Junior Christine O’Neill spent four weeks this past summer in an atypical study abroad location: the predominantly francophone nation of Senegal in West Africa.
O’Neill went on the trip with a small group of students. She immersed herself in Senegalese culture by riding a horse across the desert, purchasing a traditional Senegalese dress made by a tailor and visiting the local market.
O’Neill said one of her favorite cultural experiences was eating “around the bowl,” which she described as “sit[ting] around a huge bowl and you eat with your hands. It’s all rice and fish and vegetables and you just sort of make a little ball and pop it in your mouth.”
The study abroad trip was based around FREN 388: Francophone Civilizations of West Africa. Lectures touched on subjects including government, health, religion and education in the area.
For the final project, each student had to give a 10-minute oral presentation about something they had observed. O’Neill picked religion as the topic for her presentation - she said it was one of the most personally inspiring aspects of the trip.
“Everyone there just had this religion that brought them together,” she said. “They had mosques all over the city and broadcasted the prayers. I loved it because there’s no religious solidarity like that here.”
O’Neill said what sharpened her French-speaking skills most were her experiences at the local market and a class assignment to summarize and discuss daily newspaper articles.
“The marketplace was really, really colorful. There’s no fixed price for anything; it’s all bargain,” O’Neill said. “It’s this really intense experience if you want to practice your French.”
Her host family spoke the African dialect Wolof, so while she didn’t get to practice French with them, she got to experience an authentic piece of Senegalese culture at the market.
O’Neill also said that staying with a Senegalese family gave her a new and different perspective on life there.
“There was a girl who was a maid who worked for the family. In Senegal, if you can afford a maid it’s considered an act of charity because you’re providing jobs for people,” O’Neill said. “Very few people are able to get jobs in Senegal.”
She also noted other cultural differences from the American lifestyle, like the idea of keeping goats on the roof of the house or the laidback approach to making and keeping appointments.
O’Neill said she would “recommend the trip to anyone who could get up the [courage] to go.” It was “an amazing life experience that changed me and helped me grow,” she said.