Next Stop, Senegal

This international student hopes to visit the western end of her home continent to work closely with a social movement she learned about at Muhlenberg.

By: Meghan Kita  Friday, July 27, 2018 08:23 AM

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Eunice Umubyeyi ’21 gives a campus tour. Photo by Bill Keller.

Eunice Umubyeyi ’21 spent 33 hours on four planes to get to the United States for the start of the academic year last fall. Further education-related travel was not on her radar.

“I didn’t know anything about studying abroad when I first came to Muhlenberg,” says the rising sophomore and SHE-CAN scholar from Rwanda. “I was like, ‘I’m going abroad already.’”

However, she soon noticed classmates talking about their own plans or experiences—more than 50 percent of Muhlenberg students study abroad. And, at the end of the spring semester, she discovered a Muhlenberg Integrated Learning Abroad (MILA) course being offered this fall that aligns perfectly with an interest she developed in her first year.

That course—Culture, Media and Social Movements in Senegal—is a tag-team effort from Eileen and Paul McEwan, associate professors of French and media & communication, respectively. Eileen had Eunice this past spring in her Introduction to Francophone Studies class. Each student had to choose a French-speaking country and follow the current events there throughout the semester. Eunice chose Senegal because her high-school counselor had studied there and spoken highly of it. At the end of the semester, the class got a brief overview of the history of French-speaking African countries, including Senegal.

“We learned about this group called Y'en a Marre: It’s a group of young people who want to make Senegal better,” says Eunice. (“Y'en a marre” is a French expression that means “fed up,” and Eileen describes the group as a “hip-hop-based social movement.”) “There’s so much corruption going on in the government, and Y'en a Marre came together and wanted to make things better for the country. For youth, we tend to be like, ‘Oh, there are people who are in charge and this is not our part to play.’ Y'en a Marre opened my eyes that these are the kind of things we need to be doing for our future and to be in a place we want to be in.”

Just as Eunice was learning about the group, the McEwans were offering an info session on their Senegal MILA. Eileen encouraged Eunice to attend. That’s when she learned that the course culminates in a trip to Senegal to work directly with Y'en a Marre. (The last time the MILA was offered, in 2016, the class made a music video for a rapper affiliated with the group.)

“I feel like it’s so important that people know about them and what they’re doing,” Eunice says. “They’ve been going through a lot lately, getting thrown in jail because of what they’re trying to do, but they keep going, they keep striving. You see these things in very few people. I want to go to Senegal. I have to.”

To help make that happen, Eunice is working through the summer in the admissions office as a tour guide. She chose Muhlenberg above the other SHE-CAN partner schools after a current student took her on a videoconference “tour” and to a class. “I never had a tour like the ones I’m giving right now,” she says. “But because I fell in love with Muhlenberg from my ‘tour,’ I feel like I should also be able to give other people the exposure and help them fall in love.”

The McEwans are hoping Eunice is able to join the MILA course, and not just because it would be nice to have another fluent French speaker in the group: "It's exciting to have someone in our class who is from Africa but wants to explore another part of her continent,” Eileen says. “Very often students think 'African culture' rather than African cultures plural. Eunice might be from Rwanda, but Senegal feels foreign to her. The two countries are almost as far away from one another as New York and Dakar."