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Senior Experience: The Gambia

By Nate Salamone '13

Dear Friend,

During the past years of my life I have come into contact and experienced many people and events that have forever changed the outlook of my life.  I have been transformed through the experiences provided by Juniata College. 

A major part of my transformation occurred through an internship I earned at the school’s career fair.  Beacon Lodge, a camp for individuals with disabilities, is where I have spent my summers off.  During the last year I was promoted from a general counselor to Unit Director of the Children’s Village.  I have experienced the fortune, terror, happiness, exhaustion, and overall joy of living with four to twenty different kids every week. 

Each of these children with exceptionality bring to the world a gift which they can fully unlock at Beacon Lodge which I am able to experience due to my constant interaction with them.  In my unit directing role, I am responsible for planning the activities of the camp, managing budgetary funds, and making sure all of the children are having the best summer ever!!

Once summer fun ended it was time to return to Juniata.  Being my senior year, I had the task of completing my student teaching experience during the fall of 2012.  This is the period where I have more than ever before been pushed to my breaking point.  Day after day I would wake up and enter into Huntingdon High School often not leaving until at least 5 p.m.  When I would return home I was greeted by lesson plans that I had to complete, often by the next day.  After many months with little sleep, absolutely no social life, and many tears, I completed student teaching all the stronger.  Through this experience I learned one of the most valuable lessons of my life.   We never stop growing, never cease learning, and always strive to succeed in our pursuits.  There is no force in the world that will ever slow me down.

After completing student teaching I did not have much time to rest before I traveled to the Gambia as part of Dr. Nagengast’s African Development course.  I do not think I have enough room in this post to explain the many emotions I feel still when I think back to those three weeks abroad.  One experience that I shall never forget was teaching in a Muslim school.  Sheikh Mass Kah Islamic Foundation Senior Secondary School provided a much needed opportunity to test the skills I had recently honed through student teaching.  I was beyond nervous teaching students from another country.  Would I be able to reach them?  Would they listen to me?  Would I make an impact?  All these thoughts and more stayed in my head as I cautiously entered the classroom for the first time. 

It did not take me long to realize that I was getting flustered over nothing.  Teaching there was a once in a lifetime opportunity.  The students listened, enjoyed my different approach to teaching, and learned!  Although I only taught for a week, the teachers I was paired with said I had gone through two full chapters worth of material.  Usually the student will get through ten chapters a YEAR between September and July.  That was one of the first times I felt like I could really be a teacher.  I learned a lot from student teaching in the United States, but I still was not sure if I was up to snuff.  Trying my craft in the Gambia showed me I have the skills I need to succeed anywhere I go.             

What I gained through the course of the past year was not easy to obtain.  I had to overcome many obstacles including many of my own fears and uncertainties to get to where I am now.  Yet, I am far from finished.  I have a long life ahead of me and I know the challenges will only continue to come.  With senior year coming to a close I am beginning to see my future not very far on the horizon and it is  a scary sight.  I know that Juniata has prepared me well.  The knowledge I gained here coupled with my personal strength and inhibitions will guide me for the rest of my life no matter what obstacles are in the way. 

It is time to start the next great adventure in life and see what awaits me away from Juniata’s safe and nurturing walls.  It’s time to begin.

Nate with his friend in the Gambia.

Nate and his campers at Beacon Lodge.

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