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Laura Wiggins ′13

Hometown: Walnut Hill, FL
Major: Anthropology/Sociology

By Aaron Banks ′15

Over the past year, Laura Wiggins, an Anthropology and Sociology major, studied abroad on not just one continent, but two. Laura spent a semester of her junior year abroad in Dakar, Senegal, where she studied Senegalese culture and languages. Then, in the summer of 2012, she traveled to the other side of the globe to Southern Mexico as part of an archeological dig of ancient Mayan ruins. Her rewarding experience abroad prompted Laura to apply for a senior fellowship in Dakar this winter break, which she received.

Laura began this study abroad experience with one thing in mind—she “did not want to visit a Western culture.” She wanted to put herself in a situation where she would not know if she had “anything in common with the people there.”

During her first trip to Senegal, Laura lived in the suburbs of the capital city of Dakar in a four-story home with 20 other people who were all in the same family. While there, Laura studied French and Wolof, the language of the largest Senegalese ethnic group, as well as the culture of Senegal. Her cultural studies focused on the education system of Senegal and on how the fusion of French, Islamic and traditional Senegalese cultures has made the country what it is today.

In the fashion of a true sociologist, Laura could not be limited to just one entirely new culture per year, so she spent seven weeks of her summer in the Chiapas region of Mexico with Assistant Professor Jeanne Lopiparo excavating Classic Mayan homes. While these ruins may not be of spectacular monuments, the information they hold could be monumental. Much of the ancient Mayan’s day-to-day life is still unknown to historians, yet that knowledge could unlock much more about the larger picture, such as the presence of trade routes or technological advancements.

The team Laura was a part of used an archaeological method called single context recording, meaning they “peeled back the dirt layer by layer until we hit something.” The team found multiple jaguar masks, objects that resembled animal whistles, and lots of other bits of pottery. The site also contained a burial, which shed light on how the site was used as a multi-functional space. An interesting discovery made during the trip was evidence of the manufacture and use of obsidian, or volcanic glass.

Laura returned to Dakar over winter break to study identity through food choice and how various economic, political and societal factors affect the consumption of fresh produce. The Dakar portion of this study first involves visiting local markets and interviewing the market’s vendors and customers. Laura also interviewed a Dakar convivium of the organization Slow Food, which has chapters on all six inhabited continents, including one in Memphis. She already has experience with the role of fresh produce in Memphis, as she took part in the Rhodes Summer Fellowship program during the summer of 2011 by working at Urban Farms Memphis.

Currently, Laura is applying for a Fulbright grant to return to Dakar once more to teach English and work with adult women’s literacy groups. She already has experience with both of these pursuits through her time teaching English as a second language with Literacy Midsouth. And, strangely enough, one of her new students is from Senegal!


Tags: Anthropology and Sociology, Archive, Florida