Erin St. Peter '13

  • Major: Government and Legal Studies and Economics
  • Minor: History
  • Study Abroad Program: Wells College, Dakar

Erin St. PeterWhy did you decide to study abroad and why did you decide to spend your semester in Senegal specifically?

I knew that I was looking for a program that would provide a French immersion experience that would also build upon a number of courses that I had taken on African politics and history. Senegal was a great choice for a number of reasons, one of them being that the second language I would be learning (Wolof) is spoken by a large portion of the population in Senegal and would make it a very useful language to learn.  I chose my particular program because of its direct enrollment opportunities and its small program size.  There were only three other students on my program and we all were living in separate host families, which meant that it was very easy to immerse oneself in the languages and cultures of Senegal.

Tell us about your study abroad experience in and outside of the classroom. 

A lot of my memories from abroad relate to the fact that some rather contentious presidential elections were happening during my semester in Senegal.  The elections caused a number of frustrations, but also served as a great learning experience and conversation-starter.  My host mother and I often talked about Senegalese politics late into the night and it was really interesting to see how different people, leaders, and groups reacted to the elections manifestations. 

How did you connect your off-campus study with your Bowdoin academics and extracurriculars, both before leaving and upon your return?

I had certainly kept up my French with the intention of studying abroad in a Francophone country and for the possibility of future studies related to international relations and research on African-related topics.  When I returned, I tried to find ways to continue speaking French, which included co-DJ-ing a WBOR French radio station.  As I stated above, my abroad experience built upon a number of government, economics, and history courses that I had taken prior to traveling to Senegal.  After I returned, a government seminar titled State-Building in Comparative Perspective allowed me to use a number of my abroad experiences as ways to inform my research and understanding of the course materials. 

What do you believe was the value of study abroad for you academically and personally? 

After spending my entire life in Maine, this abroad experience has affected me in so many different ways.  Quite honestly, the value of this experience is hard to put into words.  It has made me more confident, and has provided me with lessons and experiences that I will not easily forget. Further, it has made me see travel and the idea of living in other places as a real possibility for me, instead of just seeing it as something that other people do. 

Does international work or travel figure into any of your future plans?

For the near future it certainly does!  Starting in mid-October of this year I will be returning to Senegal as a teaching assistant at l’Université Gaston-Berger as part of the Fulbright Program.