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Studying abroad in Senegal: Day 5

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Friday, May 29, 2015

I ’ve officially been in Senegal for five days now – but only about four full days since I arrived so late on Monday evening.

It’s definitely different here, but different in a lot of great ways (some being a little greater than others). I am all moved into my homestay and am beginning to adjust to the Senegalese lifestyle, while also overcoming my jetlag and starting my classes on the history of Islam and the Wolof language.

Because so much has already happened and we are so busy, here’s just a quick glimpse into my overall experience thus far:

Language

The language(s) in Dakar is crazy – in a good way of course! The French is definitely different and it is the largest hurdle that I have been struggling to overcome since Monday. I definitely don’t know French vocabulary, pronunciation, conjugations, sentence structures, etc. as well as I originally thought… trust me, this isn’t an intermediate French class anymore.

I can understand Senegalese French somewhat well when being spoken to (as long as it’s very slow), but responding is still pretty frightening and I’m definitely still making beginner mistakes – it’s like I can barely form a sentence.

So many people in Dakar are at least bilingual, usually in French and Wolof, and it’s pretty inspiring. It is also quite frustrating because foreign languages are not very easy for me to quickly learn and I wish I could just speak French fluently already!

A lot of people are able to speak chunks of Arabic, too, and I’ve met a decent amount of people who speak English much better than I speak French. Even though it can be discouraging, all of the different languages – mixed with my inability to fully communicate – are really confirming that I want and need to continue French, and probably Wolof as well.

If so many others have done it then I can do it, too – right? How cool would it be to have the ability to communicate extremely well with everyone you came across despite the language they spoke?

Homestay

I was placed with a Christian woman named Sosso who is divorced with two children – one son and one daughter. Neither child lives in the house anymore (she says they are very independent now), so it is just my host mother and I.

Sosso is extremely nice and super goofy, with this incredible laugh that just makes you burst out into chuckles. We do have a bit of a communication barrier, though, as my French is broken and she only knows a few English words and phrases. She also talks extremely fast with a handful of mumbles thrown in between, so understanding her can be very difficult. My solutions for now are to buy a French dictionary as soon as possible and frequently study for my crash course in Wolof.

I do have my own room, which is very nice, along with my own locking wardrobe, a mosquito net and a fan. We do not have Wi-Fi in the home, though, which is making it pretty difficult to communicate with people in the States, but at the same time it is so relieving and relaxing.

Overall, I am enjoying myself a lot and I am starting to feel at home. If only I could speak more French then things could be perfect!

Update: Later this night, ma maman and I watched a cooking show together. In a very elementary manner, we gradually began saying aloud the ingredient names in French and English.

“Concombre,” she would say.

“Oui, concombre,” I would repeat back with uncontrollable laughter. “C’est un ‘cucumber’ en anglais.”

Sosso would repeat the English word in her classic silly, mumbled voice meanwhile tittering multiple times to herself.

The night continued like this, with us telling one another the names of various objects and foods in French and English, and sometimes even Wolof, as they appeared on the television.

There was something very magical about this night with Sosso – it felt like such a real, true bonding experience through simple visuals and foreign languages.

It’s truly amazing how much power language holds, and the fact that we can learn so many distinctive forms of communication in order to understand individuals from diverse backgrounds and places. Le monde est vraiment beau!

Léegi léegi!

2 Comments

  1. Debra Grilly says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed this, especially the part about your “cooking show” evening with Sosso. Looking forward to hearing about your next three+ weeks in Senegal!!!

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