Shannee Griffith ’13 always knew that she would study abroad in Senegal, Africa to experience firsthand its culture, language, and people. “I’ve taken French since high school and one story we had to read was from a Senegalese author who wrote about her culture, so that put it in my mind and I never even considered studying in any other place,” she said.
The marketing major described her time in Senegal as wonderful and unforgettable but admitted that she was completely unprepared for how different life ended up being, both from what she knew from her home and Fairfield University. In addition, Griffith discovered that Senegal was not at all like the ”stereotypical Africa” that she assumed, but she quickly discovered the differences.
Griffith took courses in French, Wolof (the native language), environmental sciences (focused on the West-African Sahara Desert), the Atlantic Slave Trade, and a Senegalese culture and society course. In addition, she did an internship at HMC Services, a marketing agency.
The Harlem, N.Y., native quickly adapted to speaking French all the time. “At first I couldn’t even communicate with my host mom very well,” she said. But being immersed in the language quickly helped her advance her skills. “I lived in a small family because of my allergies,” Griffith explained. “Usually families are much larger, but my host mom, who was a retired nurse, only lived with her daughter. But they had lots of family members who lived very close by.” In addition, the family had a maid, Fatu, who Griffith said became like a sister to her. Meals were always communal and shared while sitting around a large bowl filled with rice with fish or lamb.
Griffith noted that while a lot of the cultural norms were very different for her (bargaining while shopping, politics, and transportation) her sense of pace fit in perfectly. “I’m never on time, so those differences worked out perfectly for me. Everything is laid back and takes time, but I didn’t mind that. It was so relaxed and I loved it.”
Griffith also appreciated the strong sense of community among the Senegalese. “Africa has a lot of stereotypes and when you think of it you often think of impoverished families. I went into the villages, and I can’t speak for other countries, but in the Senegalese villages they take care of each other.” She described a mentality where people say, “When I eat, you’re going to eat. No one will be left behind.”
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