Senegal: A Study in Sitting Past Review

By (International Development & Cultural Change, University of the Pacific) for

Universite Gaston Berger (UGB): Saint Louis - Direct Enrollment & Exchange

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
Although I didn't have the academic experience that I was hoping for here, I'm still very glad that I chose this program, and would absolutely choose it again. I have learned a lot about the benefits of a slower pace of life, much needed for me, and how to interact with people who think very differently from myself.

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 6 months+

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

Due to 5 months of professor strike, the program director in Wisconsin set up individual seminars with local professors for us American students. The seminars are based on actual classes taught here at UGB, but are only for us Americans, with no Senegalese students involved. Professors here use the French system of education, which includes a large amount of dictation in class, and very little discussion or student input. Most of my seminars include a written paper and an exam (often oral) for the grade.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

Our in-country program director was fantastic. He came to Wisconsin to meet us during our pre-departure orientation, where he explained a lot about the education system and program. Since we arrived, he has been very helpful with everything we needed, seeing as he has been directing this program for 20 years, he is quite knowledgable. There were only 3 American students on my program including me, and it has been great. We have become like a family, supporting each other through all the ups and downs of studying abroad.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

Housing was pre-arranged through the program. For my first month, in Dakar, I lived with a host family, and they were very nice, and if I wasn't exactly treated like family, I was still a very well-treated guest. There were a lot of other American students living in the neighborhood, which made it more difficult to integrate with the local Senegalese. At UGB, I live in a dorm with 2 Senegalese roommates, who are fantastic. Although the dorms don't always have reliable access to running water and such, I love living here and would not want to live anywhere else in this situation.

* Food:

The university dining hall is highly subsidized by the government, meaning that meals cost the equivalent of about $0.30 for students. Almost all Senegalese students eat at the dining hall all the time, making it a good way to integrate. However, because of the subsidies, the dining hall has no reason to make really quality food, so it's generally not very good. I eat almost nothing but carbohydrates, being served bread for breakfast, rice and bread for lunch, and pasta/couscous/potatoes and bread for dinner. There are private restaurants on campus where meals cost the equivalent of about $1.00, but eating here regularly sets you apart from the Senegalese students, and for me is not worth it.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

We took a week long trip to Niokolokoba National Park and some other cultural places with our program, and it was great, although it did make me feel more like a foreign outsider than almost anything else.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

* Safety:

There is no concept of germs and contagiousness in Senegal, particularly on campus. In the dining hall, there were about 20 cups available for hundreds of students, who filled them, used them, and gave them to someone else. I did not drink unfiltered tap water here, which I would recommend for future students, as it is not always safe. Malaria is present here, so I take daily anti-malaria medication, and sleep under a mosquito net. I had one experience with the campus health center, and was not impressed. I thought I had malaria, the nurse/doctor took my temperature and blood pressure, and told me I was crazy and that I shoudl just keep taking aspirin for my headache that had lasted for 3 days. Bring medication for any normal illness (cold, flu, headache, etc) with you.

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? Yes


* Money: How easily were you able to live on a student's budget?

(1 = not very easy/$200+ on food & personal expenses/week, 2.5 = $100/week, 5 = very easily/minimal cost)

Not including program expenses, about how much money did you spend on food and other expenses each week? $10 or less. Eating at the dining hall costs about $6/week, and I hardly bought anything else, other than filtered water ($2 for 10 liters), and cell phone credit ($20/month)
Do you have any general money-saving tips for future study abroad participants? Buy gifts for family and friends as you go - don't wait until the end of your time when you don't have much money left.


* Did your program have a foreign language component? Yes
How would you rate your language skills at the beginning of the program? Advanced
What was the highest level language course you had completed prior to departure? French Literature
If applicable, to what degree did your living situation aid your language acquisition?

Language acquisition improvement?

The official language here is French, so all courses are taught in French, and all students speak French fluently. However, most students and other people (in the markets, etc.) speak Wolof or another local language amongst themselves. One component of the program here has been continuing Wolof language classes, which have allowed me to improve my language skills enough to have some short conversations. Most of my everyday interactions however, are carried out in French. Hardly anybody here speaks English.

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Dorm
  • Host Family
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Host Family
  • Local Students
* Who did you take classes with?

Select all that apply

  • Americans

A Look Back

* What did you like most about the program?
  • Integration into the host culture/language
  • Freedom, not a highly structured program
* What could be improved?
  • Senegalese education system
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? The idea of this program is great - basically direct enrollement in a Senegalese university, living with local students, etc. In practice though, at least this year, this direct enrollment, which I really wanted in a study abroad program, did not happen due to the 5 month student strike. Strikes are very common here in Senegal, and often disrupt the school year for extended periods, which I didn't fully comprehend before arriving here.