Africa in Our Lives: Lauren Sorensen

Rising junior Lauren Sorensen always knew she wanted to study abroad, but it was not until she began taking African Studies courses that she settled on Senegal. She was recently awarded the Boren Scholarship, which provides funding to undergraduate students to study less commonly taught languages in world regions critical to U.S. interests and underrepresented in study abroad. In this AFRICA IN OUR LIVES, Lauren shares why language is crucial to the study abroad experience, as well as tips on finding funding through awards like the Boren.

“I feel extremely fortunate to have been able to study Wolof at UW-Madison and continue studying it in Senegal, as it allows me to use Senegal’s main language to communicate with people without reverting to the colonial language of French.” -Lauren Sorensen (Submitted photo)

Field of study: Political Science and French majors with an African Studies certificate
Hometown: West Bend, WI

What brought you to Madison?

Growing up in Wisconsin, the University was always a large component of the culture I grew up in. The University represented my ideal college experience. I wanted to attend a large school that offered not only wonderful academic opportunities but also the classic American college experience. Madison itself is also a spectacular city with so much to offer. I love that you can go from downtown to a lake in minutes.

Tell us one interesting fact about you:

My imaginary friends as a child were members of the Milwaukee Bucks team, specifically Sam Cassell, Jason Caffey, and Glenn Robinson. I would frequently have full conversations with them in the back of the car.

What inspired your interest in international development?

For as long as I can remember, stereotypical I know, I have had an interest in politics. In high school I took a class called “International Affairs,” which was really my first formal introduction to the idea of international politics and law. Traveling is a passion of mine because it gives me the ability to experience cultures. International development is a major facet of international politics as it pertains to a large percentage of the world’s population, and this field of study is a perfect combination of my passion for traveling and long-time love of politics.

Why did you decide to apply for the Boren Scholarship?

One of my non-negotiable experiences I wanted in college was to study abroad. I came into college expecting to have that experience in France as part of my French major. As I began taking African Studies classes and realized that I was academically drawn to the continent, I developed a particular interest in Senegal. I met with my Political Science advisor who encouraged me to explore the option of studying abroad in Senegal and also to apply for the Boren Scholarship to fund it. As I organized my plan to study abroad and progressed in my studies, the language emphasis of the Boren scholarship became a cornerstone of what I wanted to be a feature of study abroad.

Tell us a bit about the study abroad program you will be completing next year.

The program I chose is through the University of Minnesota. It focuses on international development and I have chosen the social services track. I will be taking classes in the capital city of Dakar on development theory, Senegal, research methods, and the Wolof language. These classes will occur during the first half of each semester and be followed by an internship with an non-governmental organization related to social services and an independent research project. I hope to use the research I conduct in Senegal as a starting point for a senior thesis once I return to Madison.

Why is language study an important component of studying abroad?

I strongly believe that language is the most powerful tool for understanding other people. Being able to communicate with someone in their native language allows for a different level of understanding. I also feel extremely fortunate to have been able to study Wolof at UW-Madison and continue studying it in Senegal, as it allows me to use Senegal’s main language to communicate with people without reverting to the colonial language of French. I believe this honors Senegalese people with a higher level of respect and legitimacy.

What are you most looking forward to during your year in Senegal?

It is really hard to narrow it down. Senegal is an incredibly beautiful country and I am excited to live so close to the ocean. I also love trying new food so I can’t wait to eat and learn how to cook Senegalese specialties. My program also places me with a host family which I believe will grant me a special connection to the country as I study there.

What are you most nervous about?

As excited as I am and as prepared as I feel, this will be a very new and challenging experience. Navigating a foreign country using languages that aren’t native to me will be a challenge that I am both nervous and excited for.

What advice do you have for students looking for ways to fund their study abroad experience?

I would say to not feel limited by the task of funding a study abroad. Before I have even completed my study abroad, I can already say that this will be the highlight of my time at UW-Madison, and I would encourage everyone to go beyond their comfort zone and study in a new place. If you are willing to put in the leg work and do some research, there are so many funding opportunities available. There are unique funding opportunities just waiting for students to use them, especially for students who want to study abroad in places like Africa. Language skills and regional knowledge are in high demand and available scholarships reflect this. I would also say to really develop and explore your passions and interests because scholarships truly reward students whose passions are evident and articulated.

Learn more about the study abroad programs available through UW-Madison, funding through financial aid and scholarships, and the Boren Scholarship. Want more information about funding your study abroad experience? Visit the study abroad financial aid drop-in advising.

Profile produced by Kyra Fox.

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