Greetings from Dakar, Senegal! Yep, I’m finally here, and let me tell you, it’s been quite a ride. Sometimes I still can’t believe that I’m finally here. It took 6 years of thinking, dreaming, studying, planning (and a couple of trips that ultimately fell through), to actually see this come to fruition. It’s been a necessity to come study and work here ever since I began my graduate studies, and it’s been such a struggle to get here. It’s been horrendous trying to find (a) enough funding that would allow me to spend a significant amount of time in the country and (b) individuals and organizations that would be in a position to help me study a topic that would be unique and beneficial to my field.
Last year around this time I made a last minute trip to Utah to visit my sisters and their families. Actually, if it weren’t for their willingness to pay for me to fly out there, I wouldn’t have had the conversation that I’m about to recount. I was visiting my former BYU French professor at her home and we were discussing my masters exam (which I had taken the previous week). All of a sudden she blurted out, “Lark, when are you going to Senegal? You haven’t been able to make it over there yet, but you’ve really got to make that happen. You have to go next school year [2012-13] or else you will never get over there, not with the economy being the way it is. And if you get married in the near future, you definitely won’t be able to spend enough time over there to get anything done. Or, you may even drop the whole thing. You’ve really got to make it a priority and find a way to go.”
And she was right. I’d felt that very same thing for several years. It was getting urgent. But, like most things in life, it was a question of money. I didn’t know what to do – all of the funding opportunities that UW-Madison offered were only available to PhD students who were already writing their dissertations. Two main problems stemmed from that. I wasn’t at that point in my studies and I couldn’t start writing my dissertation without having visited the country and discovering what it was that I was going to focus my work on. Brick wall #1. None of those scholarships or fellowships offered enough money. They’d pay for my flight over the Atlantic and back, but nothing beyond that. Brick wall #2. All of the money that I had saved up to make such a trip – which was a several thousand dollars – had to be used for starting up my photography business (which I’m glad I did).
Then about two months later, that same professor received an email from the director of the international studies center and study abroad programs. He’d received information concerning the Boren Fellowship which had just approved Senegal and Wolof as one of its targeted countries and languages. That was the jist of the email. FYI y’all, the government has added Senegal to one of it’s largest fellowship programs. Being the wonderful friend and mentor that she is, she forwarded that email to me with only this simple sentence: “Have you heard about this?” That was it. Nothing else. She probably sent it to me on a whim. I don’t even think she clicked on the link that described the program. But I did. And as soon as I read through the website, I knew that this was my chance to study and work in Senegal.
So, with her help and the help of two of my UW professors, I came up with a project that tied my literary research interests to a national security issue. I came up with a plan, communicated with one of the greatest writers to come out of Senegal (who happens to be the president of a major NGO in Dakar that deals with my project), spent many hours working on the application, and bam! I was going to Senegal.
Talk about the miracle of God’s timing. When the time is right, He opens doors and makes things happen. And in this experience and in my past experiences, He makes them happen fast. You’re going about your business – sometimes struggling, sometimes not – all the while working toward a goal that seems unattainable. You think you’ll never get there because any and every possible obstacle blocks your path. And then you turn a corner and it’s staring you right in the face. It’s pretty amazing.