Volunteer in Africa? One cool way to study abroad in high school

By Michael Alison Chandler, From The Washington Post

Study abroad is not just a college experience; Increasingly, high schoolers are going overseas to learn about a new culture or language and shape their future goals.

Catherina Leipold, a senior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, spent two weeks last summer living in a village in rural Senegal. I recently chatted with her about her experience there:

(Catherina with some of her host siblings in Dindefelo, Senegal/ Photo Credit: Walking Tree Travel)

The Montgomery County teen said she wanted to see another part of the world, do some community service and practice her French, the language she’d been studying in a classroom for seven years.

She went to Dindefelo, a village with 1,000 people and no electricity, as a part of a small group of American students. In her host family, she had eight siblings and shared a bed with her “twin sister.” She was also given a Senegalese name — N’Deye Diallo — at least for the time she was there. The two girls forged an “instant friendship” and spent long hours talking in French, the language they knew from school, but also teaching each other expressions in English and German, Pulaar and Wolof, their respective languages at home.

In the mornings and late afternoons, Catherina and the other students helped build a library in the village and worked with some Peace Corps volunteers to plant a field of mango trees.

(Catherina and the other volunteers helped build the foundation for a library/Photo Credit: Walking Tree Travel) 

In between, she became a part of the household; she learned to gut fish, carry water from the well for bathing, and gather with the others around the same big bowl of rice or cous cous at night for dinner.

She enjoyed how close-knit the village was. After she got sick one evening, she said 50 villagers stopped by the next morning to ask how she was feeling. She was sad to say good bye at the end of her stay.

The group of students, organized by Denver-based Walking Tree Travel, also spent a week visiting a wildlife reserve, the beach and the busy capital of Dakar, as well as Goree Island, which was for centuries the departure point for millions of slaves.

Now Catherina is back in suburban Maryland applying to colleges and rehearsing for the school play. Thanks for sharing your stories and photos!

If you studied or volunteered overseas in high school, where did you go? Let me know by posting a note below.

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