Africa in Our Lives: Kyra Fox

Kyra Fox
Kyra on Mount Napoleon in Lake Kivu on an excursion to Rwanda (Photo by Joy Weisel)

Kyra Fox is a UW Junior studying International Studies and Psychology with an African Studies Certificate. She is currently studying in Gulu, Uganda on a program focused on the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) conflict in Northern Uganda.

Field of Study: International Studies and Psychology
Hometown:
Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin

What brought you to UW- Madison?

The orange chocolate chip Babcock ice cream. I’m not kidding; it was actually a factor in my decision. But more so than the endless Babcock flavors, what drew me to UW-Madison was the endless options here. I looked around and saw a million paths I could take, and although that terrified me, it also convinced me that this was the right place to be.

Tell us one interesting fact about you.

I was a competitive Irish dancer for 12 years. Curly hair and fast feet and all. Look it up on YouTube for instant entertainment/procrastination.

Why did you decide to pursue an African Studies certificate?

I had always known I was interested in working with Africa, but for some reason I always filed the interest away as silly or unrealistic. But it kept nagging at me – so much so that when I was picking my first semester classes, I decided to try Swahili. And the rest is history. I loved my Swahili class, and my teachers inspired me to pursue more Africa-related courses. Before I knew it, I had completed my certificate and was on a plane to study abroad in Uganda.

How did you make the decision to study in Uganda?

Kyra and host family
Kyra with her host family in Gulu, Uganda (Photo courtesy of Kyra Fox)

Not easily. I was completely overwhelmed by the many programs offered by the study abroad office, so I started off with a few must-haves. 1) I was interested in human rights and conflict, and 2) I wanted to go to sub-Saharan Africa. I did some poking around and stumbled across the School for International Training’s program in Gulu, Uganda. The program focused on the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) conflict in Northern Uganda. I knew a bit about the conflict from Invisible Children’s “Kony 2012” campaign – a viral YouTube video that publicized a narrative of the crazed Joseph Kony abducting children to form the terrorist group known as the LRA. But I had a feeling that I wasn’t getting the whole story, so I decided to go to Uganda and find out for myself.

What have been some of your most memorable moments so far?

I have definitely had some classic “memorable study abroad moments.” A monkey jumping on our van to steal our pineapple. My four-year-old host sister jamming to “Thrift Shop.” Finding a goat in the pit latrine at two in the morning.

But the moments that will stick with me forever are the most uncomfortable ones, the ones that challenged the values I carried with me to Uganda. A Q&A session with a former LRA leader, where my opinion of his guilt was turned upside down when I learned that he had been abducted as a child. A bridal shower, where I had to swallow my tongue as the bride’s friends advised her to submit to her husband at all times. A conversation with a mother of a child killed in the LRA conflict, where despite all that she had endured, she favored forgiveness over jail sentences for the perpetrators. It is these moments – the ones that have made my head spin and my morals collide – that have made my time abroad one of growth and gratification.

What advice would you give students considering studying abroad in Africa?

Don’t toss it aside as unrealistic. There is no reason not to do something wildly out of your comfort zone – what better time than now? Drop your inhibitions and expectations, and encourage your concerned family and friends to do the same.

You will likely receive many unsolicited comments when people hear where you plan to study abroad. “Why would you want to go there?” and “Isn’t it dangerous?” were some common ones I received. The narratives we hear of African countries only tell one side of the story. Don’t let other people tell you what kind of experience you will have. Open your mind and go find out for yourself.

What would you like to do after you graduate?

If you asked me today, I’d say I’d like to work in international law. If you asked me tomorrow, I’d tell you something different. I want a career that does not just look at the aftermath of conflict and try to pick up the pieces, but rather, one that examines the systemic political and psychological motivations of conflict and actively addresses them. How do global politics support conflict? How can the international community make things better instead of worse? These are the questions that keep me awake and the ones I know will drive my career. Whether that means working on the ground or behind a desk I do not yet know. Right now, I’m trying to take it it one step at a time.

Where in Africa would you still like to travel?

I’d love to trek my way across West Africa, starting with Nigeria and along the coast all the way to Senegal. My childhood dreams of being an Egyptologist demand a trip to the Sahara. And of course, I want to return to Uganda with my family someday.

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