Studying in Senegal
Welcome to the wonderful world of Wolof
By Bette Pearce
When Dequindre Robinson graduated from Jackson State University in May, she took away more than a major in psychology and a minor in French.
She also carried with her warm memories of a new “family” in Africa, as well as knowledge of Wolof.
What’s Wolof, you ask?
It’s the language of the Wolof people of Dakar, Senegal, where Robinson, through a scholarship, spent four months at the Council on International Education Exchange Language Institute.
“I wanted to diversify myself, learn about other cultures and meet new people,” Robinson said. She also wanted to improve her French. “I was minoring in French, and Senegal is predominantly French-speaking.”
However, she got more language education than she bargained for. Her host family spoke Wolof as well as French.
“I thought I spoke French fairly well until I got in a country where French is actually spoken all the time. It’s quite different; accents can make understanding challenging,” she said.
Challenging all the more, she laughs, was when her host family would switch from French to Wolof.
Robinson said living in Senegal gave her a greater appreciation for life in the U.S. “Education there is so inadequate. Some students didn’t have teachers in classrooms or even books, yet students still had a great eagerness to learn. We take our opportunities in this country for granted.”
Robinson said she also made friendships with fellow international students.
“There were about 40 students from all over the world when I was there — Japan, China, France. We all came together in Africa. Despite our differences in ethnicity, we found a way to unite through a similar goal, to learn and to expand our horizons outside our comfort zones and our own cultures.”
Robinson said she’s kept in close touch with her Senegal host family. “I miss them and keep in touch over Facebook and Instagram.” In May, she said, she sent them pictures of her wedding dress.
The 23-year-old Saginaw, Mich., native will begin a career as an English teacher in Detroit this fall.
“I would love to go back to Senegal someday,” she said, “to visit my teacher there, my host family and some very good connections I made there.” ONEJSU