the Senegalese experience|experiment

18 December, 2009


Bonjour. This is my first post in my Senegalese blog. My name is Claire, and I'm currently a junior at Hillsdale College, majoring in French and sociology, minoring in German. I'm interesting in learning more languages and getting out into that big old world (which is big, no matter what Disney says). I believe I'm one of the first people (let's say first 100) at this college to study abroad in a non-Westernized country. When I tell people, they're often surprised that I'm not doing missions work or Peace Corps. Here are reactions:

Q. So, wait, Africa, what? For the whole semester?
A. Yes, this is indeed a traditional study abroad, as I'll be there for a whole semester. I'll be in Dakar, Senegal for a little more than five months (from January 8th to May 15th), studying with Wells College at the University of Dakar. I'll be taking some as-yet-unknown classes with the university (so far, I'm definitely taking African Theatre, Wolof 101 and Advanced French Grammar, but I'll probably be taking at least two more) As far as my living situation goes, I'll be with a family who's done this at least a few times before, and who's eager to help a toubab learn about their culture.

Q. Why are you doing this?
A. Well, first of all, Hillsdale is extremely Western, and proud of it. This is fine, but as a sociology major and someone curious about the world, I'd like to take the opportunity to go outside the Western world, and experience something completely new. I know I'm not going to be comfortable with the culture shock all the time, but it's something I have to do, while I'm still in college and have the chance.

Q. Where is Dakar, Senegal, exactly?
A. Below is a map of Dakar. If you zoom out, you will see that Senegal is on the far left of Africa, close to the Atlantic Ocean (it's strange to think that for essentially all my life, barring a few short months, I've thought of the Pacific Ocean as "west of me" and the Atlantic Ocean as "east of me," but that will change entirely over the course of the next semester). Within Senegal, Dakar is the western-most point.

As you can see, I will be approximately several hundred yards from the ocean. Quite a change, for a girl from Phoenix!

Q. So, what do your parents think about this?
A. They are encouraging, and have been encouraging me, the whole time. In fact, they're maybe more gung ho than I am about the trip. All my life, my parents have been supportive of my exploration and adventures all over the world, jetting me to various places including Quebec and Germany, for language improvement and personal growth. So, thanks, Mom and Dad! You are the best.

Well, I hope that there will be more posts in the weeks to come. I have my visa (at last), I have all of my shots (although apparently I'm only 85% secure against Hepatitis... this concerns me, but I think I should be okay), and now I just need to go shopping for African-appropriate clothes! [Senegal is a highly Muslim country, and so, I am told, my shorts and skirts will not be acceptable.]

Stay tuned.