(Update, 7/29/11: Caitlin's application was recently approved by the Senegalese government, and she has decided to leave in September for her Fulbright studies.)
Recent graduate Caitlin Loehr (PCM ’10) wrote in with exciting news – she is almost cleared for a Fulbright fellowship to study in Senegal for the 2011-2012 school year. If the government there approves her project, she will depart in August to return to the country that changed her life as an undergraduate.
As she started her junior year, Caitlin thought she would enhance her Political Communication major and her interest in politics by studying abroad in Paris. A conversation with Professor Steven Livingston caused her to consider Senegal instead when she told him she wanted to use her French skills overseas.
“He suggested I go to Senegal,” Caitlin said, “and I’m so glad I went. It changed everything about my studies and what I want to do.”
Her study abroad experience took place during the spring semester of her junior year, with a general curriculum comprised of culture, language, religion, and development studies. The Minnesota native found herself immersed in a new culture and developed a research interest in how community radio there is used for development purposes.
“Radio is the main way people get information in rural areas, since many people are unable to read and distributing print materials is difficult,” Caitlin said. “The stations are all independent, and I began to look into how local people in a community can start and sustain a radio station and how they distribute information on variety of topics like health or education.”
When she returned to the United States, her interest in Senegalese radio did not subside. She enjoyed her experience so much she vowed to return to Senegal somehow, and even wrote her senior thesis on the same subject. With the support and encouragement of both Professor Livingston and Professor Kim Gross, she spent all of summer 2010 working on her application for a Fulbright fellowship, waiting six months for a tentatively-positive response.
As part of her proposal, Caitlin plans to reconnect with two local organizations focusing on Senegalese community radio that she met during her thesis research. She will work with them to strengthen the loose network of community radio stations there and help them exchange ideas to improve the sector overall.
Since there has not been much research performed in this area, her hope is to make deeper connections there and stay on past her fellowship to travel, work and explore more of the field.
“There is so much going on in Africa in terms of media and communications, there is a lot of potential,” said Caitlin. “To be in a field that is so new and unexplored is a very exciting opportunity.”
She encourages other students to explore non-traditional study abroad options, especially to Africa.
“There are exciting things going on in other places,” she said, “and students at GW are realizing there are other places to go to.”
And one of those experiences might just change someone’s life, as it has for Caitlin.