“Will my French be good enough for me to really make friends and get around?”
Yes! Even if you have just finished the minimum language requirement before going abroad (French 202), you will be well equipped to handle daily life in another language. Most students will tell you that they had a buffer period where it was pretty stressful trying to communicate, but after a few weeks, it just clicks and everything feels much more accessible. Your host families and teachers understand what you’re going through, and will help and encourage you to keep talking. Practice is the only way to improve, so don’t hesitate to put yourself out there.
“Do the Senegalese speak Wolof more commonly in daily life than French?”
It depends on where in Senegal you are. Large and international cities, like Dakar, see a lot more tourists than other parts of Senegal, and French is often taught to students in these schools. But if you travel further inland in Senegal, and to more rural villages, Wolof and the other local languages dominate conversation. There is less exposure to foreigners, so French is not as necessary. Moving around Dakar, you can use French, but as you become more comfortable speaking Wolof, do not hesitate to use it!
“How do I know what vaccinations I need, and how do I get them in time because we’re in school before we leave?”
If you go to any travel clinic, they will tell you the up-to-date vaccines required to travel to any part of the world. Usually, the suggested vaccine is for Yellow Fever. Otherwise, you must take anti-malarial medication for the duration of your time in Senegal. There are several different options for this, and you can discuss the best option for you with your health care provider.
If you do not go home over Winter Break and can’t take care of it then, don’t worry. During the pre-departure course, Destination Dakar, one of your classes will be field trip to the local travel clinic to take care of these, if you have not done so already.
“I’m nervous about the homestay experience and getting along with my family.”
This is likely the most common concern that students voice. Staying with a family that is not your own, in a country that you are not from, can seem stressful. Of course, it will take some time to get to know each other, but it’s important to remember that these host families have an established relationship with the Baobab Center – some for nearly 20 years! – and have hosted too many of their students to count. They are prepared for your weird American habits, and are ready to help you out and ease your way into life there.