Volunteer Review: Monica S., French in Senegal
I decided at a late time in my life (age 20) that I wanted to learn French. Having studied Spanish in high school and Norwegian during the first year of university, I discovered while traveling over seas that French would have come in quite handy. I had the opportunity to go somewhere, anywhere, for the month of January 2010 to study French. The spring prior to that, I began to look, and stumbled across Projects Abroad. The flexibility of arrival and departure dates was exactly what I was looking for, not to mention the one-on-one instruction.
I arrived in Dakar early on New Year’s Day, greeted by a very sleepy Banda, and we began our trek to Saint-Louis. I was greeted by my host mother, and two young host siblings that afternoon, but needed a nap immediately. Classes didn’t start for a couple of days, but that provided a great opportunity to get to know my host family.
Classes started on the Wednesday after arriving on Friday. We had classes in the Salle de Profs at a local high school. I was a little intimidated by all the high school students the first time I walked through, and I’m sure they were wondering why a silly toubab (foreigner) was there as well.
The time I spent with my professor was invaluable. I really learned a lot, and what was better was that I had one-on-one instruction for several hours at a time, so I was really forced to speak French, and thinking French. While we mostly covered grammar, we did get to talk about politics, culture, and every day topics. There was one day when I had a discussion about poverty with my professor. Afterwards, I realized that I was making a lot of progress. For the first time, I was having real discussions about real issues, in another language.
During the month that I was there, I also took two tours with the group: Touba and Djoujd. Both of these tours were in French, and while I only understood about a third of what was said, this was another personal achievement for me. Taking a tour in another language!
After a while, I began to converse regularly in French. Another personal achievement came when I successfully translated a joke from English to French. Every Sunday, a group of us would go to the beach, and then to the Hôtel de la Poste. Afterwards, a fly landed in my beer that I had been drinking, and so I shared my joke with everyone else there. Because two of the people did not speak a lot of English (French only), I was forced to tell the joke in French. It was successful.
I went to Senegal to learn French, and that is what ended up happening. At the end of the five weeks, I wasn’t over thinking how to say things, and it was just naturally flowing out. The intensive language program was exactly what I needed to help me make progress with learning French.
When I returned home, I kept wanting to speak French, because I had gotten so used to it, but instead, had to remind myself that no one here would really understand me. However, when I got into French class, something had changed from first semester to second semester – I completely understood my professor. On top of that, the extensive grammar and vocabulary my Senegalese professor had worked with me on was very helpful. It was a wonderful experience, and I encourage all who have the opportunity to do the same.
This is a personal account of one volunteer’s experience on the project and is a snapshot in time. Your experience may be different, as our projects are constantly adapting to local needs and building on accomplishments. Seasonal weather changes can also have a big impact. Find out more about what you can expect from this project, or speak to one of our friendly Program Advisors.