The Halfway Point

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As the halfway point in my semester approaches and my time here in Dakar comes to a close, I think it’s only fitting that I give a short synopsis of what it is exactly that I have been doing and plan to do over the next couple of months.

I spent the last couple of months here in Dakar, taking a full schedule of classes through my program (for those who don’t know, the program is MSID Senegal: Minnesota Studies in International Development.) My main classes have been Wolof, international development theory, and country analysis (a cultural, religious, and political review of Senegal and its history.) I’ve taken specialized courses in public health & social services and micro finance. I’ve also audited courses in research methods and French, though French was less of a language lesson and more of an opportunity to actively engage in cultural comparisons between the US and Senegal with Senegalese students from the nearby university. Though I chose public health and micro finance as specific tracks, other students chose to focus on tracks such as arts & culture and education. All of my classes are being taught in French and all of my professors are Senegalese, having worked in their respective fields for many years. My Wolof professor, for example, worked with the Peace Corps for over twenty years and today regularly receives calls from Amnesty International and the US Embassy in various attempts to recruit his services.

My classes have been fascinating and have placed a heavy emphasis on student immersion; I’ve been on what one might call field trips in almost every one of my classes. We’ve discussed topics ranging from Senegalese dating culture to the history of colonialism in Africa and which political model works best in the modern African state. Just last week my international development theory professor brought in a Fulani woman who used to be an FGM cutter to have a dialogue with us (Fulani being an ethnic group here in Senegal and FGM being female genital mutilation.) That was an interesting conversation, to say the least. I and other students have toured the HIV clinic of the nearest teaching hospital and taken a look at a Chinese farming initiative on the outskirts of the city, gaining a glimpse of China’s increasing influence in Senegal’s agricultural economy.

My specializations in public health and microfinance led to my decision to intern with a woman’s organization that provides health and financial resources to women in Kaolack, a smaller city about four hours South of Dakar. Each student in my program chooses to spend his/her (though in this semester’s case, only her) second half of the semester either doing research or participating in an internship that pertains to her specialized tracks from the first half of the semester. From the beginning of my time in this program I’ve known that I wanted to participate in an internship, and thus I found myself being placed in Kaolack with APROFES: L’Association Pour la Promotion des Femmes (The Association for the Promotion of Women.) I will be living with a second host family in Kaolack, and am told that it will be fairly different from Dakar: more rural, slower-paced, hotter, and (unfortunately) filled with more mosquitoes.

I heavily considered staying in Dakar for the internship portion of the semester because I have absolutely loved my time and my host family here. However, with a large mosquito net, more than one bottle of high-intensity bug-spray, and a love for this country and its people, I can say that I’m as ready as I’ll ever be for my next adventure in Kaolack. My next adventure in two weeks, that is, because I’ll be spending my Spring Break next week in Gambia. That ought to be a whole different kind of adventure in and of itself.

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