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A Different Kind of Student: U.S.-Senegal exchange attracts unique students to a unique program

A Different Kind of Student: U.S.-Senegal exchange attracts unique students to a unique program

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05/10/2014

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A Different Kind of Student: U.S.-Senegal exchange attractsunique students to a unique program
Masarah Van Eyck, Division of International Studies
Finally, I learned to say: ‘Okay, let’s just adopt the old phrase
inshallah 
. What’s going to happenis going to happen. And if it does? Well, then
c’est pas grave 
.”  —Maren Larsen, UGB exchange student, 2007-08
When Maren Larsen landed in Dakar,she had a great many expectations. “I hadalways wanted to live in Africa. It was a wholedream of mine!” she says one night lastJanuary over bottles of Flag beer and Perrier inSaint-Louis, Senegal.She and nine other American studentshave met up with Jim Delehanty, UW–Madison faculty advisor of their exchange program, in thebar of the Hôtel la Résidence in the former capital of the historic French colony. This year, allparticipants on the program are females, which isn’t unusual, and all are enrolled at UW–Madison (most hail from hometowns around the state). Their majors range from agriculture tobusiness to literature and peace studies.While undoubtedly western—even Midwestern—in appearance, the women exhibitevidence of having lived in a remarkably different country since September. Some wear a mix of Old Navy capris and Senegalese headscarves wrapped four inches above their heads. Anotherarrives in a personally tailored turquoise Senegalese dress and shoulder-skimming earrings.
 
 
Most wear locally made wooden-soled, leathersandals, their white toes and painted toenailscrusted with the brown sand that coverseverything. “And then I got here,” Larsen continues, “and for a long time it was just really hard—thecold showers, the holes instead of toilets. Itwasn’t necessarily bad,” she hastens to add, “it was just a lot to take in.” The students nrecognition.od in “Still, when I was down, I kept thinking: ‘this is my
dream 
! Why aren’t I loving this?” Delehanty annually travels theapproximately15 hours it takes to provide mid-year support to the 10 American students enrolledat the Université Gaston Berger (UGB). Offeredthrough UW–Madison’s office of International Academic Programs (IAP), the year-long exchangehas accepted almost 150 participants from a handful of American universities since 1991. This isDelehanty’s “twelfth-or-so” midterm visit, which means he has served as one of the program’sfaculty advisors pretty much from the start.Delehanty, who is also the associate director of UW–Madison’s African Studies Program,is here to advise the students on their the fieldwork research projects that each will transforminto a 35 to 50 page paper within the next few months.
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It is also a chance to check in with the students, to see how each is faring in one of thenation’s most innovative, unique, and challenging opportunities for undergraduate academicstudy abroad.
Hitting the wall
Some call it “hitting the wall.” Others, the “midterm slump.”  “It’s almost like clockwork,” Delehanty had told me during our four-hour car ride fromDakar to Saint-Louis. “It’s sort of a fixture in the study-abroad experience.”  And this is no less true in Saint-Louis. By now, some are over the novelty of being called
toubab 
(white person) in the busy markets. Most are craving hot showers and flush toilets.Others have just said goodbye to boyfriends or siblings who visited for the holidays; now theyare facing another semester before seeing them again.Many of the students will confide to us over that week that if they felt they could leaveright then, they probably would. All of them say they wouldn’t trade this experience for the world.
Learning to judge from within
 “These students are not tourists,” Baydallaye Kane, professor of English and the on-siteprogram coordinator at UGB, tells me.His office, on the second floor of the university’s main building, is bright with light fromone whole window of walls. A framed black-and-white photo of Gaston Berger, Saint-Louisnative and Afro-French philosopher, hangs on the wall by the door. “Although we now have a number of exchange programs, the UW program was the first,and is very unique” he says.
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