Thursday, June 3, 2010

FIN (for now)

I've got to wrap this up, but it's hard.  Hard because I haven't really "finished" with Dakar or Senegal or Africa, hard because I don't know how I can improve upon the blogged goodbyes that have come before me.  I'll quote one post and link to the other, because I think these two say it as well as I could ever hope to.

This is Mairéad O'Grady's final post, "You say goodbye, I say hello."  It makes for a beautiful bookend, especially knowing that she will be going back to Senegal shortly to stay with the Tourés--the extended Senegalese family that we share.

And this is the entirety of Ryan Brown's post, "Goodbye to All That":
to Dakar, to dust, to Wolof, to rice and fish, to sheep living (and dying) on my roof, to marriage proposals, to malaria medicine, to car rapides, to bargaining for cab rides, to my race affording me celebrity status, to fabrics covered in dollar signs or Obama faces or portraits of the baby jesus, to five times daily calls to prayer, to mountains of trash, to the Atlantic crashing up against the sides of the city, to babies named Mohammed, to perpetual summer, to fish dumplings, to men in T-shirts bearing english slogans they couldn’t read (“Michigan State University presents…The Vagina Monologues”), to speaking French every day, to pretending to understand French every day, to Allison and Shannon and Bobby, to Africa time, to holidays that depend on the moon, to all of that and to a thousand others rattling through my head just beyond reach. Goodbye.
As for my own "goodbye"?  I don't feel quite so poetic.  I feel very vulnerable writing about it, even thinking about it.  I've never been that good at keeping in touch.  I worry about the potential permanence of my leaving, about what we call "life courses."  What if I don't ever make it back, like Mame Diarra (Mairéad's Senegalese name), to see the Tourés again?

Professor Sène and Papa at l'école Fanaicha

I am somewhat comforted when Ousmane assures me that I cannot forget "mon deuxième pays," my second country, and of course, I can never forget my second family, my Senegalese family.  Papa Touré saw to that--before I left, he gave me a letter addressed to my parents that I would have to read for them (it was in French).  The letter was both generous and somewhat formal in tone; he wrote that I would have to return with my husband and child(ren) to see them again, because I had been "incontestably" adopted, and that they would keep me in their prayers, hoping that le Bon Dieu would grant me success in my future career.  This final sentiment dovetails with the wonders and worries of my senior year: what will my future career be?

I guess that means that there is no way for me to give a fitting conclusion.  Life doesn't offer itself to us in chapters.  And blogs, I've realized, don't resume themselves like books.

So I move forward, from Danville to Dakar and back again, to New York, to New Haven, and then to where?  To what?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

if you want to study abroad

I hope that the adventures I've described here, in combination with the blogs of my fellow study abroad ladies, have inspired you (some of you, reading along) to consider doing a semester in Dakar.  That's great.  Do it.

However, there are lots of programs to choose from.  I'm going to do a brief run-down of the options I encountered and offer my completely biased opinion on most of them.  Links to the home-pages are provided, where I could find them.
  • Mount Holyoke Spring Semester in Dakar [my program!].  You stay with a home-stay.  You stay for 4 - 5 months.  You are taken on 2 - 3 awesome field trips, but otherwise, you stay in Dakar.  You take 5 - 6 classes, which are very easy, except the final projects sneak up on you.  You are told that you can take classes at University Cheikh Anta Diop, which is kind of true, but you end up taking all of your classes at the WARC (West African Research Center) and a few at IFÉÉ (Institute de Français pour étudiants étrangèrs).  WARC is also the home-base for the Wells College, Michigan State, and Minnesota University programs.  [Strangely, I could not find the Mt. Holyoke page on Dakar; here's an article instead.]
  • Wells College in Dakar.  Also, I think, a spring semester program.  You stay with a home-stay.  You stay for 4 months.  You are taken on 2 - 3 awesome field trips, but otherwise, you stay in Dakar.  Similar academically to Mount Holyoke; Wells, Mt. H., and Michigan study abroad students take all of their classes together at the WARC.
  • Michigan State in Dakar.  Also, I think, a spring semester deal.  You stay with a home-stay.  You stay for 4 - 5 months.  You are taken on 2 - 3 awesome field trips, but otherwise, you stay in Dakar.  Similar academically to Mount Holyoke; Wells, Mt. H., and Michigan study abroad students take all of their classes together at the WARC.
  • MSID Senegal.  You can come for the fall or for the spring or stay for the whole year.  You stay with a home-stay, both in Dakar and in a more rural internship placement.  The MSID students who were at the WARC in the spring took classes separately, like an intensive Wolof Language course, for 6 weeks.  Then they left for Spring Break, and then they were placed in smaller cities and villages for a 4 - 5 week internship.  The MSID students who were at the WARC for the year were rarely in Dakar but instead working and researching in their internships.
  • Suffolk University in Dakar.  Though the campus was right next to my house, I only visited once or twice.  I don't know much at all about the program, but it seems terrific: a great way to meet students from all over Africa, not just Americans.  You still stay with home-stays and still get 2 -3 awesome field trips.  Check out the link.
  • CIEE in Dakar.  Also a program that I know nothing about, but looks cool.
If I were to do it all again...well, I had such a good time, I can't really say I'd do anything different.  Michigan, Wells, and Mt. Holyoke all give similar preparation and education.  The MSID program seems to give you a deeper insight into rural Senegalese village life, and the Suffolk program puts you in contact with a more diverse student body, and you still get home-stays and field trips.  We few at the WARC could have used some more Senegalese friends, as well as a better sense of the country as a whole--though getting to know Dakar really well was fun.

Now, for something completely different: ART in DAKAR for the bi-annual DAKART Festival.  We didn't get to see as much of it as we liked, but Kelli and Carlee and I checked out La Manege while doing some downtown shopping.  I had already seen this particular installation with Dian, Logan, and Frankie (a big opening), but it was nice to see it again, without the crowds.

Two goats, painted with black splotches, as part of an art installation at Galérie la Manege

Interior of Galérie la Manege, which is run by the French Cultural Institute

...and if I haven't convinced you yet that you should come to Dakar, let me add that going to study in Dakar was probably the best decision I've ever taken a really long time making.  I knew it was something I should do, and then it became something I wanted to do, and then I finally did it--studying abroad in Senegal, that is.  My cluelessness at the start was defeated by my curiosity, which saw me through most of the semester.  And it felt good.

I don't want to say that study abroad, and Africa in particular, is a "life changing" experience.  That's a little too romantic.  I can't promise epiphanies.  Plus, your life is always changing.  

But I am a different (better?) person with different (bigger?) dreams, now that I have gone and returned (and will go again).  If you don't want to go to Senegal, at least consider the African continent.  If you don't want to go to Africa, at least still consider studying abroad.  I left Yale, probably the best educational institution in the world, for an entire semester, and I don't regret it.  Neither will you.