Crossing Cultural Boundaries: Sara Wild '11 in Senegal

Sara Wild in Senegal
Name: Sara Wild
Major: Economics and Environmental Studies
Class: 2011
Citizenship: USA
Country Visited Abroad: Senegal

I chose the SIT study abroad program, because I liked the combination of class work and fieldwork. The final month-long independent project was very appealing to me. I chose to study in Senegal, because I wanted an experience that would be entirely different from the first 20 years of my life. I felt that going to a French speaking country would enhance my experience when I visit France after college.

It was definitely hard adjusting to the standards for social interactions in Senegal. But I was surprised by how friendly everyone was, and that their “joking culture” really exists. I was told beforehand about the friendliness of the Senegalese, and the marriage proposals I would likely receive. However, I never expected quite so many proposals!

My experience has changed my perception of our culture and social interactions. In comparison, Senegalese social interactions makes Americans seem cold, selfish and careless. Going abroad challenged me personally to adjust to a different lifestyle, accept that I couldn’t live like I do in the US, and still enjoy every day of it. It was not hard coming back home though. Everyone was warning me about “culture shock,” but I think this was exaggerated. But leaving Senegal was not easy either. It was one of the worst feelings I ever had, getting into the plane in Dakar and not knowing if I was ever going to come back. But this trip has shown me that I can go wherever I want, and make the best of the experiences that I have desired. I have learned not to put up arbitrary barriers to my social experiences because of cultural differences.

Some of my favorite memories come from my visits to the public pool. One time I spent half an hour under a tree with three men, waiting for the Ticket Taker to come off her lunch break. By waiting for the Ticket Taker under the tree with the men, I could easily see how flexible time can be and how efficiency is not necessarily described by being on the go. It is okay to fall behind schedule or wait longer than anticipated. I learned to loosen my highly scheduled Williams lifestyle up a bit. We talked in Wolof (the language of the main ethnic group in Senegal) about my marital status, how many husbands I have, where they live, and how it is not possible for me to have more than one. All this was obviously a joke, but it did well to highlight the fact that everything is joked about in Senegal, and is not viewed as an intrusion of personal privacy.