(Left)- Lawrence 2019 class with their Wolof instructor during cultural orientation. (Right)- Lawrence 2017 class in the Baobab Center library.
The Baobab Center & Orientation
The Baobab Center
The Baobab Center (African Consultants International) represents the greatest resource to students participating in the Dakar program. It is an education center that works with a number of American university programs in Senegal, providing language instruction in French and Wolof, in addition to lecture series given by local university professors. It also organizes cultural orientation workshops designed to prepare participants for an understanding of Senegalese lifestyle and ease their integration into the society.
Right off the bat, ACI provides you with an arsenal of Senegalese professors and mentors who are accustomed to the cultural differences that Westerners might experience upon first coming to Senegal. The staff at ACI are open and willing to help with anything and everything, escorting students to and from different events around the city, helping haggle with taxi drivers for cab fare, bringing you to their favorite tailor, and even offering up 24-hour calling to their personal cellphones in the case of any emergency. Students can rely on ACI faculty to answer any questions or concerns throughout their stay.
Upon arrival, students spend the first week in a series of workshops hosted by ACI related to gender, cross-cultural learning, health, and safety & security. Additionally, there are several planned outings into the city with an ACI guide to give the students a point of reference for navigation, and to show them how to use public transport in Dakar.
Topics of Orientation Week:
1. Cross-cultural Learning
The days spent discussing these topics provide an enormously insightful look into learning while abroad. The group is introduced to the country’s cultural values based on traditions in Senegal. These discussions are led by both staff at the Baobab Center partnering with local core members of the community, who can provide context and sensitivity to those behaviors that might differ from the Western expectation. This is the workshop that concludes with the group’s first traditional Senegalese meal around the bowl, giving the students the opportunity to practice the etiquette associated with this integral cultural tradition.
2. Cultural Exchange Workshop
Students are also introduced to the concept of communicating across cultures and cultural differences. Again, professors and other mentors lead discussion on misconceptions and assumptions, helping the students understand the origin behind the differences they will be seeing. Using the city outings as a starting point, students are given a platform to talk about what they have observed and discuss how to interpret those observations.
3. Gender Workshop
With Lawrence groups that are nearly always female-dominated, this workshop is an important introduction into understanding the gender expectations and realities in Senegal. This includes discussing the different cultural perspectives on gender and sexuality, those that are widely understood and those that are just beginning to be introduced. This workshop is key for students to learn how to communicate more definitively with the opposite sex.
If there are specific questions or concerns, do not hesitate to contact any of the program leaders (any professor from the Lawrence French Department) or any of the returned students.
In a welcoming and stable country like Senegal, the safety of the group is not often called into question. Regardless, a thorough workshop is provided to the petty theft and scams that are abundant in certain parts of Dakar, particularly where tourists tend to flock, such as the Place d’Indépendance (a large, Western-style mall). One aspect of the discussion often includes an update of popular scams at the time: scammers tend to work in a two-person tactic, with one who distracts and another who goes into your pocket. These are not serious concerns, but the students are advised to take obvious caution with any valuables they might be carrying on them and wear clothes and bags with secure pockets, as they would in any other large, metropolitan area.
5. A note on technology:
The Baobab Center is a school for international students and travelers and will therefore provide a consistent Wi-Fi connection for each group attending. However, that may not be the case at every student’s homestay. More and more host families have Wi-Fi at home, but The Baobab Center is the best resource for reliable Wi-Fi. With that in mind, it may be important to plan calls with family back home for your lunch break during the school day, or after classes have finished for the day. The Baobab Center is open 24/7, except for a few holidays, meaning students are also able to come in during the weekend to use Wi-Fi for communication and homework assignments.
For background information on the Baobab Center, including their workshops, and profiles of their staff, check out their website.
If you’re interested in the program's day-to-day activities, take a look at their regularly updated Facebook page.
The WikiTravel page also provides a lot of general information regarding the history of, and traveling in Senegal.