I studied linguistics and French in college and was determined to graduate with a high level of French. I planned on spending a year in Paris, but after one semester attending classes at a disorganized public French university (and paying American tuition!), I decided to go back to the States and switch study abroad programs. Determined to do study abroad right, I researched the remaining French language options that Tulane offered, and decided to trade in the glamour of Paris for the complete unknown in Senegal...
Study abroad, part deux, at SIT in Dakar was the best decision I made in college. Everything was incredible - the calibur of classes and teachers, the weekly seminars, the homestay families, the excursions to different areas of the country, the Independent Study Project (ISP), the resources. Each week we learned about a new aspect of Senegalese culture, from microfinance to poetry to playing the djembé. Our French and Wolof teachers were top notch, and our group small enough that classes were intimate and tailored to our varying levels. Living with host families was the best way to get to know locals, take part in daily life and traditions, and play with lots of cute kids in Wolof.
On top of an excellent academic program, I felt that we were all pushed and challenged during the semester. While there was definite hand-holding and our bus across the country had AC, we were expected to spend a month on our own for the ISP, so do research or some large-scale project that we planned out from start to finish as well as live on our own and generally do our own thing.
When you decide to spend a semester in an academically-focused program in West Africa (as opposed to a more experience- focused program in Western Europe), the kind of students you'll be surrounded by are going to be of a different calibre. Everyone had a different reason for choosing the program - some for the French, some for the arts focus, and some for a fascination with Africa - and the study body was open-minded and excited to soak up as much as possible.
I honestly have nothing but wonderful things to say about the program. The SIT staff were brilliant and accommodating, the academics interesting and engaging, Dakar an incredibly vibrant city, the Senegalese extremely friendly and welcoming, and the trips around the country purposeful and eye-opening. You'll do a lot of work on this semester, but trust me, it's much more rewarding than a semester of bogus homework and endless cheap bottles of red wine in Paris surrounded by other American students. And to be honest, you can definitely find some good parties in Dakar if you know where to look :-) This program really offers you the experience of a lifetime.