"Nene teral ganam yi. Def be bu nene sa ker mum el kerem." "Always receive a stranger like a brother. Make him feel at home in your house" (Wolof adage). The Senegalese refer to their country as the land of hospitality.
During the term prior to departure, students are enrolled in a 2-credit preparatory course titled, “Destination Dakar", where they discuss relevant topics to their coming term abroad, including Islam, Health & Safety, and filling out applications for their homestay families.
Students are encouraged to be as detailed as possible in their applications, given the opportunity to specify everything from eating preferences (vegan, vegetarian, etc) to if they would like to be placed in a family with older or younger children.
When applications are sent off, the Baobab Center (ACI) makes arrangements with Senegalese families with whom students live for the duration of their term in Senegal. The Baobab Center has even been working with some of these families for nearly twenty years!
Within a homestay experience, each student is guaranteed:
1. A bedroom to themselves with a door that locks
2. Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner each day
3. A fan and a mosquito net
4. Access to a bathroom with running water
5. Laundry once a week
These are a few of the things that are consistent between each host family, because ultimately, every homestay offers a unique dynamic, and a once-in-a-lifetime chance to really try and 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.”
(taken from: http://baobabcenter.org/cross-cultural-learning)
After talking with former participants in the program, here are several reasons why you should stay with a host family abroad:
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 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, to relax and eat 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”. 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.
One of the biggest differences between language learning in a French vs. a Francophone country is the prevalence of English. 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.
The opportunity to stay with a host family hugely enriches the language acquiring 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 new 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 gives you the opportunity to be an active and conscious learner, so making the effort 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.