A Warm Welcome in Senegal

Olivia Hoffman in Senegal
Personal and Professional Growth

I studied in Senegal through the University of Minnesota’s MSID (Minnesota Studies in International Development) program. I spent the first half of the semester taking classes in Senegal’s capital, Dakar, and the second half in an internship in a rural region of the country near the city of Thiès.

I took a risk by studying abroad in Senegal. I don’t know many people who’ve been on the African continent, and before I left I was extremely nervous about throwing myself into this completely new environment. However, when I got to Senegal I immediately realized I had made the right choice.

If I could give students who are considering studying or working abroad a piece of advice, I would say this: take risks!

Olivia Hoffman with her host mother in SenegalThe people I encountered embodied the value of teranga, or hospitality. Everywhere you go in Senegal you can expect to be met with open arms, shared food, and hospitality.

In Senegal, I was immersed in the French language and francophone culture on a daily basis. I also took a class in Wolof, the most commonly spoken ethnic language in Senegal. This was a unique accompaniment to my abroad experience. It was an amazing and fulfilling challenge to learn Wolof in conjunction with learning French.

As part of my major I’m required to complete an internship abroad. In Senegal, I interned with a nongovernmental organization, Agrecol Afrique, where I gained firsthand experience helping local farmers transition from traditional to organic farming practices. I spent some time conducting research on Senegalese agriculture and the balance of my days au terrain, in the field accompanying staff on their visits to Agrecol Afrique's partner farms. These farm visits provided training and resources to help local subsistence farmers transition to organic farming and market their produce at local markets.

For the most part, farmers responded well to the training and information we provided. I believe the fact that Agrecol Afrique is a Senegalese NGO, and that Agrecol's staff can communicate with farmers in Wolof, really helps. Since most of Agrecol's staff have lived in Senegal their whole lives, there did not seem to be any outsider power dynamic between the Senegalese farmers and Agrecol staff.

For my internship, I lived about an hour east of Dakar in the city of Thiès. This time View of Dakar near host family's houseapart from the American friends with whom I’d taken classes in Dakar was the most challenging part of my study abroad experience. For six weeks I was the only American, English-speaking person I knew. This resulted in a certain degree of loneliness, but, ultimately, I experienced a great deal of personal and professional growth.

During my internship I was able to conduct preliminary research for my senior honors thesis. I interviewed women farmers to learn how their farms have changed since partnering with Agrecol.

The women reported that their agricultural yields have improved, alleviating former food insecurity, and their partnerships have helped them gain access to local markets, increasing their income and enabling them to spend more money on healthcare and their children's schooling. The women farmers seemed very grateful to Agrecol for having helped them make the transition to organic farming.

Because of studying abroad, I feel more invested in my major and my concentration in economics and development. I returned to Cornell with a refreshed mindset, and I feel more involved in my classes than ever because of the invaluable experiences I had in Senegal.

My experience gave me a clearer recognition of the interconnectedness of the world. Living in America, it’s easy to think that the world revolves around us

 It surprised me to see how informed about global politics my Senegalese family and friends were. When I asked them about this, they told me that they felt it was their responsibility to be informed about the world in which they’re living.

I now have so much love for the Senegalese country and people.

Going Abroad
Agriculture & Life Sciences
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