Africa in Our Lives: Lorna Tokos

04SEP13 - Student Profile_Tokos
“Get involved. Everyone says it, but it really is the most important thing!” – Lorna Tokos (Photo by Catherine A. Reiland/UW-Madison)

Studying abroad in Ghana not only introduced Lorna Tokos (x15) to new friends and Ghanaian dishes, but to a new, more self-aware and proactive version of herself.

Field of study: Agriculture and applied economics, International studies, Certificate in African Studies
Hometown: New Brighton, MN

What brought you to Madison?

I started my college search looking for a small school in a big city, but I ended up at a large school in a college town and I can’t  imagine it any other way. The lakes and UW-Madison’s reputation lured me in and the connections I have made with my peers and advisors kept me here.

What advice would you give incoming students?

Get involved. Everyone says it, but it really is the most important thing! My good friends are still the ones I made freshman year when I forced myself to go to every house meeting and event in the dorm. Check out the First Year Interest Group (FIGs) course offerings. They are a great way to make friends outside your dorm and see familiar faces each day while you are settling into college life.

What inspired you to study an African language?

I have always had an interest in the Middle East and North Africa. I almost went to Egypt my senior year of high school. When I got to Madison, I knew I wanted to take Arabic. After sophomore year, I decided to focus on Arabic and development in Africa.

Tell us about your study abroad experience in Ghana:

My time in Ghana was so different from anything I’ve ever done before; it’s hard to sum up in a few short sentences. It was challenging and rewarding at the same time. At the risk of sounding too cliché, it was more a growing experience than an academically educational one. I’m coming home much more assertive, proactive and self aware than when I left.

Walk us through a typical day:

I would usually wake up early and go for a run with friends around the outdoor track before it got too hot, although it was already at least 80 degrees. Then we would venture to the CIEE Study Abroad office for the air-conditioning and WiFi. The office was our home-base and group hang-out spot in between classes. Classes at The University of Ghana were usually once a week and for two hours. Dinner from the market behind the dorms consisted of stew or sauce over a starch base: rice or yams. In the evenings, we often watched movies in the lounge and planned our weekend travels.

Lorna walks the hanging bridges in Kakum National Park in Cape Coast, Ghana. (Submitted photo by Lorna Tokos)

Why would you encourage students to study abroad in Africa?

Why not? I wanted to take advantage of the infrastructure that this program provides and try something completely out of my comfort zone. I come from a place where most people look and act like me, and most of the world does not. I wanted to be more comfortable being uncomfortable. I was challenged every day; living in Ghana for four months was not always easy, but it was worth it. I made life long friends over deep discussions about stereotypes, gender and education. The African continent is a huge and varied place. I will always hold on to my little sliver.

What advice do you have for students who are considering it?

“Don’t be a tourist, be a traveler.” My best travel memories are not waiting in line to take a picture next to some statue. That stuff is cool to see, but don’t miss out on the amazing places just around the corner.

How will you integrate your major into your future career?

I want to focus on agricultural development and trade in developing countries like those in Africa and Asia. I enjoy applied economics because it takes economic theory and applies it to real situations. Studying in Ghana introduced me to a new teaching style and point of view. I want to take my experience and combine it with my major to have a career in agricultural development consulting or policy making, either with the U.S. government or a private company.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

In five years, I will hopefully have or job or be in graduate school. My dream job is based in Chicago or Washington D.C. and one that I get to travel for. I would love to go back to Ghana, but I also want to see East Asia and more of West Africa. All my life I have wanted to be someone important and I still don’t know exactly what that means. I want to make important decisions that help people and be respected in my field. Those are pretty lofty goals, but I’ll take things one step at a time.

Profile produced by Meagan Doll.

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