The West African nation of Ghana hardly seems like the study abroad destination. However, for those looking to experience the beauty of the tropics mixed with the social realities of the world’s poorest continent, Ghana might be the perfect classroom.
For the first time last summer, Santa Fe College sent a group of six students to Ghana, and at the beginning of Summer A in 2011, the college hopes to dispatch another group of students to this country that few ever visit.
Tentatively scheduled from May 17-26, this 10-day expedition leads students everywhere from the rainforests of the Kakum National Park to the bustling streets of Accra, the nation’s capital. The itinerary is packed with activities like African weaving and drumming, service projects, and leisurely activities like cruising on the world’s largest reservoir, Lake Volta. On a more solemn note, participants also visit the remnants of Ghana’s brutal colonial past, including the Elmina and Cape Coast slave castles.
“You might go to some of these other destinations on vacation by yourself, but the likelihood of an American doing this particular trip on their own is small,” said Naima Brown, professor of sociology and leader of last year’s Ghana trip.
Connected to “Principles of Sociology” and “Cultural Geography” classes
Sponsored by Brown and Professor of Geography Heidi Lannon, the trip is offered as part of the classes Cultural Geography (GEA2420) and Principles of Sociology (SYG2000). The Kokrobitey Institute, a campus designed to facilitate cultural exchange between foreigners and Ghanaians, serves as home-base for much of the tour, and it is there that students attend lectures, mix with locals, and participate in service projects during their stay.
“What made it the richest experience was that we lived in a community setting. We are gaining insight into a way of life,” sayid Brown. “That is what immersion’s all about. You’re not on the outside looking in–you’re on the inside, and that’s invaluable.”
Service, sightseeing, community
During the last trip, Santa Fe students volunteered in a local school. After observing a class of fourth through sixth graders to understand the differences in teaching style, students themselves got the opportunity to teach English, as well as sports and poetry, to the Ghanaian class. Noticing last summer that the Ghanaian children often had to share pencils, the trip sponsors hope to not only volunteer again during the upcoming trip but to donate supplies to the local school as well.
“Study abroad trips always set your résumé apart, but if you’ve actually done something meaningful there, it looks less like a glorified vacation,” said Lannon. “If you actually do some volunteering abroad, it’s going to really set you apart from the average student.”
Aside from their extensive volunteer work, Santa Fe students also conducted research projects while on last summer’s trip. One education major completed a project comparing how students in the United States and Ghana perceive geography on their commute to school, while another student studied Ghanaian family structure.
For both Brown and Lannon, the journey to Ghana represents more than just a study abroad trip; it’s equally a homecoming of sorts. For Lannon, this upcoming trip to Ghana marks her return to the continent where her father was born and where some of her relatives still live, but for Brown, the familial ties run much deeper.
“Having ancestors stolen out of Africa, to visit the door of no return and the slave castles was very fulfilling for me as an African-American,” said Brown. “It’s an opportunity to see, not just read about, what slaves had to deal with. My family came from there, and now I’m coming back — freely — and making that connection with the past.”
Grant applications due Nov. 8; next trip meeting is Nov. 17
Also approaching is the deadline for grant applications, due Monday, Nov. 8. Participants on this trip are encouraged to apply for the $1,000 scholarships funded through the Center for Student Leadership & Activities.
Furthermore, a trip to Africa requires advance preparation, since students have to apply for visas and receive vaccinations for diseases such as yellow fever. During a number of pre-departure meetings, students are briefed on what to expect and how to get ready. The next informational meeting is being held on Nov. 17, at 3:30pm in Y 239 on the second floor of the Santa Fe library.
International Education website
~ This article was written by Alison Griner, Communication Specialist, College Relations