International relations major senior Casey Ellis spent a month of this past summer studying abroad in Dakar, Senegal. Her experience helped solidify her career ambitions, as well as learn about diversity while immersed in a new culture and language.
Ellis always knew she wanted to study abroad but did not want to miss out on an entire semester at Geneseo, so she chose the summer program in Senegal, led by coordinator of the French Language Program Kodjo Adabra.
The program consisted of a class called “Modernity in West Africa,” in which Ellis and other students studied the countries in West Africa and documented their experiences in a weekly journal. The class was taught in French, which allowed Ellis to immerse herself in a French-speaking culture while greatly improving her proficiency in the language.
Living with a host family, Ellis received a firsthand experience of what it’s like to live in the port city of Dakar. She celebrated Ramadan with the family. While her host family guided her in everyday activities, Ellis and the classmates on her trip also had a lot of independence during their month abroad.
“We all lived in one neighborhood and we were very independent in that we would walk around by ourselves and interact with the community, which was great because we got to speak French with the locals and improve our skills,” Ellis said.
Ellis deeply appreciates the exposure to a new culture and enjoyed the friendliness of Senegalese people.
“I was impressed by how nice everyone I met was,” Ellis said. “They genuinely want to know you and talk to you.”
Ellis notes how her experience made her want to return to Senegal, as well as explore more of Africa. She wants to join the Peace Corps after graduation and is thinking of going to Africa for her service assignment. In addition, her trip to Senegal confirmed that she would be comfortable living in Africa for a longer period of time, which coincides with her long-term plans of working with women’s rights and education in developing countries.
Ellis found her trip extremely rewarding and she enjoyed the new foods, sights and experiences. Living in the port city of Dakar, her diet consisted of lots of fish, including thieboudienne, a traditional dish from Senegal made from fish, rice and tomato sauce. She also ate Yassa, a Senegalese seasoned fish with sautéed onion sauce.
Ellis did not travel outside of Senegal, but she still visited many sights in the country that fascinated her.
“The most impactful thing I did was going to Gorée Island, which was one of the major slave ports that existed during the slave trade,” Ellis said. “We went through one of the slave houses where they would hold, weigh and ship out slaves, which was very surreal.”
Ellis believes in the ability of study abroad to increase cultural awareness and allow students to learn from other cultures.
“Senegalese people really appreciate U.S. culture and admire us,” Ellis said. “They have pictures of Obama everywhere. It makes me sad that Senegal isn’t on Americans’ radar, and that our culture is so centric.”
Ellis encourages all students at Geneseo to pursue a study abroad program in order to learn a new culture and broaden their horizons.
“Have an open mind and appreciate learning and experiencing new cultures,” Ellis said. “Not everything is going to meet your expectations, but it’s a learning experience and something you’ll definitely always cherish.”