An Eye-Opening Experience

  • Friday, Oct 23, 2015

Associate Professor of Philosophy Lisa King experienced new and fascinating insights on a summer trip to Senegal.  Through the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE), King was able to join seven other educators from across the United States on a 10-day trip to the west African nation.  Each morning, they listened in on lectures by local leaders and professors.  In the afternoons they would travel and visit various historical sites. 

Before leaving, King set out two main teaching goals for her trip.  The first was to gain a greater understanding of cosmopolitanism in the region. 

“One of the issues we talk about in my cosmopolitan class is terrorism.  Last year I had a student from Togo in my class and I realized that I had no idea what African nations are doing about this problem.  They’re dealing with it much more directly than we are.”

Her second goal had to do with gender. 

“Westerners have a tendency to position those cultures as backwards and anti-feminist and anti-gay while forgetting the ways we are as well.  In almost any culture or any issue you’ll have the same multiplicity of perspectives and point of view that you’ll find in our own.” 

Senegal is 94% Muslim, which offered King and her cohort insight into the internal conflicts of being a Muslim woman.

“One of our lectures was by a feminist sociologist who was adamantly opposed to the idea that wearing a headscarf or a veil could be anything but oppression.  We then had a conversation with a woman who ran a school for girls.  She argued she wears it not because she is a second class citizen but because God wants her to.  But then we also heard that it was oppressive.” 

Beyond the content, King was struck by how the discussions themselves flowed. 

“My sense is that they’re genuinely as a people more comfortable disagreeing with each other than we are in the U.S.  We throw different arguments at each other, it’s not productive.  There’s no point of engagement.  The whole time we were there it felt like the point was to keep the conversation going.”

Since returning to Edgewood College, King has been advocating for both students and faculty to pursue these out-of-classroom experiences. 

“It was tremendously mind expanding…I had never been to a nonwestern country before, so I was sort of wide eyed and curious.  In this particular case I am convinced that the only way I would have gotten access to some of these perspectives is going to Senegal and talking to these individual people… I really believe if I had not gone there I would not have been exposed to a lot of these ideas.”