Caroline plays with some children on a program excursion to the village of Gaé.
Overseas Study Program
Caroline’s majors: Linguistics
Year/term abroad: Summer 2009
Reason you chose this program: I am very interested in Africa, so I was looking for an opportunity to go there. One reason I chose the Senegal program is that it includes an internship component. Students are placed in internships related to their interests, and that was a great experience for me.
Favorite classes: That's a tough one. The students in our program took three courses together. Since I love African languages, I really enjoyed the Wolof language class. I also love African culture, so I enjoyed the West African culture class as well. And because I wanted to work in the community, I really enjoyed my internship. So I guess you could say that my favorite class was....all three!
Describe the housing situation: Our housing was wonderful. Our group was split between a house and an apartment on campus. Some students had private bedrooms and some shared. We had a big kitchen and living room with terrace or balcony. We even had a housekeeper! Our housing was far from luxurious, but it was very comfortable.
Best memory: We took several excursions to rural areas, and I loved every trip. My favorite was probably our trip to Gaé, where our group stayed five days with a family. I really enjoyed getting to know the way the people lived there. We ate meals in the traditional way, sitting on the floor around a large shared platter. We drank tea after each meal, which is a meaningful ritual that symbolizes friendship. Before we left, the family asked me to pray with them. I am not Muslim, but it meant so much that they included me in this important part of their lives.
Biggest Surprise: I was amazed to see how happy, relaxed, and generous the people of Senegal are. Life can be difficult there. Many things do not work as they should. Many modern conveniences that we take for granted in the U.S. are not commonly available. Despite the extreme poverty and challenges they face, everyone I met was more than willing to help others and to share whatever they had.
Experience with culture shock or reverse culture shock: After returning home, I was disappointed to see the fast pace of U.S. life. I had forgotten how stressed everything is here. In Senegal, life is very relaxed and people set aside time each day to talk and listen to one another over tea. They don't worry very often. They just take things as they come. While there were many differences between the U.S. and Senegal, this is at the heart of them all.
Complete this sentence: If I could do it over, I would... stay longer and travel. When I bought my airline tickets, I thought that the five weeks of the program would be enough time. The program included quite a few excursions, and I didn't think that I would need to do more. But when it came time to leave, I was not at all ready to leave my life there behind. Leaving Senegal was very difficult, and I can't wait to go back there again.
What I wish I knew before I left: I wish I had known to take gifts for people that I met, such as the host family we stayed with on an excursion, the families of our Senegalese student friends, the Senegalese students who looked after us, and the children, who were everywhere.