Senegal: National Identity and the Arts

Experience the enormous contribution to African arts and cultures made by Senegal, a country that has inspired centuries of poetry, music, literature, dance, and visual art.

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Learn to create or perform Senegalese art, music, and dance through workshops in djembe, batik, glass painting, bronze sculpture, ceramics, and traditional Senegalese instruments such as the tama.

Led to independence by internationally acclaimed poet and philosopher Léopold Sédar Senghor, Senegal has long emphasized the transformational roles of artistic expressions and cultural awareness. Senghor believed that — beyond politics and economics — knowing and supporting one’s own culture was the key to true development.

With the capital city of Dakar as home base, students examine the complex social, economic, and political issues Senegal faces. Topics of study include the role of Islam in Senegalese life; contemporary development; challenges posed to women’s rights; education; and traditional West African music, rhythms, and storytelling.

The program takes a critical approach to Senegalese artistic and cultural forms — from traditional aesthetic expressions to modern notions of cosmopolitanism/afropolitanism and urban identities realized in new artistic formats such as hip-hop, street art, and graffiti. Students not only learn a variety of West African art forms and what they represent but also learn to create and perform them.

Through the program’s homestays, students live with different Senegalese families in urban and rural parts of the country, thereby experiencing contrasting expressions of everyday life. Stays in the Wolof-speaking rural community of Ndiane, near Thiès, and the remote inland town of Kédougou, near Mali, reveal similarities and differences among Senegal’s different ethnic groups. Learn more about the program’s excursions to diverse areas of Senegal.

Course choice
All students on the Senegal: National Identity and the Arts program take several core courses, including the seminar Arts, Identities, and Urban Cultures in Senegal; Research Methods and Ethics in the Arts; and the Independent Study Project. Students select their remaining six credits by choosing two of the following three course options: Intensive Language Study: Wolof; French in the Senegalese Context; or Visual and Performing Arts Studio.

Language(s)
Senegalese are master practitioners of code-switching, weaving Wolof, French, English, and myriad other local languages into a coherent and always dynamic whole. On the program, you will be doing the same. Thematic seminar lectures are presented primarily in French. The Research Methods course is conducted in English and French, with assignments and exercises requiring French and (elementary) Wolof for completion. In addition, students may select two languages — Wolof and French — for formal study or pair one language of their choice with the Visual and Performing Arts Studio elective. Depending on the studio, instruction and mentorship will be offered in Wolof, French, or — most likely — a combination of the two. As the primary language of Dakar, even a basic knowledge of Wolof is indispensable and will go far toward enhancing your experience.

Lecturers and resources for this program are drawn from institutions including:

Clint Smith, Davidson College, program alum “SIT Study Abroad Senegal profoundly impacted my life and gave me a different perspective on how I see myself and the world.”
Inspired by artisans he met studying abroad in Senegal, Clint has made it his life’s passion to use poetry to raise awareness about critical global issues. Following graduation, he returned to Africa to work for a South African organization that uses soccer as a means to promote awareness and education about HIV/AIDS. Today, he is active in South Africa’s spoken-word poetry scene and works with local advocacy organizations to use his poems to raise awareness about issues ranging from miners’ rights to increasing social and civic engagement among South African youth.

Browse this program's Independent Study Projects/Undergraduate Research


Costs Dates



Credits: 16

Duration: 15 weeks

Program Base: Dakar

Language Study: French,  Wolof

Prerequisites: 3 semesters French Read more...

View Student Evaluations for this program:

About the Evaluations (PDF)

Fall 2013 Evaluations (PDF)
Spring 2013 Evaluations (PDF)
Fall 2012 Evaluations (PDF)


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