Award Helps Students Thrive in French-Speaking Africa

Jan, 2018

January 30, 2018—Last fall, HSU student Sam Le Blanc landed in the West African nation of Senegal, stepping off the plane into soaring temperatures and a new cultural reality.

Le Blanc, an International Studies major, spent 10 weeks studying at Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar as part of an exchange program with HSU’s Department of World Languages & Cultures.

Le Blanc was the recipient of the Budig-Markin Family Francophone Africa Studies Award, established by HSU professor emerita of World Languages & Cultures, Valerie Budig-Markin. The $1,000 award helps students with the costs of living and studying in French-speaking African countries, bridging academic experience with real world learning. 

“I’m in love with people and traditions,” says Le Blanc, who immersed herself in the community, speaking French and living with a local family in Dakar. “I found that Senegal shares a core ethic of ‘community.’ The family I lived with enfolded me in their arms. Everybody loves to laugh and tease, they eat around one big bowl.”

Giving students like Le Blanc an opportunity to immerse themselves into the culture and language of Senegal--and other nations in Africa--is one of the primary motivations behind Budig-Markin’s award. “Global cultural literacy is no longer a luxury but a key to the future of humanity. If we are to further understanding, cooperation, and above all respect for one another, we need to take the leap to learn about and to know our most distant neighbors firsthand,” says Budig-Markin.

Concerned by the dramatic effects of climate change on Senegalese forests, Le Blanc became active with a non-governmental organization (NGO) established by one of her professors, Dr. Ousmane Aly Pame, at Cheikh Anta Diop University. The organization, named REDES, develops sustainable eco-villages in rural Senegal.

“I’m passionate about the eco-village project,” says Le Blanc. “I am helping to create an eco-center in the northern part of the country that will be a model for eco-villages, uses of solar energy applications, clean water access, and permaculture.”

In addition to her service with REDES and a busy academic schedule, Le Blanc found time to relish in the small details of life in Dakar, running errands and cooking traditional meals with her adopted family. “In Senegal, it takes a long time to go to the market, not because it’s far away, but because you greet everyone you see.”

Le Blanc is one of the first HSU students to participate in the Senegal exchange program, which was developed by Budig-Markin and HSU World Languages & Cultures Professor Joseph Diémé. “Study abroad fills a missing link between the classroom and society. Most importantly, it provides students with critical tools to decipher the world and empowers them to be informed agents of systemic change in an irrevocably globalizing world,” says Diémé, who was born in Dakar.

Le Blanc returns to HSU this Spring 2018 to finish her final semester, but her journey is far from over. She plans to return to Senegal next year to continue work with REDES and the eco-village movement. “Senegal has changed me, I feel so alive in the culture. We could learn a lot from other countries if we stopped and listened,” she says.

If you would like to support the Budig-Markin Family Francophone Africa Studies Award, you can make a direct contribution here. If you have questions about giving, or would like to learn about other ways to support HSU students, visit, email the Office of Philanthropy at, or call 707-826-5200.