Why am I here?

Throughout my three months here in Senegal on SST, I have gotten this question from a wide range of people in a variety of forms. My place here doesn’t fit into any of the pre-existing, easily understood boxes; I am not a traditional exchange student, I am not a missionary, I am not moving here permanently. My answers to these queries of my reason for being in Senegal have never quite satisfied my listeners, and have not satisfied me either.

Why am I here?

Why have I spent the last 3 months in a foreign, developing nation where both the languages and culture were previously unfamiliar to me? In my first week or two, my only answer was that I was fulfilling a graduation requirement and expanding my worldview. I vowed to continue to ponder this puzzle, and while I am still thinking, I believe I have arrived at much more of a response. 

I am here to be. I am here to be a listener, be a participant, and be open to learning and growth. It is difficult at times to accept that I have the privilege to live a different life for 3 months and then return to my comfort. It is difficult to accept that I have spent this much time here but have not done anything visibly constructive to help this land that has welcomed me.

I have come to realize that there there is value in projects and action, but being able to act wisely and conscientiously first requires understanding. And wisdom and understanding are only gained through time, experience, and thoughtfulness. SST has opened this door of understanding wider for me, helping me to see and think more clearly without biases and assumptions. 

I have learned the value of seeing with my heart, turning the world inside-out so that it can be right-side up. I have found that all the reasoning and logic in the world mean nothing if they are not joined with caring for others and looking with love. All the cultural differences — religion, food, homes, dress, language — become beautiful in their diversity when you learn to connect with the intangibles of a place, such as hospitality, love of family, and emphasis on community.

SST, therefore, has been a time of being. I have not had a lasting effect here, nobly charging in to save the day. Honestly, I don’t believe that is the way to effect change anyway. Let’s try kneeling to wash the feet of others instead of making them bow to us. If anything, I have asked questions, had conversations, tried new things, and built relationships. I have learned openness, humility, and the power of small actions of love. I have appreciated the brightness and beauty of this planet we live on among the instances of brokenness, and I have drawn closer to the God who holds it all in the palm of God’s hand and is greater than any divisions we can create. 

SST has by no means given me all the answers; if anything, it has gifted me with more questions. I am grateful for this, and am reveling in living the questions now, with the hope that I will continue to grow into greater understanding and fuller answers.

Why am I here?

I am here to be, to learn, and to grow. I do not have a complete answers, but I ultimately believe in the value of global citizenship, and I strive to passionately learn about the world and use that understanding to be a servant leader and to compassionately make peace in all that I do. And through this all, I seek to be centered in Christ and God’s love. I continue to live the questions of what SST means for me and those around me, but I know exactly where I needed to spend these there months of my life: here.

Joelle Friesen pic 1Joelle Friesen is a third-year biochemistry major with international studies and bible and religion minors from Normal, Illinois.  She went on SST in the summer of 2014 and is exploring future career options in the healthcare field to join her interest in science to her love of working with people.