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By Hannah Montgomery, Graduate Writer

Keely Hendricks, an ECL and French and Francophone Studies double major (class of 2020) will be teaching English in Senegal thanks to an English Teaching Assistantship through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program.

Coming to UNC, Keely “wanted to learn more about the world and find ways to make an impact,” so she took classes in international studies, politics, and Peace, War, and Defense. These classes quickly turned into a passion for literature. Keely says, “I noticed that the part I enjoyed the most about these classes were the books we were reading and stories we were discussing.” So she changed her major to ECL! With ECL, Keely could continue her interest in politics while seeing a bigger picture. “Being an ECL major has allowed me to study so many facets of the human experience through creative and humane lenses that don’t exclude the personal from the political. I’ve read and written about Queer Latinx feminist theory, politics and gender in Shakespeare, and race and resistance in poetry, and I’ve read works from a diverse array of authors whose identities are woefully underrepresented in other departments.”

For Keely, ECL and stories teach empathy. She reflects, “The ECL department teaches its students how to read attentively, which I believe makes us not only more empathetic and careful readers, but more empathetic and careful listeners and community members.”

Empathy and generosity in stories also led her to Senegal! Inspired and by friends who had meaningful experiences as Fulbright scholars and encouraged by friends and professors, Keely decided to apply for a Fulbright herself, driven by literary empathy in the process. “You have to be specific and intentional about which country you choose, so most of my deliberation was on which Francophone country to apply for.” It is the traditions of generosity and storytelling that drove her to pick Senegal. As Keely explains, “Generosity, as is storytelling, are at the cultural heart of Senegal. From the traditions of teranga and the griot, to the revolution of the Négritude movement, to the spate of contemporary filmmakers and writers, Senegal invites in those who are willing to listen.” The stories of Senegal are what first caught her attention. Her initial exposure to Léopold Senghor and Aminata Sow Fall in French class led her to the works of other Senegalese creatives, such as film director Moussa Tourré and novelist Fatou Diome. “Although I didn’t encounter these works in an English classroom, the skills I learned as an English major have taught me to approach and appreciate my French coursework on a deeper level than mere translation. It has shown me the value of learning a language to connect with a culture and hear its voices in their unadulterated form.”  

Discussing her hopes for her experience in Senegal, Keely explains her desire to “become a more versatile and culturally-competent teacher who can be the best advocate for inclusivity and diversity, as much in my curriculum as in my classroom culture.” 

After the Fulbright, Keely wants to teach with Urban Teachers “to continue building cultural bridges for my students in the U.S.” We look forward to seeing all the amazing things Keely does in the future and all the students she inspires to read empathetically.

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