Rural Visit

While most of our time is spent in the Senegal’s capital, Dakar, CIEE provides an opportunity to experience what life is like outside of the city. According to the World Bank, around 23% of the population lives in Dakar. In order to have a fuller understanding of the country as a whole, it is important to see how the other 77% of the population live. Last week, we were sent all over the country to get a small taste of what life is like in a rural setting.

Before we left, we listened to a presentation of all the available sites and regions. We were given the choice of staying with a Peace Corps Volunteer or with a host family. After ranking our top three choices, the staff gave us our locations. Some of us were placed together and others were placed alone. This chance to get outside the city also provided us with opportunities to figure out the public transportation, ranging from night buses to cars to horse and cart. There was a seminar giving us the money for transport and explaining the route we need to take in great detail. CIEE did a good job of prepping us with survival language classes for regions speaking different languages, explaining what presents to take to our host families, and the warning to really not have any expectations.

Five of us were all going to the region of Tambacounda, approximately 460 kilometers away from Dakar. My friend, Fanessa, and I were placed together with a Peace Corps volunteer (PCV) in a village called Gouloumbou, 35 kilometers from Tambacounda. We ended up taking a night bus on a Saturday night, leaving at 8:30 pm and arriving at 5:40 am. It was a long journey to say the least. After resting some at the Peace Corps transit house, we met up with our PCV, Alex, and took a van overflowing with people to the village. Hospitality is highly valued in Senegal and his host family warmly welcomed us. The family consists of a father, two wives, and twelve children. There is not running water in the village. But, power lines were just constructed and turned on while we were there!

Our group getting ready to get on the night bus

We were told to bring a book and expect to be patient and present in a different speed of life. Many people in our program experienced these long and slow afternoons. When it is over 100˚F, there is not a lot you can do besides sit in the shade. Fanessa and I experienced that to a level, but Alex did a good job of keeping us engaged and busy. One day we went and worked at the clinic, which is the best in the whole region. I was surprised when I was able to assist with prenatal consultations. Another day, we ended up biking the 35 km back to the city of Tambacounda for a meeting. Believe me that I encouraged us to pay the $2 to return to the village by bus. We visited another village and saw different agriculture, education, and health projects. Needless to say, it was a week full of learning about development (good and bad), attempting to speak Pulaar, being on the lookout for cold drinks, sitting on a brightly colored woven mat in the shade, and learning what life looks like for that community.

Part of the family’s compound in Gouloumbou



Alex, a PCV, traning middle schoolers to be mini community health workers











While my week in Gouloumbou was very short, it helped me to have a better comprehension of the saying “Senegal is not Dakar.” Senegal is the fast paced tempo of Dakar, but it is also quiet villages and small cities. It is a place of great diversity with around twenty different ethnic groups present (World Atlas). I am thankful that CIEE provided this time and integrated the rural visit into the program.


Views of Dakar

Views of Gouloumbou










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School Days

After a month here in Senegal, I am starting to get settled into a routine. During the week I take five classes which is required of CIEE’s Language and Culture Program in Dakar. The classes are an hour and fifteen minutes each and are held twice a week. My classes are Wolof (the local language), French, Public Health, Social Anthropology and African Cultures, and Internship. On Mondays and Wednesdays, I have the majority of my classes. Tuesdays and Thursdays are when I go to my internship at the Red Cross in Pikine, a suburb of Dakar, and have my Anthro class. Gamo, an incredible woman who works in the CIEE office, does a wonderful job of placing people into a variety of internships from women’s rights to refugee resettlement to healthcare to environmental efforts to education to business. My internship is one of my favorite things about my time here so far. My supervisor is kind, patient, and gives me lots of responsibility and opportunities to learn. Another one of my favorite parts are Fridays are reserved for working at internships, for exploring the city, or for resting after a long week. It will be difficult to go back to my two day weekends at Wofford.

