The Novogratz Bridge Year program in Senegal exposes participants to terranga, a Wolof word that describes the warm hospitality and generous spirit of the Senegalese people. For most of the year, students live with homestay families in the bustling capital city of Dakar, where they support organizations working in areas such as education, public health, and community development. Short-term group service projects and excursions to rural areas provide students with insight into rural village life and issues of environmental conservation, educational access, and healthcare delivery. Participants acquire proficiency in Wolof and French and, through guest speakers and cultural enrichment activities, learn about Senegalese history, politics, art, and Islam.
In Senegal, Princeton University partners with Where There Be Dragons, an organization specializing in overseas experiential education. Since their founding in 1993, Dragons has managed hundreds of unique small-group service learning programs in Asia, Latin America and Africa. Dragons is dedicated to inspiring youth leadership and responsible global citizenship through community-based service projects and cultural exchange.
Arrival and Orientation
Upon arrival in Senegal, Bridge Year participants travel north to Mouit, a village along the Grande Côte, just outside of Saint Louis, for a weeklong orientation program. This quiet village is situated near Langue de Barbarie National Park and many of its residents are actively involved with the management and care of the park and its environs. With its stunning coastal scenery and welcoming community, Mouit offers an extraordinary first glimpse of life in Senegal. During this time, students also begin intensive Wolof and French classes.
Fall Cultural and Service Learning Experience
Following orientation, Bridge Year students travel to Western Senegal, where they experience life in lively Pulaar and Sereer communities and gain additional insight into the challenges and joys of daily village life. While in the village of Ndioukhane, just outside of Thies, the group collaborates with local teachers to lead a summer camp. Primarily focused on English, French, and basic math instruction, the camp helps prepare local children for the coming school year. During this time, participants continue with intensive Wolof and French training, reflections on service, and discussions on Senegalese culture and society.
Arrival in Dakar
By early October, Bridge Year participants arrive in Dakar and settle into Yoff, a quiet neighborhood located on the beach north of the city center. Here, students take part in another five-day orientation program that prepares them to navigate their new environment. Orientation provides students with a thorough introduction to the city and all that it has to offer, as well as the practical skills required to find their way around, integrate themselves into local culture, and thrive in their homestays and volunteer service placements.
Shortly after arriving in Dakar, program participants move in with their host families. The homestay experience is a unique opportunity to establish relationships, practice language skills, and integrate more fully into local society. Participants can expect comfortable but modest accommodations. One student is placed in each home where they have their own bedroom, furnished with a twin bed and a place to store clothing. While some homes may have showers, participants should be prepared for bucket baths (usually cold, but sometimes heated water is available) for bathing. Most meals are prepared by and taken with homestay families. The typical diet includes rice, millet, cornmeal, assorted vegetables and fish. Participants are welcomed into family life with genuine kindness and hospitality.
Bridge Year participants engage in Wolof and French language training throughout their stay in Senegal. One-on-one tutoring, as well as a language buddy program, is also available to any student in need of extra practice.
Community Service Placements
Participants spend four to six hours per day, five days per week, at their service assignment. Travel to and from the service site depends on the assignment, but can range from a 15-minute walk to an hour-long bus ride. Staff orient students to their respective assignments and provide continuous support throughout the program. Below is a list of host organizations in Dakar and potential participant service assignments. This list is not comprehensive, it simply provides examples of the types of service assignments in which volunteers might be placed.
- YMCA Senegal runs various programs in adult literacy, youth entrepreneurship, health education, and computer training. They also operate an elementary school and preschool in Dakar. Bridge Year volunteers most often teach English at the elementary school and/or lead activities in the preschool. Students have also taken on additional projects, such as translating reports, teaching English to staff, or supporting educational projects in rural communities outside Dakar.
- Imagination Afrika is an organization that works to engage Senegalese youth in interactive and experiential forms of learning. Volunteers can contribute to a variety of on-going projects. Past volunteers have worked on social media campaigns, facilitated workshops in schools throughout the city, and documented Imagination Afrika’s work through photography and film. Activities could also include creating exhibitions at local cultural centers or researching grant opportunities.
- SOS Children's Villages is a not-for-profit organization that seeks to provide “the warmth of a home for every child.” In Senegal, the organization is home to 150 children who do not have a place to live, often due to the death of one or both of their parents. SOS Children’s Villages Senegal operates 15 family homes and an infirmary on-site. There is also a preschool, a kindergarten, and an elementary school. The Bridge Year volunteer typically teaches English to preschool and elementary school students.
