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Senegal

An American man in Africa considers his ancestry in China

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Byron Yee ('09, Theatre, Business-Management) was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Senegal, where he worked with local businesses, cooperatives and microlending groups on economic development projects. Here, he takes a break with friends and colleagues painting a neighbor's new house. "Although I'm proud about the work I did and the projects I started, the most valuable part of my service was forming solid relationships with people in the community," he says. "All those countless hours cracking jokes, discussing culture, drinking tea, and sharing our lives with each other, that's what all of us will remember most." | Photo by courtesy of Byron Yee
Byron Yee ('09, Theatre, Business-Management) was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Senegal, where he worked with local businesses, cooperatives and microlending groups on economic development projects. He put his Theatre training to work as well. "I was working with students from the local high school on a piece about teen pregnancy," he says. "In Senegal, many teenage girls become pregnant while studying, then get married and drop out of school to take care of the baby. This is actually one of several major reasons why the female education rate is so low. This piece was written by the students and was performed as a part of the International Women's Day celebrations." | Photo by courtesy of Byron Yee
Byron Yee ('09, Theatre, Business-Management) was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Senegal, where he worked with local businesses, cooperatives and microlending groups on economic development projects. "I was blessed to have a wonderful host family, who were like a real family to me," he says. "By the end of my two year service, I became an integral part of their family and was helping to take care of the children, and cook, clean, and farm alongside them. Whenever visitors came to our house they would ask my host father, 'Who is this Chinese person living here?' and my host father would simply reply, 'He is my son.'" | Photo by courtesy of Bryon Yee

Many Peace Corps volunteers are eager to return to the U.S. after their service abroad, but for Byron Yee, spending two years working on economic development projects in Senegal got him thinking about moving to China.

Yee (’09, Theatre, Business-Management) can trace all of his ancestry to China – some by way of four generations of U.S.-born relatives.

“While in Senegal, I was thinking about how I had always wanted to go to China, learn the language and discover where my ancestors came from,” Yee says. “I had already gone to Senegal, submerged myself in a culture and languages in which I had no personal history. I should be able to do the exact same thing in China.”

So Yee became an English teacher in southern China just weeks after his service was done in Senegal in 2011. Today, he works for a market research company in Guangzhou, China. His goal: become fluent in Chinese and visit his family’s ancestral homes.

He’s already found his father’s village – the birthplace of his paternal grandparents. He’s still searching for his mother’s roots.

“It’s a piece of history,” he says. “I want to finally be able to bring it back before it’s all forgotten.”