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Benefits of studying abroad

Studying abroad gave me more than a foreign language, more than international relationships, and more than a bright spot on my resume. Living and studying abroad proved that I could be successful in a foreign country by overcoming language and cultural barriers. After my year abroad I was confident that I could live, work and be successful anywhere. It’s easy in Madison to get caught up in our college bubble, and studying abroad is a great way to regain a sense of the world outside of this campus.

Julia Byers

Honors in Psychology, German, Certificate of European Studies
IAP Freiburg, Germany



Major Advising Page - African Languages and Literature, Department of African Cultural Studies

Questions to Ask    Identifying Programs That are Right for You

Studying an African language is a unique endeavor. While students drawn to the complexities of Arabic or the sounds of Swahili will certainly receive quality instruction throughout their time in Madison, the opportunity to become immersed in the communities and cultures where these languages are spoken is unmatched. Study abroad provides this experience. Participants rapidly improve their language skills; expand their historical, political, and cultural awareness; build lasting relationships; and become well-informed citizens ready and able to participate in our global society.

Prospective African Languages and Literature Students

One of the main requirements for this major is four semesters of an African language. For this reason, interested students should keep in mind that study abroad provides a number of options that can accomplish different goals, depending on the student's interest.

  1. Intensive language study: typically offered in summer, these programs are designed to provide language instruction as the sole focus. While there will always be a cultural component, the intent of this experience is to rapidly improve language acquisition. This option is a good one for students who may have chosen this major a little later in their four-year plan. Intensive programs enable students to catch up quickly while ensuring a solid foundation of language study.
  2. Semester-long language study: ideally, students will continue their language study in sequence while they are abroad. The best way to ensure a student is continuing on at the same pace is to have syllabi checked ahead of time by faculty in African Cultural Studies. Not only will students choosing this option be able to build upon their existing level of coursework, but they will have the added advantage of practicing outside the classroom on a regular and consistent basis.
  3. Limited language study: certain programs provide some basic language instruction, but will often offer all other courses in English. This type of experience is valuable for someone looking to complement their existing knowledge of a particular region. For example, students interested in southern Africa may study Zulu while at Madison but choose to learn some basic Xhosa while abroad. Exposure to both broadens a student's ability to communicate and enhances cultural awareness.

While language study is a significant component of the major, study of literature and culture are equally as important. Study abroad also offers students the opportunity to explore a wide variety of coursework in the humanities and social sciences and, most often, these courses will be taught in English. Students can certainly focus on these types of courses while abroad, perhaps having fulfilled the language requirement already and/or taking a break from language study.

To find out about all these options, the locations and timing, be sure to attend the many events hosted throughout the year by the Study Abroad office. Students who have narrowed down their choices should consult both with the Study Abroad advisor assigned to the specific program locations as well as meeting with the major advisor.

African Languages and Literature Course Considerations Abroad

The best way to assure the courses students choose will transfer back as expected is to check ahead of time, before a student leaves Madison. This process usually involves getting a syllabus or thorough course description, preferably listing readings/texts to be used, that can be reviewed by faculty.

Reviewing the language courses may be of most significance since a student will want to be assured their language study matches the curriculum back home so as to avoid getting out of sequence. For example, Madison offers third semester Arabic during fall semester only; students should not study second semester Arabic abroad in fall, only to come back and find they are unable to continue their third semester study until the following fall. Another challenge may be that the course abroad is either faster or slower paced than the courses back in Madison. Students may want to discuss how to approach these discrepancies, so they are well prepared upon returning to campus.

Keep in mind the major does require a course outside the Department, meaning there is room for exploration. An African-themed course in Political Science, Sociology, History, or other relevant discipline can be reviewed by the advisor and accepted toward this requirement.

In general, remember that this may be the sole opportunity a student gets to study at this particular institution. With that in mind, choose a variety of courses that appeal to not only study in the major, but also address interests that further expand knowledge of the country and culture.

Mapping Your Study Abroad Experience as a African Languages and Literature Major

Freshman Year
At this point, most students are just beginning to explore their interest areas and find out where their skills and talents are best utilized. Anyone having an interest in African languages and cultures is encouraged to take our African 100 course, Introduction to African Cultural Expression. Students can begin their language study at this point as well, though it's not imperative; there is time to more carefully consider which African language is most interesting. This conversation may be one to have with the major advisor.

