ecotourism but about myself and what it means to be at home in the world.”
- “I learned three main personal things: 1) it is important to be comfortable with being uncomfortable mentally and physically. 2) just because someone lives in a very different setting and represents a very different way of life does not mean that they don’t have anything to teach you. I found people who broke down my expectations – conscious and intelligent in ways I could have never imagined. 3) home is more of an idea than actual thing – the feeling of home can be found anywhere if you open your mind and embrace where you are. Be comfortable in the world. Embrace more than just what you’re used to – you will find that what you’re used to is not actually what gives the feeling of being at home. We often think of ourselves as most confident when we’re in a familiar setting but I felt more confident being in a completely different world that I am used to. I found more confidence in what I was doing, which was odd because I was across the world.”
- “I am so happy that this school is progressive and considerate enough to allow me to do this. They understand the importance of this experience, an importance that I myself did not fully understand until I was here. My mission is now to take everything I’ve learned and to show the school how meaningful and important this was. I want everyone to know how impactful this can be and for all of us to find ways to make the same possible for others.”
- “This project showed me that there is no reason to follow the status quo. If you challenge people, you will find things you could never have realized otherwise. You don’t have to be satisfied with being unsatisfied. I found that I could push and really change myself.”
- “I learned things that I could never have learned otherwise that will shape my senior project. I learned that we think of tourism as just a process in America, just a thing that happens. I learned how many lives there are that are connected. I found that there are so many lives that are connected to what is happening – that it relates to governance, economics, everything that a country needs.”
- “Senegal’s involvement with tourism and its approach to it has given me a window into a bigger philosophy that was introduced by the country’s first president. It has been fascinating to see and think about how one man’s philosophy can shape a country’s future and the attitudes of its people.”
- “The future of ecotourism in Senegal is very exciting because from all of my interviews (government leaders, national park employees, business owners, guides, etc.) it is clear that people understand the value of the idea. They see the common value of this economic thing – they see that it could benefit all people and not just one constituent. It can be impactful for rural communities with few livelihoods, it can be central to the government’s plans – it really can work. It has incredible social and economic potential.”
Charlie is excited to explore and share these and many more ideas when the rest of the group arrives – he will be a guide for his peers. He is also excited to take the details behind all of this thinking as the material for a senior project with lots of real-world relevance and value.
What a week!