- Keur Xaley Yi is a center for children with physical and mental disabilities located within Hospital Fann, a 314-bed tertiary care teaching hospital. The volunteer serves as a classroom assistant at the center. Keur Xaley Yi is also excited to support the volunteer’s individual interests, and past participants have introduced programs in music and art therapy.
- Tostan is an international non-governmental organization founded in Senegal and currently working in eight African countries. Tostan’s primary program is a non-formal education initiative focused on human rights and democracy, basic literacy and numeracy, and community-led sustainable development. Volunteer opportunities include developing program concept papers for grant submissions, compiling the organization-wide annual report, supporting the executive management team, and leading social media efforts.
- Empire des Enfants is a support center for children living on the streets of Dakar. Children at the center receive full room and board, as well as classes and activities, as staff work to reunite them with their families. The volunteer can support the work of Empire des Enfants in many different ways – from playing soccer or joining the kids for days at the beach, to designing a social media campaign, or teaching academic subjects such as French or English.
- Ker Thiossane began in Dakar’s SICAP neighborhood as a space where local artists could access multimedia and digital art tools. Ker Thiossane has since extended its mission to include the revitalization of the SICAP neighborhood, adding a youth center and community garden to the existing art space. The Bridge Year volunteer works mainly in Ker Thiossane’s Fab Lab, “Defko Ak Ñip,” helping local artists realize their creative vision using digital art tools. The volunteer can also support Ker Thiossane’s community outreach programs.
Cultural Enrichment Activities
Over the course of the program, local experts and other guest lecturers are invited to discuss diverse topics including Senegalese history, politics, public health, religion, gender, urbanization, deforestation, and the arts.
Bridge Year participants also take part in at least two group excursions outside of the city of Dakar. Excursion destinations depend on many factors including weather, time constraints, student interest, and relevance to the overall program, but a number of different options are available. Possible destinations include the Southern Coast, the religious Sufi village of Dene, and Saint Louis. To the greatest extent possible, participants are given ownership over the research, planning, and logistics for these group expeditions.
Finally, Bridge Year participants have the opportunity to engage in independent projects or mentorships on topics such as West African drumming, cooking, tailoring, traditional medicine, visual arts, or Islam. The activity may directly enrich the participant’s service assignment or serve to enhance an understanding and appreciation of Senegal and Senegalese culture.
Student-led Spring Excursion
In the spring, students work together to plan a weeklong excursion in the Sine-Saloum Delta and the Gambia. The Sine-Saloum Delta, at the mouth of the Saloum River, is a diverse ecosystem of wetlands, lakes, lagoons and marshes, as well as sandy coasts and dunes, terrestrial savannah areas and dry, open forest. It is home to 400 species of animals and plays a vital role in flood control and regulating the distribution of rainwater for the local people and wildlife. Students, with the support of onsite staff, develop an itinerary that explores life in Sereer fishing villages and delves deeper into development and environmental issues. Depending on student interest, it is also possible to travel to the Gambia which shares many ethnic, linguistic, economic, and historical ties with Senegal. Students will have the opportunity to meet with local Gambian leaders, traditional healers, regional development specialists, and other experts in the area.
The final week of the Novogratz Bridge Year Program takes place in a tranquil and eclectic artists enclave called Toubab Dialaw, located on cliffs above a small fishing village outside of Dakar. Here, participants engage in a re-entry workshop to examine lessons learned from their Bridge Year experience and reflect on their return home, their goals for the future, and the ways in which they can best integrate their experience into daily life at Princeton.
- Program Location: Dakar, Senegal
- Country Name: République du Sénégal (French); Réewum Senegaal (Wolof)
- Population: 16,727,817 (Senegal); 2,476,400 (Dakar)
- National Symbol: Lion
- Languages: French (official), Wolof, Pular, Jola, Mandinka, Serer, Soninke
- Religions: Islam 95.9% (most adhere to one of the four main Sufi brotherhoods), Christianity 4.1% (mostly Roman Catholic)
- Currency: CFA Franc
- Fast Fact: In the 16th century when the Portuguese visited the country’s coast, the fishermen said “sunu gaal,” which translates into “these are our boats.” The Portuguese, who understood nothing, simply named their land “Senegal.”