Major in African Cultural Studies

The Department of African Cultural Studies offers an undergraduate major in African Cultural Studies, a combination of language and culture courses.

Principal African languages taught by the Department are Arabic, Swahili, Wolof, Yoruba, and Zulu. However, the program supports the study of various other African languages through courses and/or individualized study.  Visit our Department overview to learn more and review requirements for the Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science.

To assist with the cost of your education, there are a number of scholarships available to those studying less commonly taught languages.  

Meet Jessica M.: “I could have never imagined the richness that studying a language and region would add to my biology curriculum and STEM background. I encountered so many incredible students, professors, and leaders within the African Cultural Studies department, and I have been introduced to so many opportunities because of my unique language background.”

Meet Kadie R.: “Personally, academically and professionally, Arabic has become my main language of focus, and it has shaped everything about my life thus far. My summer spent in the Middle East taught me a love of the Arab language, culture, history and people.”

Meet Kate T.: “For Arabic, I was always curious about it as my family is half Egyptian. The culture was there, but growing up, the Arabic language was a missing link. Studying it in college enabled me to connect with my grandparents and family in ways that I couldn’t before.”

Sample Student Portfolios/Projects

Meet Maria E.: “We inherently put ourselves in places of familiarity and comfort, often never stepping outside of this. Swahili pushed me to exist outside the boundaries of familiar. And because of this, I saw the world in a new way and consequently saw myself in a new way.”

Meet Carly B.: “Not only was living in Kenya life-changing but understanding Swahili and having the ability to speak it with community members was so fun and rewarding. It always takes them by surprise when they hear a Mzungu (white person) start speaking Swahili, but you can see it gives them so much happiness to see someone making the effort to speak their language.”

Meet Tosha: “Studying language is an important way for me to stay connected with my family and friends in other countries. For some of my relatives from the older generation, it is crucial to be able to speak with them, understand their advice, listen to their stories, and overall create and maintain a relationship.”

Sample Student Portfolios/Projects

Meet Lauren: “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.”

Meet Lily: “Being able to understand the corner street vendor selling mangos, or a president speaking to a worldwide community in his or her native tongue has affected me in a positive way. Learning the French, Arabic, and Wolof languages have given me the opportunity to turn acquaintances into life-long connections through my travels.”

Sample Student Projects/Portfolios

Project completed for first semester Wolof

In this issue, Calice Robins guides you through different spheres of life in Senegal. She explores health issues, economy, transportation, sports, fashion and of course food. Learn how to make Ceebu jen in her rubric LUY XEEÑ.

Wolof newsletterpage 2 Wolof newsletterpage 3 Wolof newsletter

Meet Sarah S.: “When I started at UW-Madison I was part of a First-year Interest Group (FIG) on African language and culture, and part of that was a Yoruba language class.”

Meet Kevin B.: “I studied Yoruba to a high degree of proficiency through UW Language classes and an intensive year-long study abroad program in Nigeria, made possible by grants and programs from the Language Flagship and the Boren Scholarship. Learning Yoruba to a native proficiency literally changed my life, worldview, and has greatly shaped my path for the future. Learning another language is like discovering another version of yourself, and it is a key that opens many doors, particularly if you know a less-commonly-taught language from a part of the world that is critical to politics, business, or security.”

Sample Student Portfolios/Projects

Meet Alexandra: “Zulu has enriched my life in so many ways. Francis, my first year Zulu teacher, gave my daughter a Zulu name. We thought it was beautiful, so now she has a Zulu middle name. In addition, studying Zulu helped me to realize what it is that I want to do with my life, which is to collect recordings of endangered Bantu languages and work on Proto-Bantu.”

Sample Student Portfolios/Projects

Study Abroad

Studying abroad extends the boundaries of the classroom to the world! It is an exciting way for you to complement and enhance your on-campus learning while earning meaningful credit toward your major and degree.  Additionally, globalization is changing the way the world works, and an ability to work across cultures is becoming more and more essential to finding a job! Employers are increasingly looking for workers who not only have technical knowledge, but also “soft skills” such as critical thinking, problem solving, time management, and communication skills deemed necessary for success in a global workforce.

View the programs in Africa.

Visit our Majors Advising Page to learn more about how study abroad can fit into your academic plans.

Learn more about general study abroad policies and programs.

Careers, Internships, & Leadership

To learn more about how the African Cultural Studies major can help you in your search for a rewarding and successful career, visit our Career & Skill Development page.

Questions? Ready to declare?

Undergraduates with questions about our major, honors, or study abroad, and those who are ready to declare the major, should contact our Undergraduate Advisor, Toni Landis or  login to Starfish to make an appointment. Or, contact our faculty Director of Undergraduate Studies, Professor Reginold Royston.