In general, the more familiar students are with the history, politics, and overall diversity the African continent offers, the more prepared they will be to begin considering how an experience abroad fits into their academic plans. IAP hosts a number of open advising events and information sessions every semester, so make sure to attend some of these events to begin exploring options, gathering information, and finding resources.

Sophomore Year
By this point, many students are more comfortable identifying which majors or certificates fit their goals best. They are also developing a better sense of what it means to be fully engaged in a particular area of study. During the second year of college, it is best to begin exploring specific locations, length of programs, language of instruction, size of the college or university, academic rigor and course offerings, internship opportunities, and housing options. All of these factors contribute to determining the best fit for students' educational expectations and overall goals. Students will also need to spend time with their academic advisors making certain that the programs they are most interested in offer courses that keep them on track to completing their degrees in four years.

Junior Year
The third year of college is the most popular time to go abroad, however, we want to encourage students to keep their options open. It is especially important that the timeframe and program selected fit the academic goals and plans for each specific student so students have the best experience possible. For example, the language requirement can still be met this late in a student's academic career; it just requires some planning. Students accepted to programs during any point in their academic careers are encouraged to check with their major advisor once they reach their sites and register for classes. We want to ensure that any changes or additions to course schedules still keep the student on track to graduate.

Senior Year
The final year of a student's college career can be an exciting time to go abroad. Most students have a very well-developed sense of themselves, their interest areas, strengths, and future career goals. Electing to go abroad at this point can solidify plans as well as allow for special experiences such as internships that play a part in career exploration. As an intern nearing graduation, students can be appealing candidates to hire. These experiences also lead to opportunities for networking and informational interviews. Again, if students are also planning to graduate, they must be sure to check with the advisor to ensure all requirements for graduation have been or can be met.


Questions to Ask

Your Academic Advisor

Your Study Abroad Advisor


Identifying Programs That are Right for You

Explore the programs on the African continent below! Many of the programs in Africa have either a required or an optional host family living situation. This allows for greater language and cultural immersion.

Botswana, Gaborone / CIEE Community Public Health
Summer Program: Setswana language, Health course and Health Practicum
Semester Program: Setswana language, Health course and Health Practicum, health electives at the University of Botswana.

Ghana, Legon / CIEE in Ghana
Summer Program: Twi language, two courses in the following: history, political science, health, music and dance.
Semester/Academic Year Program: Twi language, Courses at the University of Ghana, optional internship

Kenya, Nairobi / UMN MSID International Development in Kenya
Semester/Academic Year Program: Swahili Language, Courses in Development studies, Internship or Research Project
*Optional 3-week Swahili language add-on in the summer

Morocco, Fez / UMN Arabic Language & Culture
Summer 6 or 9 week program: Arabic Language, culture course
Semester/Academic Year program: Arabic Language, selection of cultural course options, Internship option for Academic Year students.

Rwanda, Kigali / SIT Post Genocide Restoration and Peacebuilding
Semester: Kinyarwanda language, 2 core courses, independent study project

South Africa, Cape Town / University of Cape Town Exchange
Semester/Year program: Optional Zulu, Xhosa or Afrikaans language, wide variety of courses at the University of Cape Town

South Africa, Durban / SIT Community Health and Social Policy
Semester program: Zulu language, core course, independent study project

Tanzania, Zanzibar / SIT Coastal Ecology and Natural Resource Management
Semester program: Swahili language, course courses, independent study project

Short-term Programs with a global health component (no language taught on the program):
Ethiopia, Multiple / UW Community Health in Ethiopia: Perspectives & Policies on Agriculture, Water & Nutrition
Ghana, Multiple / UW Ghanaian Health & Food Systems: Human, Agricultural, & Environmental Health
South Africa, Johannesburg / UW Agroecology of Health: Food, Water, & Well Being
Tanzania, Dar Es Salaam / UW Healthcare in Tanzania
Uganda, Mukono / UW Mobile Clinics & Health Care in Uganda
Uganda, Multiple / UW Agriculture, Health & Nutrition in Uganda