Michael Toso '04

Career Begins with International Experiences

Since his graduation, Michael lived and worked in rural villages in Niger and Senegal for five years. “I owned a camel, learned to speak Zarma, Fulani, and French, and taught English in Costa Rica,” he says. “My work designing, monitoring, and evaluating social and behavior change communication programs includes providing support to malaria programs in Nigeria and Mozambique. This year, I traveled to Liberia and Zimbabwe to walk ministry of health officials through the process of developing malaria communication strategies for their countries.”

Time Abroad Starts in College

One of Luther’s anthropology professors suggested that he study in Tanzania to round out his academic work in anthropology. “I spent a January Term there and a subsequent semester abroad that were formative experiences in my life,” he says. “Since I grew up in East Africa, it wasn’t necessarily the thrill of traveling to a new place that impressed me, but the challenge of making the most of opportunities in a given set of limitations.”

Michael found that University of Dar es Salaam professors were often absent from classes. The university library and bookstore did not carry the required reading. “Water was often shut off in the dormitories and we experienced almost daily electrical blackouts. We studied independently, purchased books from street vendors, traveled into town to use toilets, and enjoyed dark nights with candles on the dormitory rooftops,” he says. “I don’t mean to imply that the challenges of studying in Tanzania are surmountable with simple determination. Students there without our resources and safety net faced much harsher difficulties.”

Michael found it to be a formative time. “These experiences had a profound impact on the way I approach challenges in the workplace and in my personal life,” he says.

Major Makes an Impact

One of Michael’s anthropology classes traveled to a Navajo reservation to work with an English-as-a-second-language summer program. “I was touched by the tenacity of the Navajo grandmothers who were, in their last years of life, trying to learn new phrases in English so they could communicate with their grandchildren,” he says. “Playing Bingo in English with those women while Luther education students worked with their grandchildren was a rare gift.”

A Reflection on Luther

Michael believes that Luther helped prove that he is a capable learner and he finds it a valuable skill to have for anything he faces. “Building a knowledge base and collecting experiences isn’t enough to succeed, you have to approach work and life with the right attitude,” he says. “My professors at Luther helped foster an attitude of enthusiasm and respect.”

Michael advises current students to learn to find ways to balance their social life with academic study. “You don’t need to be involved with a Greek organization to find friends, be involved in the community, and feel you belong,” he says. “Make sure you get to know the city of Decorah and surrounding area. Ground yourself in the quiet beauty of northeast Iowa!”

First Attraction to Luther

“I initially chose Luther because of the diverse international student body and an excellent art program.”

—Michael Toso

Work Study

Michael’s work-study experience included washing dishes at Peace Brunch Dining Room on Sundays. “I quickly learned how hard life can be if you stay up too late on Saturday night and have to work the next morning,” he says.