America isn't filled with the gun-toting bad guys you see on TV and not everyone wears baggy clothes like rappers.
Racine Bocar Sow and Baidy Dieye, natives of the African country of Senegal, arrived at Augusta State University last week as part of a cultural exchange through the Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant Program. Until now, the two had never left Africa.
Don't go out at night and return straight home after class, Mr. Sow, 27, recalled being told. American cities are dangerous, just like the images on television portray them to be, he was advised.
But he is discovering that isn't true. Instead, he has been shown "ganale," a Senegal word for extreme hospitality, he said.
As part of the cultural exchange, Mr. Sow and Mr. Dieye will be living among college students at University Village, attending college classes and teaching classes at ASU on Senegal. Their students will learn Wolof, one of the languages of Senegal, a country on the northwest coast of Africa.
"We do no teach a language just to teach a language, but also the culture of the speaker of the language," Mr. Dieye, 27, said.
Through his teaching, he hopes to raise awareness about a foreign culture.
For instance, there's no such thing as a quick hello in Senegal, Mr. Dieye said. It could take 15 minutes to greet someone and inquire about family members, and people from Senegal are very passionate about welcoming people to their country.
In April, Augusta State students visited Senegal. Some were scared because locals ran after them to greet them, said Holly Carter, the assistant vice president for international affairs. It took understanding the culture for the students to be at ease.
"People were giving us food, and we had more resources than the people offering," Dr. Carter said of their warmth.
The teaching assistants are also adjusting to the eating habits of Americans, such as free drink refills at restaurants.
Mr. Dieye and Mr. Sow said they look forward to experiencing life in America, especially sports. Basketball, for instance, is something they've only seen on television.
As for American music, rappers such as 50 Cent and Snoop Dogg are big in Senegal, Mr. Dieye said. People who want to look American dress in baggy clothing.
When they return to Senegal, they will take what they've learned and teach English to high school students.
Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Racine Bocar Sow and Baidy Dieye will teach their native language of Wolof and the culture and history of Senegal through Augusta State University's continuing education department.