"Nene teral ganam yi. Def be bu nene sa ker mum el kerem. (Wolof adage meaning "Always receive a stranger like a brother. Make him feel at home in your house.")
The Senegalese refer to their country as the land of hospitality (known as "teranga" in Wolof).
A highlight of the Dakar Senegal program is that students have the opportunity to live with host families throughout the duration of their stay. In the term prior to departure during the Winter Term Destination Dakar seminar, students fill out applications to help choose their homestay families. Students are encouraged to be as detailed as possible in their applications and are given the opportunity to specify everything from eating preferences (vegan, vegetarian, kosher, etc.) to if they would like to be placed in a family with older or younger children. Based on these applications, the Baobab Center (ACI) places students with Senegalese families that best match students' preferences. The Baobab Center has been working with some of these families for nearly twenty years!
Within a homestay experience, each student is guaranteed:
- A bedroom to themselves with a door that locks
- Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner each day
- A fan and a mosquito net
- Access to a bathroom with running water
- Laundry once a week
These are a few of the things that are consistent amongst host family experience. Ultimately, however, every homestay offers a unique dynamic and a once-in-a-lifetime chance to really integrate yourself into a whole new culture.
An excerpt taken from the Baobab Center’s website about the homestay process:
Before moving in with their host families, students often spend a couple of days at a furnished apartment [or hotel] within walking distance of the Baobab Center. They discuss their expectations and learn tips to facilitate communication and integration with the host family. This time also allows students to recover from travel and jet lag and helps build a strong group dynamic. After their first night with their host family, students reconvene to debrief, discuss initial observations and pose questions to coordinators. ACI works with students to help make the home stay a cultural learning experience, and to resolve any concerns that emerge. For many students, the home stay proves to be one of the most memorable and beneficial components of the program. Source: http://www.acibaobab.org/home-stay
Benefits of the Homestay
Former participants in the Senegal program have found living with a host family to offer many unparalleled benefits:
You cannot experience the wondrous and mouth-watering tastes of Senegalese cuisine outside of a Senegalese family. While breakfast is more often than not a loaf of freshly baked bread and Nes-Café instant coffee, lunch is never something you want to miss (but if you are going to, you’d better let your host mom know!). In Senegal, lunch is a time to take a break during your long workday, relax, and eat a delicious home-cooked meal with your family and friends and whoever else might be around the house.
Meals are an important experience in that they give a very visual representation of what the Senegalese mean when they say, “teranga” (or hospitality). Everyone is given space to eat “autour le bol” (translated: “around the bowl”), and all the food is shared until everyone has had their fill. If you try to be modest and eat only a bit, your family might let you know with stern encouragements of “lekkal!” or “eat!” until you leave with a full belly of delicious food. So, don’t bother following the polite, American tradition of leaving some food on your plate; it doesn’t quite work that way in Senegal!
One of the biggest differences between language learning in Senegal versus France, for example, is the amount of English that is spoken. In Senegal, aside from your professors, you might not meet many English-speakers, your host family included. Some families will speak fluent French and Wolof, among other Senegalese languages such as Serrer or Pullard, sometimes more so than the others. Again, this contributes to the uniqueness of each family experience. Who knows, you might even pick up tidbits of a third language while you’re there.
By not being surrounded with English speakers, students are encouraged to communicate in French as much as possible, as reverting to English is not much of an option. However, for a lot of Senegalese, French is their second language - one they learned at school, just like you! Students often find that this - along with the warm, welcoming attitude of the Senegalese - takes off some of the pressure of speaking “perfect,” grammatically-correct French and encourages personal growth in the language.
The opportunity to stay with a host family hugely enriches the language acquisition process by providing you with immediate practice partners outside of the classroom. Feel free to ask your family to correct any grammatical mistakes you make while speaking, and even to help you with your homework.
There is only so much learning that can be done in a classroom, but living in a second (and third) language can give you an enormous opportunity for growth. Staying with a family that you did not grow up with can sometimes be uncomfortable, but being in an uncomfortable place can often lead to a transformative experience.
At first, you might just be using your language for the bare necessities like food, water, hygiene, and things around the house. But, as your time goes on, you’ll find yourself recounting to your family something funny that happened to you on your way to school or during your weekend excursions, and you’ll be able to participate in the lunch conversation. Your host family will give you the opportunity to be an active and conscious learner, so making the effort to look up a certain word or phrase will not go unnoticed.
In Senegal, your host family is a support system, a cultural resource, and your own language program, all in one.