My Visit to Thiès

by Calvin Zhao, First-Year Global Programs Coordinator

Drinking Ataya with host families, visiting community organizations, navigating through bustling local markets…here are seven highlights (in chronological order) from my site-visit to our newest Civic Semester location: Thiès, Senegal!

  1. I looked across the Atlantic Ocean – from a different vantage point. My visit began at Toubab Dialao, a peaceful village by the beach where Civic Semester Senegal students will have their end-of-semester retreat. Here, I spent time chatting with staff from our partner organization, Where There Be Dragons, while appreciating the stunning views and peacefulness of the area.
  1. I fell in love with Senegalese food. One of the best meals I had in Senegal was courtesy of Samba’s (a Where There Be Dragons staff member’s) family. In Senegal, families typically share a communal plate filled with a grain and meat/vegetables in the middle. The host will distribute the meat and vegetables around and everyone eats from the section of the plate in front of them. As soon as you’re making any progress with clearing your section, the host will replenish it again and again. Delicious and very filling.
  1. I visited six incredible local organizations. Each of the organizations support the Thiès community in different ways, from providing skills-training for visually-impaired young adults to empowering women to join the workforce. I met with leaders of each organization, all of whom inspired me with their passion and dedication to their work. I’m excited for Civic Semester students to work with and learn from these organizations! A full list of civic placement possibilities for students can be viewed here.
  1. I drank a lot of Ataya. Ataya – a minty, sweet tea – was served after big meals as everyone relaxed and chatted with one another. For many Senegalese, the quality of the Ataya you make is a point of personal pride. During one host family visit, I watched as the mother chastised her children for making Ataya that was too hot and not bubbly enough. The tea was even sent back to be “fixed” before being served!
  1. I explored local markets…and discovered fabrics. In downtown Thiès, there is a bustling local market with practically everything, including the most beautiful fabrics! Every few shops seemed to have different types of colorful fabric, which locals purchase and take to a tailor to have something custom made.
  1. I learned about local superstitions. One of them involved attaching a small, kid-sized left shoe to your car while throwing the right shoe away. The superstition goes that as long as the two shoes are not reunited, you will be safe while you drive. As I took taxis around town, it was interesting to note the different places where drivers hung the little shoe.
  1. I visited Dakar. On the final day of my trip, I visited the capital city, Dakar. About an hour away, downtown Dakar has more of an international and touristy vibe compared to Thiès.  I also spent time with Dragons staff in Yoff, a small fishing village, and visited Gorée Island, which is known for its role in the Atlantic slave trade as a final stop before slaves were sent to the Americas. Seeing the former slave house was a powerful and chilling reminder of the history of slavery.

Overall, I had an excellent site visit to Thiès and we can’t wait to offer it as a Civic Semester site for Fall 2020!! If you have any questions about Thiès or about Civic Semester, please feel free to email me at