Building relationships across the Atlantic

This picture may not look like much, but it has a good story.

The chalkboard is in an English classroom in Kaolack, Senegal. My cooperating teacher there, Aly Ndao, posted these questions for his students:

“What do you think is different about life in Senegal and Minnesota?”

“How much homework do you have?”

“What do you love about Senegal?”

But the questions came from across the Atlantic, from my students, a mix of AP Macro and AP Psych students at Mounds View High School in Minnesota.

This picture captures something about our world and how technology makes it incredibly small. A question asked here today becomes a class assignment 5,000 miles away tomorrow.

A week from now, I’ll be there to hear their answers for myself.


After nearly a year of delay (due, of course, to COVID), I’m ecstatic to be part of a cohort of 15 American teachers traveling to Dakar, Senegal, this Friday. We are part of the Fulbright Teachers for Global Classrooms program, and this is the culminating event of our course.

Senegal isn’t a place that’s on many Americans’ travel radar – or their radar at all. Although I have been to Africa before (South Africa), I confess I didn’t know a lot about Senegal before being selected for this trip.

Here’s some of what I have learned since. Senegal is about the size of Minnesota. French is the official language. The GDP per capita is about 1600 US dollars; peanuts are a major export; and class size is a minimum of 50 students.

I’ve also learned that Senegalese people are near the top of the global list when it comes to viewing their lives as purposeful. (

And I learned that Teraanga, which means generosity, hospitality and warmth, “permeates many aspects of daily life.” (

People who are both purposeful and kind sound like people I’m eager to meet – and people we could learn a lot from. 


In the Teachers for Global Classrooms course, we focused a lot on the UN Sustainable Development Goals and helping our students learn to be global citizens and problem-solvers. We also talked about building bridges and opening cross-cultural communication.

That’s why I asked my students to share their questions about Senegal, as well some of their own aspirations and fears. (“I want to get into a good college.” “I’m worried about climate change.”

With the help of my school’s amazing French teacher, I also gathered 200 postcards handwritten in French, carrying messages and sketches from our students to Aly’s.

Madame Narum relayed to me that the students were really excited about making the postcards, and they wanted to know if they would get responses.

Aly says: “My students will be happy to answer for sure.”


So I think I’m ready. My bags are nearly packed. I have slides and pictures and stories to share. The agenda arrived yesterday, with tantalizing items like a visit to Gorée island and the Museum of Black Civilizations, which has become famous globally for repatriating African artifacts.

This will be an incredible adventure and an opportunity to share more of the world with my students. It will also be a chance to research topics that interest me, like

“How do Senegalese teachers inspire their students to be problem-solvers?”

“How do high schools in Senegal prepare their students for the transition to college and careers?”

And “What do students in Senegal learn about the African diaspora?”

But most importantly, it will be a chance to meet Aly and his students — and learn their answers to all of my students’ questions.

*I’ll be blogging about my travels, so check back to learn more.