I am currently sitting in the Paris-Charles De Gaulle airport, having just flown in from JFK, waiting for my flight to Dakar, Senegal. I am travelling with 4 of my fellow first-class government majors and CGA’s professor of International Relations and African Politics, Dr. LaMonica, part of our capstone project (called Advanced Research Projects in the Government Major).
Every cadet at the Academy will complete a project as part of a “400-level” senior class, but every year there are additional special projects that a small group works on for the whole year. In the government major, there are always chances to intern with the CT state legislature, as well as one focused project on the Arctic and another on Africa.
For our project, which helps support real research at DoD’s AFRICOM, we have spent all year studying maritime threats in West Africa and the Gulf of Guinea and each country’s capacity to respond to them. Chief among these maritime threats is Illegal, Unregulated, and Unreported Fishing, something the Coast Guard combats worldwide. In Senegal, this issue is of particular importance, as fish are the nation’s primary source of protein, and the losses to their economy can be calculated over $300 Million. That being said, Senegal has had some key recent successes in combatting the issue, which made it an important case study for our research.
Though we may have months of research under our belts, we are still missing any hands-on experiences with the issue. Not only that, but none of us, except for Dr. LaMonica, have ever been to Africa, or a majority-Muslim country. Senegal is also a French and Wolof speaking country, and while I have taken French classes for many years, including at Connecticut College as a cadet, I have never been fully immersed into a francophone community and am excited to have such an opportunity. Our collective inexperience underscores the value of this trip to the project, while explaining the underlying nerves I feel sitting at the gate, waiting to board a plane flying into what can feel like a whole different world. I cannot wait to see what we all learn!