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Photo by Celia Mitchell (2015/16 Semester Photo Contest Entry), Indonesia Semester.


“Your homestay families have arrived to pick you up!” My stomach twisted and my palms became sticky with sweat as the group tightly cuddeled in a circle, trying but failing to imagine our first night in a home stay. On Monday, we had left Dene for our next stop – Thies, a vivacious city where we would be having our first homestay experience. Since I didn’t know how to speak Wolof, Pulaar, or French, I was clueless – how was I going to survive?

“Asalaa malekuum?” Dressed in a beautiful green traditional Senegalese dress, Xahi, my homestay sister, greeted me with an authentic smile as she tightly huffed me within her arms. Instantly, I felt as if we weren’t strangers and hadn’t come from two separate cultures. Suddenly, all the uncertainties and fear vanished.

“Ma … malekuum salaam,” I stammered to return the greeting, feeling grateful to Samba for the Wolof lesson. After greeting each other we headed to her house. It was a beautiful pink house with a courtyard in the middle. A few moments later, I realized that it wasn’t only Xadi who was extremely generous, but the entire family.

As soon as I had settled in, Mama Ly announced my new Senegalese name, Fatou Ly. They did not treat me as just a guest of the house, but part of the family. In a traditional Senegalese family, everyone plays a role. My role as the young one in the family was to go to the shop whenever the adults needed something – so I had plenty of opportunities to practice my Wolof. The homestay experience was truly inspiring. I would have never expected to experience so much generosity and sense of family from people that I only knew for four short days.