Discovering the world beyond the borders of the United States is a unique and powerful experience for students. Travel during their college years greatly influences not only their education, but their outlook on life. Participating in a study abroad or independent travel abroad experience provides students with immeasurable personal and professional development opportunities.
In the next two issues, we profile two different student travel opportunities - a formal program offered by NC State University and an independent service learning experience.
NC State Study Abroad in Ghana:
Senior Alexandria McCall quickly bought into the idea of studying abroad. During her freshman spring semester, she investigated her many available opportunities. As a Math and Math Education major, a study abroad trip to Ghana fit perfectly into her educational plan. The Ghana Humanities program matched her schedule, met her humanities requirements, and allowed her to explore Africa.
Sitting in her salmon-colored kente cloth top, face adorned with a smile, McCall shared her enthusiasm for the experience. “You have to do it,” she said. “Find a program that fits you, fits your goals, your culture and your major. And when you do travel, be sure to journal every day.”
The Ghana Humanities program encourages students to “explore history and culture in West Africa and the origins of the Black experience in America” according to the NCSU study abroad website. Through home stays, introductory instruction in an African language, and service learning opportunities, students gain a unique international educational experience that promotes an awareness of global issues.
The home stay component of McCall’s trip quickly became an integral part of her study abroad experience. “It was an amazing trip and the highlight was living with a family for two weeks,” she said.
While studying in Ghana, McCall and another NCSU student lived with a family of four, two sisters and their parents. Her experience taught her a lot about Ghanaian culture and she discovered that life in a new country wasn’t as different as she thought it would be.
“Everyone dressed in regular clothes,” McCall said. “I guess I expected traditional dress all the time. I saw the Chief one day and he was wearing traditional clothes because it was part of a ceremony, but the next day he was dressed in ‘regular’ clothes.”
Not only did McCall’s Ghanaian family dress the same as her family, they also acted similar. “We watched Hannah Montana—as they had a flat screen TV,” she said. “I was surprised because the house was gated, they had security cameras; they had a BMW, a Mercedes, a taxi and a taxi driver. There was no air conditioning and no hot water, but after a long, hot day, cold showers were good.”
McCall also observed differences from her daily life in the US. She experienced frequent power outages, especially during the first few days, and discovered that not everyone owned a computer. Her Ghanaian family owned a computer and connected to the Internet often, but many other families used Internet cafes to connect with the digital world.
McCall was also surprised by the visual lack of poverty in the area of Ghana she visited. “I was expecting to see more poverty than I did,” she said. “I did not see the babies with the swollen bellies like you see on TV.”
Even though McCall did not experience modern-day poverty, her group traveled to the Ghanaian Cape Coast to relive the slave experience. “We went early in the morning so no one would be there,” she said. “It was different actually seeing it. It was, in some ways, an indescribable experience. It still smells, but it is aired out. It’s freaky seeing the slave capitol and the door of no return. It was a powerful experience when we were able to go back through the door—an open door.”
The Ghana Humanities group traveled to many locations in Ghana, including the Cape Coast, the capitol city of Accra, and the city of Kumasi. However, McCall’s most memorable experience occurred on a professor’s farm, when she encountered the “magical berry” for the first time. A native of West Africa, the “magical berry” is called a miracle fruit in Western culture and changes the flavor of food combinations through natural chemical interactions.
“He gave us an orange and we tasted it,” McCall said. “He shared with us this ‘magical berry’ and then we ate the same orange and it was 100 times better. He then brought out a fresh pineapple and it had a sweet taste for 30 minutes to an hour after we ate it. We weren’t talking to each other because we were so focused on eating.”
Before returning home, McCall gathered a bit of African soil for her mom. “I wanted her to feel the homeland,” she said. Not only can McCall not wait to go back, she credits the NCSU study abroad experience for broadening her horizons.
“It was a great experience,” she said. “I feel like it gives me a leg up. I’ve experienced something different. It has taken my life to a whole new level.”
For more information about the Ghana Humanities study program, visit the NCSU Study Abroad website or contact Resident Faculty Member Craig C. Brookins, Ph.D., from Africana Studies and the Department of Psychology, email Craig Brookins or call him at 919-515-7518.