We were beaming with excitement when we got to SFO for our departing flight. Bags in hand, we made our way through security (with a few minor hang-ups—one teammate’s bags were overweight!) and settled in at bar by our gate. After boarding and flying to Paris, then spending a few hours at Charles de Gaulle Airport, we finally made our way to Dakar. After passing through customs, we were greeted by two smiling African faces –a warm welcome after 24 hours in the air. They escorted us to two cars that would take us to our Senegalese homes.  For the next three weeks, we would be consulting for Africa Consultants International (ACI), an NGO whose mission was to educate and enrich student lives though study abroad, service learning and cultural immersion programs. Though we were miles away from Berkeley, there was something oddly familiar about West Africa. American hip-hop blasted though the speakers of our car as we passed along the dusty Dakar roads. Our hosts spoke to us as though we were old friends. They embraced us right away and immediately made us feel at ease. It was going to be a good trip.

Once we were home, we were given a quick debrief and tour of our suite. Afterwards, we walked to a nearby restaurant for an authentic Senegalese dinner. We ordered four unique dishes and sampled one another’s meals. Our guide gave us lots of recommendations on how to approach our project. He also advised us on weekend getaways and Dakar nightlife. Indeed, he wanted to make sure we had the best time possible.

On Sunday, we explored our neighborhood and met our new neighbors. We visited the Baobab Center, home of ACI, and then ventured downtown. We toured a local market, passed the president’s house, and had lunch at L’Institute Francais du Senegal. We were already falling in love with the cuisine (and the beer) very quickly. We returned home after a day of walking (at least five kilometers), exhausted but excited. We spent a few hours making dinner—one that hardly compared to the lavish meals we’d had for lunch or dinner the night before—and preparing for the week. Before long, our living room was covered in Post-It notes, PFPS style. Later, we headed to bed, nestled underneath our mosquito nets and gave ourselves one last night to recover from jetlag. Monday was going to be a big day. We were meeting with the entire staff for the first time, introducing ourselves and jumping into interviews right away. Our team was eager and anxious to make an impact at ACI. We couldn’t wait to see what the next twenty-one days would hold…

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