Updated: Jun 7
Why I Decided to Stop Teaching English in Senegal and Leave Early
*Disclaimer: I had a very unique experience to say the least & my experience does not reflect the average life in Senegal.*
If you're new to my page, I moved to Senegal in September 2019 to volunteer teach at a boarding school, but after five months I decided to leave. Voila, you're caught up.
But, of course, there's more to the story so let's get into it.
Aight, so boom. It all started at my alma mater, Tuskegee University in 2018. I was getting ready to finish my degree and was looking for opportunities to use my last semester to go abroad.
Teaching abroad had always been on my radar so I decided to figure out how to make that happen. I reached out to the global office on campus and doing a shit ton of research on programs, countries, visas, and everything in between.
During this time, a flyer popped up promoting an informational session that was taking place about an opportunity to volunteer as an English teacher in Senegal. Signing up was a no brainer 🧠
I went to the informational and knew I was going to apply before even leaving the room. I think I expressed interest the very same day via email to the principal (director) of the school 😂 I was playing NO GAMES.
I corresponded with the head of the English department a couple times and then things went kinda silent...
I found my program in Turin, Italy and decided to spend my last semester teaching there. After three months in Italy, I knew this was the lifestyle for me and continuing looking for other ways to live abroad and teach.
I reached out to the department head at the school in Senegal again and next thing you know I was booking a one way ticket to the continent.
Fast forward to August of 2019 and I was on a flight to Dakar, Senegal 🇸🇳
After a month of being hosted by the principal and his wife it was time to head to campus.
For the rest of my stay, I lived on campus with my students and the supervisors (think RA). Every other weekend I went home with a host family while the campus was closed.
Everything was going really good and I was even having discussions about extended my stay beyond the single academic year that was agreed upon. Ya girl was loving it...
Slowly shit started to hit the fan. At first it was little things, but, over time, that became a lot.
For starters, the job that was described to me before leaving was not the job I was doing. I was told I would be assisting main teachers and leading conversation lessons. Yeah, I thought...
I was a full blown head teacher for both the 10th & 11th grade classes. There was virtually no assistance whatsoever, but everybody seemed to show up when I did something wrong... I had two of the biggest classes in the school and was on my own. I had no choice, but to step up to the plate and grow as a teacher.
As a teacher, this is not uncommon and more so the norm, but that doesn't make it right. My volunteer experience in Italy was amazing and I was looking to teach in the same capacity. I found a program that fit the bill, but I was catfished 🐈🐠
I went from conversation teacher to full blown head English teacher and that was not what was agreed upon. If living and working abroad taught me anything it's adaptability and flexibility, but that was a lot.
Although it wasn't ideal, I did what I had to do for my students and I learned a lot about myself as an educator from the experience. But, that was strike one 🚩
Next, as a 22 year old female I was seen as a child instead of a member of the staff and was treated as such which became a HUGE problem. I may have a young face and personality, but I'm a grown ass, college-educated woman that came here to work.
Constantly being spoken to and treated like one of the students at the school was super annoying. Plus, it sent mixed singles to the students to see someone that was supposed to be my equal talk to me like a kid.
For example, I would host movie sessions in English for the students that stayed in the boarding school as a time to come, have fun, and still practice English. Instead of joining the fun, the supervisors would turn off the wifi instead 🙄
Like real childish shit was going on...
Another example is when my friends and I would be on campus talking and other staff members would have a problem with it. Saying things like, "You shouldn't be spending time with so and so." Like, excuse me? Are we all not working together here? Are we all not coworkers? I'm confused.....
Some of it could be attributed to various things like cultural or religious differences, but it still didn't make it right and I spoke up about it.
Look, living abroad means navigating differences, but that doesn't mean just letting people walk all over you, especially when you communicate how certain things make you feel. There were countless situations when I wasn't treated as a member of the staff to the point where my students were asking me why they were talking to me like that...
It was bad.
And that's why that was strike two 🚩
The final straw was when my friends started to get fired.. for no reason. The silver lining of dealing with all the chaos that was going on were my friends. Sure, I could vent to my Mom (which I did), but there's something different about having someone there experiencing it with you.
Without my friends, I was really on my own. Campus started to feel like a prison and I just wasn't enjoying myself anymore, especially not enough to be working for free 🤣
And there's strike three 🚩
These issues continued to get worse so I had to make like a rash & break out. See what I did there? LOL.
Although my experience was stressful and I decided to end it early I would still do it all again. NO QUESTIONS ASKED.
My students were the highlight of my time in Senegal hands down. We lived together, learned together, shared meals together, sat in hot buses together, played ping pong and basketball together. Everything. They became my family and I still keep in touch with many of them to this day.
I also gained so much experience as a teacher from lesson plans to activities to grading.
Plus, those friends that got fired? They are still in my life to this day. Trauma bonded 🤞🏾😂
Living at a boarding school was a super unique experience and one that I don't think I would've ever experienced if I hadn't taken the position in Senegal. It gave me a new perspective, but also made all the downsides of the experience more intense because there was nowhere to take a break. No space of my own to decompress and get away from the stress of work.
With all of that. I still don't regret taking that leap and doing the program. I live my life without regrets and see every situation as a learning opportunity. My experience in Senegal taught me about classroom management, preparing lessons for extended periods of time, and, ultimately, how to advocate for myself.
Living and working abroad is not always beautiful sunsets and delicious food. There are good days and bad days. There are ups and there are downs.
For me, the good has to outweigh the bad or I'm out. Finding a lifestyle that brings me joy and happiness is a top priority for me. Being comfortable and at peace on a daily basis is non negotiable.
Deciding to leave early was one of the hardest decisions I've ever made, but I had to do what was best for me. I definitely shed some tears on the car ride to the airport. The friendships and connections I made in Senegal go way past my 5 month experience & Senegal has not seen the last of me.