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June 10, 2009 9:57 AM   Subscribe

What's it like volunteering in Senegal with Projects Abroad?

I'd like to get out of the USA for at least a couple months to gain perspective and broaden my horizons. I can read simple French so I'd like to visit a francophone locale to become bilingual. I've no education and limited funds, so teaching English in a former French colony seemed like the best idea. Currently reading this page about volunteering in Senegal.

Anybody done this? Anecdotes and advice welcome.
posted by levijk to Travel & Transportation around Senegal (3 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I have no experience with the volunteer program you mention, but I lived in Senegal for 3 years (92-96) and can speak to some of the joys and challenges of cultural adaptation for an American. If you decide to go, feel free to get in touch and I'll be glad to answer any questions.

In short, I found it a tremendous experience, and St. Louis is probably one of the most gracious and livable of urban areas in the country. The Wolof, the predominant ethnic group, are generally welcoming, with a powerful cultural tradition of hospitality to the foreigner. They can also - speaking in general terms - be extremely forthright in stating their opinions. I grew to LOVE living with such frank and direct friends and colleagues, but it can be an intense experience for a visitor.

The most important thing you can possibly do to prepare is to study some Wolof language and culture before you go. Even the mere ability to speak some traditional greetings (a big deal) can go a very long way to break the ice with people. Having a genuine interest in immersing yourself in the language and culture will help you have an experience that surpasses that available to any short-term visitor.
posted by itstheclamsname at 10:52 AM on June 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

I don't have any experience with Projects Abroad, but I have also spent a fair amount of time in Senegal. Working and living in Senegal is amazing, and I would highly recommend it.

That said, while Senegal will definitely help broaden your horizons, I'm not sure that Senegal will be be the best place to go if your main goal is to improve your French significantly. While many people in Senegal speak outstanding French, French is not the first language of most Senegalese people. Instead, people speak Wolof, Serer, Pulaar, etc. at home, in the street, and at work.

As itstheclamsname suggested, learning Wolof is important. Here's a link to a simple greeting dialogue.

I worked at a non-governmental organization in Dakar, and everyone spoke Wolof at work, not French. Thankfully, I had learned some Wolof before I arrived and my coworkers took pity on me and often spoke to me in French. You might be frustrated if your comprehension of spoken French and French speaking ability are not already quite good, but obviously YMMV.

I don't want to discourage you though because I loved my time in Senegal and I think you will probably have a great time too as long as you're realistic about your goals for the experience.
posted by cimton at 2:04 PM on June 10, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses. Even two is impressive considering my quite specific question.

itstheclamsname: Seeing as how artifice drives me crazy, whereas being earnest gains my respect, I believe cultural forthrightness will be a welcome challenge.

cimton: Thank you for the the link. You're right that Senegal isn't the first place one would think of to learn French, but I did some cursory research and found that Western Europe can be expensive, especially in the cities. My listening comprehension is poor but I will have a tutor. I believe the experience there will embolden me for future travels in France regardless of how much French I picked up.
posted by levijk at 12:44 AM on June 11, 2009

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