Frequently Asked Questions about the Arts and Culture in West Africa program
For basic information about the program, please consult the Arts and Culture in West Africa page. For general AEA questions, please see our AEA FAQ page. If you have additional questions, please contact us by calling (800) 874-7986.
Click a question below to see the answer.
How is the apprenticeship arranged?
How is the homestay arranged?
What kinds of students usually participate in this program?
Is there much opportunity to interact with the other students in the program?
I’ve never been to Africa. What does it mean to be prepared for this kind of a trip?
Which language should I study?
What are some solutions that former participants have had in the past concerning payment?
What topics of independent research projects have been completed by students on past programs?
What kind of medical issues should I be prepared for?
Can you suggest titles for summer reading on Mande culture?
How easy will it be to contact my family and friends back in the US?
Can I use my bankcard in West Africa?
Q: How is the apprenticeship arranged?
A: The Program Director holds telephone conversations with each student during the summer, partly to determine the best apprenticeship scenario for each student. Once the choice of arts discipline is established, we look for the best fit between mentor and student. We have an established group of musicians, dancers, artists, and artisans with whom we work every year. Each year we renew these relationships and add more artists to the pool. We have an extensive network of contacts in the area as a result of the Program Director’s many years of traveling to West Africa for work and research. Back to Top
Q: How is the homestay arranged?
A: Each student is assigned to a local family in one of the residential neighborhoods of Kankan. We house our students either with the family of a University of Kankan professor or with the family of their arts mentor. We try to find families that have children – this seems to promote lots of friendly intercultural learning and language practice in the home. Back to Top
Q: What kinds of students usually participate in this program?
A: Students from all over the USA have traveled to West Africa with AEA. We accommodate all levels of artistic and linguistic ability. Some of our students have no experience at all in a foreign language, and some are already fluent in two or three languages. Some have just begun to explore their artistic talents, while others are established artists in their chosen discipline. We try to accommodate diverse interests and learning styles in our classes. For instance, term papers may be wholly written documents or a combination of artwork, performance, and a written component. Past examples include composing and singing an original song whose lyrics address the theme of the mid-term assignment, and submitting the lyrics accompanied by two pages of explanation of the creative process and the meaning. Recently, some students have been interested in integrating their arts focus with social action, advocacy, and humanitarian and development issues. We encourage student creativity, while providing necessary basic structure. In general, AEA students are self-motivated, curious about the world, and excited to live in a foreign country. They are open-minded, independent, and sensitive to other ways of viewing the world. Above all, Arts and Culture in West Africa students seem to be passionate about Africa, the arts, and becoming well-informed, responsible global citizens. Back to Top
Q: Is there much opportunity to interact with the other students in the program?
A: We spend the first three weeks together in residence at the University of Kankan, where we share meals and accommodations, classes and outings. This period allows participants to begin to forge friendships and gradually learn about Mande customs and communications protocols. We hold regular meetings designed to facilitate sharing about our experiences during the group residency phase, the homestay, and the travel portions of our semester in West Africa. Since each student lives with a different family, many students choose to meet informally during the homestay period, to work on collaborative arts projects, share a meal, attend cultural events, or just to hang out. Others prefer to focus on their new local friendships. Weekly classes and local field trips within the city also offer opportunities for regular contact with fellow students during the homestay period. Back to Top
Q: I’ve never been to Africa. What does it mean to be prepared for this kind of a trip? Do the program leaders prepare the student in any way or is there more of an attitude of letting the students learn from experiences, mistakes, figuring it all out for themselves?
A: Most of our students have never been to Africa, and some have never left the USA. Once your acceptance in the program has been finalized, you will receive a series of emails and hard copy mailings with information that will assist you in academic, practical, and cross-cultural preparations for the trip. Summer reading assignments are designed to expose students to certain aspects of Mande contemporary and traditional culture, and to the challenges of studying and living abroad. Rigorous orientation sessions are held in Guinea during the first three days, and our weekly meetings allow for further discussions related to everything from greeting protocols to interpersonal relations, from meals to health issues. As much as we do try to prepare for culture shock, we acknowledge that there will be times when we can feel overwhelmed by the vast differences between Mande and American cultures. We encourage participants to accept these moments as challenges on the path to global awareness, as fodder for personal growth and learning about the world. We help as much as we can, but we also understand the value of learning things as you go. Arts and Culture in West Africa strives for a healthy balance between classroom and experiential learning, allowing lots of room for personal discovery within a safe and challenging environment. Back to Top
Q: I have never actually studied French. I would probably want to study the native language while I am there, but maybe I would study French the summer beforehand. Is this recommended?
A: Having some French under your belt before arriving in Guinea would certainly be helpful, but is not a requirement of the program. It is important to check with your faculty advisor and/or study abroad office before deciding which language to study overseas. Some colleges/universities require that you take a language that you can continue on campus – that means French. Others seem to value Malinke and French credits equally. We will all learn basic Malinke greetings during the three-week group residency stage, but it is important to note that you must choose which language you will study for credit – all language classes are taught simultaneously. Back to Top
Q: Aside from the Boren and Gilman scholarships, what are some solutions that former participants have had in the past concerning payment?
