Ten Tips for Those Interested in Taking a (GCY) Gap Year in Senegal

Peter Dull - Senegal


May 26, 2019

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Known as the Land of Teranga (Hospitality in Wolof), Senegal is a great place to test
your limits and be able to immerse yourself in a societal context polar to your
own. While learning the culture and language is great, you need to also learn
how to set appropriate expectations that are realistic with your ideology and
learn some expectations that will assist your character development. To help
clarify that before you embark on one of the richest experiences in your life,
consider these ten tips… 

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(5 that can be applied to any abroad gap year)

1.     Be
prepared to be out of your comfort zone very early. As soon as you land and exit
the plane, your journey starts right there. Although welcome week is devised to
help you transition cultural contexts, it is nowhere near as raw as your first week
with your host family. Since you don’t know the language, unless you do
language preparation beforehand, you need to be submissive and have your host
family take you to cultural events and go through everyday routines. If you
resist, this is a bad first impression and it will be harder to adjust to the
cultural shock. It’s totally fine to feel awkward and be unsure what to do next.
Relax… absorb what’s currently happening and follow accordingly.

2.     Unless
your immune/digestive system is rock solid, you will get sick – whether that
includes diarrhea, vomiting, fever, etc. I can guarantee you that when you have your
first few meals with your host family, you will feel nauseous and want to lie
on your bed or go to the clinic/hospital. Every fellow could tell you some disastrous
story about their health in the first month of their homestay. I make this
point because this is the first time I required medical assistance without my parents
and I had to establish a solid relationship with my team leader and friends. Be
upfront with the issues because if you don’t get the help you need, then you
will have to tackle your problems yourself.  

3.     Just
know that there are certain social issues you will not see eye-to-eye with in your
host community. LGBT+ rights, education, politics: there are lots of opinions that create this spectrum of diverse ideas. However, be careful when
you state certain ideas as certain countries and ethnic groups are sensitive (i.e.
don’t go into LGBT+ rights in Senegal). Don’t have a goal that you will change
the ideology of your host community regarding certain issues; rather, perhaps a
better goal you want to set is to see how your ideology changes after being in a
different nation.  

4.     Don’t
expect fluency in the language you are learning (that’s if you haven’t reviewed
that language prior to your gap year) or become a “guru” of the culture once
you leave. While there are some of your peers that achieve a high level of
mastery in those targeted languages, what I am trying to say is don’t set this
as a goal and become disappointed at the end when you still have difficulties.
Even at the end of my own experience, I still had some difficulties trying to
comprehend certain aspects of Senegalese culture and I couldn’t understand locals
who spoke at a rapid-fire rate. State how at the end of your experience, you
want to be able to communicate with your host family and want to be sociable in
any event.

5.     If
you maintain contact with those back at home or those in other parts of the
world, PLEASE do not compare stories and one-up each other who has the best/worst
times of their lives. Not only is it unhealthy to try to feel like the victor
of the “pity game” or feel like your time abroad is useless, but most people
want to hear your experiences and see how you went through your problems (if
any). It is essential to create and maintain your support system in a healthy
way, so bounce-off encouraging messages and call whenever you need someone for
emotional/mental support.

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(5 Senegal-specific tips)

6.     If
you are doing an education apprenticeship in Senegal, you will most likely teach
Terminale or Premier Lycée classes – or 11th and 12th
grade in the American education system. Unlike in other countries where fellows
taught in elementary classes, students in the 11th and 12th
grade are expected to comprehend English and be taught in English. You will
work alongside one supervisor and will rotate classrooms to teach different
levels.    

7.     It
is hot in Senegal. Remember to bring water wherever you go and if you so happen
to live near a gas station/boutique/Auchan, the 100 FCFA Slim or Penguin ice
cream is a catch. If you work in a condition where you work under the sun in
the morning/afternoon, remember to wear a hat. Also, wear sunscreen so you won’t
be sunburnt and don't end up like Xandra after a long, hot day. 😛  

8.     Thiés
is the hub city for GCY Senegal. You will only go to Dakar (the capital of
Senegal) if you have any medical appointments that cannot be taken care of in
Thiés, independent travel, or if there is a GCY-sponsored retreat where Dakar
is an appropriate place to go. If you are applying to colleges or if you want
access to Wi-Fi at any time, reload your orange credits and enable hotspot for
your laptop or go to Showroom 88 (Big Faim and NiceTime are inferior options) for
a café setting and go to the American Corner for free Wi-Fi.

9.     You
will be asked to be someone’s husband/wife at some point. Don’t take it personally.
Most fellows politely decline that offer or like to joke alongside locals and
say yes (of course, there will be no marriage ceremony at the end). I struggled
with this point as I take a lot of things to heart, so just ease up and try to
be engaged with your conversations.

10.  Be
prepared to party and celebrate until the crack of dawn. Although there’s no
alcohol or any intense substances that spike up the level at parties,
Senegalese people love to enjoy themselves. If you ever go to a mariage or nghente (baptism in Wolof), expect to sit and talk for a while, and
then dance at some point. Festivities usually start around 10 pm and end around
midnight – 4 am. Listen for the djembe drums and like what I said before, jump
on in when you're comfortable (you will not be forced to dance if you don’t want
to). Depending on the occasion, food is either served at the end or in little “favor”
baggies.

 

This will be my last blog. For more blogs about Senegal,
check out Demand Africa! I am doing my capstone project through that platform
and will be interning for their site this summer. Thanks for tuning in and ba
bannen yonn!  

Peter Dull