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OIS to offer program in Senegal

Sam Stryker | Thursday, October 7, 2010

Notre Dame students studying French will have a new study abroad option when the University offers a program in Africa in the spring of 2012.

Dakar, the capital city of the West African nation of Senegal, will be added to the list of study abroad locations for next year’s applicants.

The Office of International Studies (OIS) and the French Department worked to find a country outside of Europe with a francophone, or French-speaking, population. Senegal seemed to be a natural choice, not only linguistically, but also because of its rich history, Kathleen Opel, director of OIS, said.

She said the combination of slave history and French language in the country provides for a unique and rewarding study abroad experience.

“Students can improve their French and get an African perspective while living in a safe and vibrant city,” Opel said. “They can learn about the transition from colonization to a democracy.”

Opel said Dakar also possesses cultural depth that pairs well with francophone and Africana studies.

“I think this program could appeal to students who are interested in development and the arts,” she said. “There is a rich cultural tradition in Senegal, including dance and mask-making.”

Opel also said the strong presence of Islam in the region would have an impact on students studying in Senegal, which is 90 percent Muslim.

“That should prove to be an interesting dynamic,” she said.

The program will be small, with only three to five students accepted.

“We see this as a niche program. It is going to be relatively small with students who speak French and want an African perspective,” Opel said.

Students applying to the program should demonstrate a knowledge and understanding of the region, as it is very different from any of the other French language sites that are offered by OIS, she said.

“It becomes very clear which students are more comfortable with a western program as opposed to one in Africa,” she said. “What the students tell us in the courses they take and their experiences will tell us if they are right for the region.”

Students who study in Dakar will stay with a host family and take classes at a university with a mix of African and North American students.

Students are required to take at least two semesters of French prior to studying in Dakar, and once in Senegal, there will be several requisite courses that will help acclimate students to the region, Opel said.

“Depending on how students place into courses, they will have to take a French course and one in Wolof, the local language,” she said. “There is also a core course called Senegalese Culture and History.”

Opel said travel will also play an integral role in the Dakar program, especially in relation to the history of slavery in the country.

“Throughout the semester, there are trips such as one to Gorée Island, where slaves were kept once they were brought from different parts of Africa,” she said.

In addition to their time in the capital, students will also have a special opportunity to travel to rural areas.

Overall, she said the opportunities for travel, the history and the culture of Dakar will help make the program unique.