A: There are a number of grants, scholarships and payment options available for study abroad. Visit our program Cost and Financial Aid page for additional information and to download our Grants and Scholarships Guide. When inquiring about a specific grant or scholarship, be sure to verify both your own eligibility and that of the country. If needed, individual payment plans through AEA may be arranged. If you have any further questions regarding financing your semester abroad, please contact Patricia Redway, AEA Assistant: email@example.com. Back to Top
Q: What topics of independent projects have been completed by students on past programs? How have they been further implemented into their areas of study and interest in college after the program?
A: Students have broad creative freedom in choosing topics for their independent projects. Bogolan (mud cloth) apprentices have created some truly beautiful full-length dresses, shirts, wall hangings, and even stuffed animals. One painting apprentice created a stunning work based on migration patterns of “illegal” immigrants from Africa to Europe that was included in the art exhibit accompanying a major international theater festival in Bamako shortly after our departure. The same student also contributed an arts-in-the-schools project proposal to the Malian Ministry of Education inspired by the work she did with an arts cooperative on the topic of migration.
Our music students often combine a performance of original and/or traditional repertoire with an in-depth term paper discussing musical techniques specific to their instrument and their teacher’s approaches to pedagogy, composition, and performance. One particularly skilled pottery student, after our end-of-semester showing, offered all of his completed works to his teacher, who was so pleased that she wanted to waive his apprenticeship fees! A bronze-metal-casting student trucked a bunch of her work home, sold it, and sent the proceeds to her teacher as part of an ongoing program to contribute to his family business of metal sculpture production and sales.
Many students continue their interest in Mande arts and culture when they return to their home institutions, incorporating their work into course requirements in their third or fourth year, including senior theses. A student from 2004 made Malian music the centerpiece of his senior thesis/concert upon his return to his home university in Connecticut, and went back to Mali the next year to record his teacher (Vieux Farka Toure), form a group, release an album, and organize a tour of American colleges and universities. He is the co-founder of Modiba Productions based out of New York City.
Over the winter of 2009-2010 we had three alumnae in Mali, all continuing their studies with their mentors, and others plan on returning soon. A dance and drum student from Philadelphia incorporated much of what he learned in Mali into fulfilling the requirements for his Masters in Education, and has created his own cultural and performing arts organization. He now takes his own student groups to Mali, and continues to work with the teachers he met through our program.
While these may be some of the highlights of students’ continued involvement in Mande arts and culture, I would offer that the most significant lasting impression our participants carry with them is their sense of gratitude to their teachers and host families for their generosity and warm hospitality. Students return home with wonderful stories of life-changing experiences in Africa, with renewed interest and insight into their own artistic processes, and a deep appreciation for the breadth of human creativity and resourcefulness. Back to Top
Q: I’ve never been to Africa. What kind of medical issues should I be prepared for? What about medical insurance, and local hospital services?
A: There are a number of health issues you need to address before leaving for West Africa. We advise all of our students to book a travel consultation with their medical practitioner or travel clinic, to be sure to receive all the necessary information pertaining to their own health issues and those facing all travelers to West Africa. A number of immunizations are required/suggested. Yellow Fever shots are required for all people traveling to West Africa – you must acquire a yellow fever vaccination certificate from your health practitioner, and include it in your visa application. Anti-malarial medication is available through your local travel clinic or medical practitioner’s office. We advise everyone to bring a small travel kit, including such items as anti-bacterial spray, bandages, ibuprofen, anti-diarrheal, etc. A detailed list of all health concerns, including required and suggested preparations, will be sent out to each participant in late spring. All students will receive a Basic International Student Identity Card that offers basic travel health coverage. You have the option of upgrading to the Premium Insurance for an additional fee. More information is provided following your acceptance to the program. You may also be covered by a current parental or family health plan. It is important to note that, while we provide information about options, any additional health and travel insurance is the responsibility of each participant. Kankan offers good, quality health services via the local hospital and private clinics. All doctors we use have graduated from respectable medical schools in Europe and/or North America. Most prescription drugs available in Guinea are manufactured in France. Back to Top
Q: I want to begin to get to know Mande culture before leaving in September. Can you suggest titles for summer reading?
A: We will provide you with reading assignments over the summer months. These involve reading books and articles and writing response papers and journal entries, and creating original artistic responses in a variety of media. We also direct you to a list of interesting websites to consult, and offer a list of selected Mande music and film. Back to Top
Q: How easy will it be to contact my family and friends back in the US?
A: Each student must purchase a cell phone shortly after arrival. You can buy minutes and use them to call anywhere in the world; incoming calls are free. Internet cafes are available in a few locations in Kankan, where you can use local computers or plug in your laptop. Sending letters is generally reliable, but receiving mail is not. Back to Top
Q: Can I use my bankcard in West Africa?
A: No. The banking system in Guinea is rudimentary. But Western Union is available through the local BICIGUI bank in Kankan, and receives money transfers from the US in minutes. Detailed financial information will be provided as part of your preparatory materials. Back to Top