the building where my classes are held


one of my classrooms

the room where I work at the Red Cross


All of the instruction for my classes is in French. However, there are courses available in English. This definitely helps with my French immersion, but definitely requires some adjustment and effort. Some classes are more interactive than others. Wolof, French, and Internship seminar are largely discussion based while Anthro and Public Health are a typical lecture style. It is evident that all of my professors care about their subjects. Regarding assignments, I have papers, readings, and projects in all of my classes. Many of the papers are based on our experiences or research. For example, in my Anthro class I will be researching the utilization and mixture of traditional medicine and biomedicine. It isn’t as much work as Wofford. But, there are more distractions and opportunities to fill your day. A beautiful beach is a fifteen minute taxi ride away. There are markets with crafts, shea butter, fabrics, food, and other items to peruse and walk through. There are always activities and people planning different excursions.


the African Renaissance Monument

the beautiful beach that is dangerously close to school


I am blessed to have Wi-Fi at my home-stay, so I have more flexibility in when and where I do my homework. Personally, I have to do my homework and study by myself in a quiet place so I work at the desk in my bedroom or in the living room at home. At the CIEE building, there is Wi-Fi and space to study. As well, there are numerous cafes, restaurants, and ice cream places in the different neighborhoods with Wi-Fi.

a really good gelato place with good Wi-Fi next to school


It may be cheesy to say, but there really are opportunities to learn everywhere. The experience and immersion goes as far as you want to take it and if you seek it. I have opportunities to speak Wolof with the men drinking tea on the corner, the woman sweeping the street, and taxi men while on my way to school or to my internship. I have found opportunities to learn about Senegalese culture by talking to Alphonse, the school’s security guard, the people in my home-stay family, and my supervisor at the Red Cross. Not all learning will be in a classroom setting, but it is easy to find chances to gain a deeper understanding about the environment around me.

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Grace Period

Greetings from Dakar! It is hard to believe that I have already been here for one week. Dakar, the capital of Senegal, is home to approximately 3 million people. The past week has been an opportunity for my classmates and myself to get oriented to this new culture and this bustling city. There have been many new things to get adjusted to, from dodging horses, taxis, buses, and people on the walk to school to knowing where to buy prepaid phone minutes. In this time of adjustment, it has been important for me to give myself grace.

Family dynamics can be complicated to navigate within the same culture. My host family is extremely kind and generous. But, there are moments that I don’t know when or how to engage in conversation. Most people speak French, but are more comfortable with speaking Wolof. While I can participate in French conversation, I typically just smile and nod when people begin to talk in Wolof. I have had to focus on the good interactions and the small successes in forming relationships, choosing to celebrate when I have a conversation about development in Senegal with my host mother or laughing about one of the favorite soap operas.

Both the Senegalese culture surrounding food is different from my cultural background. Morning starts with tea and a delicious baguette. A large meal is eating in the earlier afternoon. This typically consists of rice or couscous with some type of stew. It is served in one large plate on a mat on the ground. People gather around and eat the portion that is in front of them. Dinner is light and is eaten late, around 9 or 10. The food has been good. But as someone who usually goes to bed early, it has been difficult learning to eat around the time I tend to go to bed. In adjusting to this new schedule, I have to remind myself that everything takes time. I mostly said this to myself while eating cookies in my room after an interesting dinner.

Simply getting around this busy city and my neighborhood is very different from getting around at Wofford. I walk about fifteen minutes from my family’s home to the CIEE center. My options to get around the city are four different types of buses- that are cheap but very involved- or a taxi, requiring some bartering skills. I had to give myself grace this morning in trying to find an English speaking church. What I thought was going to be a thirty minute walk with a friend turned out to be a fifty minute walk by myself. It was intimidating to try and figure out where I was going, but I did it. I ended up meeting a woman who grew up in Greenville, SC and is going to show me later this week where to get some grits in Dakar.

My classes begin today, but my orientation is not over. I can only imagine what the next four months will hold: good, bad, challenging, language learning, getting lost, becoming confident in transportation. As the different layers of Senegalese culture begin to unfold, I have to give myself and my American classmates grace in our adjustment.

This is the view from the top of the building where I am taking classes.

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