“Why are you here?”

“I’m here to practice French.”

“What made you decide on Senegal?”

“I like international development, I didn’t want to go to Europe.”

I’d had the same conversation so many times that my answers became robotic.

“What is it that made you come here even though everything you heard about this place was negative — war, famine, Ebola?”

This time, as the sun set over the ocean, the teapot over the fire was heating up the second round of attaya and the guitar was playing in the background, it seemed like the answer was obvious: I came for the moments like this. If I had listened to everyone who tried to convince me I would get Ebola, I wouldn’t be drinking tea at the beach with some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. If I’d listened to those who thought I would die in a terrorist attack in Morocco, I wouldn’t have spent a weekend interviewing indigenous women in their mountain village or climbed the highest mountain in North Africa.

I could have definitely learned French in a safer way, in a safer place. The chances of being chased by a cow between Leo’s and Red Square are pretty slim, and cars actually stop at stop signs in D.C. It would have been easier if I had hot water instead of bucket baths and lived in the same time zone as my friends and family.

Spending the year abroad meant I didn’t see the leaves turn red in the fall. I wasn’t there to welcome new steppers to the step team. I haven’t had Wisey’s in eight months, and Pinkberry clearly missed me as much as I missed it.

It’s been hard to miss two semesters at Georgetown, to see pictures of my friends that came back from their own semesters abroad, reunited, partying at school. It’ll be harder still to miss Georgetown Day and the spring days that are too beautiful to leave the lawn even for class.

But I’ll be back soon enough, and in the meantime I’m making myself at home in other places, other families, other cultures. When I left Morocco, I said goodbye to at least five sets of people that had become my family. My only fear in Senegal was not about the rough living conditions, the sudden French immersion or the courses; I was scared that I wouldn’t find a place that felt as much like home.

It turns out I didn’t need to worry. I’ve only been here for a week, living with my host family for only four days, and haven’t even started school yet, but Senegal’s famous “teranga” (hospitality) has already worked its magic. To see the teranga firsthand, to feel welcome, or to find a family, go no further than the Acoustic Tree.

This tree, one block from my house on the main dirt road of my neighborhood, is a place where everyone is welcome to sit, drink tea, play music and just hang out. Regardless of your religion, your race, your age, your anything, you are welcome.

The Acoustic Tree family lives by the mottos “at ease” and “we are together,” and it’s this family that helped me adjust. Invitations to beach barbecues, watching football games, nightclubs and dinners have eliminated all of my previous fears.

During my last week in Morocco, I learned a phrase in (Moroccan) Arabic that quickly became my favorite: “haaniawasmasaafia.” “Everything is good and the sky is clear.” And while it goes without saying that being abroad has taught me a lot, it hasn’t been about learning the languages, the culture or even about myself. It has been overwhelmingly about integration, joining the locals and living the way they do. And when I’m surrounded by these welcoming people, seeing how genuinely happy they are despite whatever is going on in their lives, all I can think of is that phrase.

It makes me appreciate the moment at hand and forget about anything else, in the past or the future. It makes life’s problems seem smaller and the happiness greater.

If there’s one thing I hope to take away from my time abroad and apply to life back in the U.S., it’s haaniawasmasaafia. Everything is good and the sky is clear.


Samantha MacFarlane is a junior in the School of Foreign Service.


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