Every summer since 2010, a small number of students have taken advantage of Central’s newest study abroad program in Ghana. The one-month program takes students through Ghana’s history and introduces them to the nation’s performing arts.
Program director Samuel Mate- Kodjo, an associate professor of Spanish, said Ghana’s past few decades have been fascinating because citizens have been adjusting to a host of changes in their country. “They have been re-finding themselves after a period of crisis,” Mate-Kodjo said.
Now students with Central College Abroad can also explore the events, traditions and opportunities that define Ghana. Mate-Kodjo said program courses are enriched by excursions to European colonists’ plantations, a tropical forest reserve and the world’s largest manmade lake, where Ghana produces electricity for several nations.
As part of the performing arts course, students take drumming lessons and perform ceremonial dances in traditional African dress. Jesse Merk ’16 studied in Ghana last summer and said he was amazed to discover how Ghanaians express themselves through dance—and how difficult the dances are.
A particular highlight is the canopy walk tour, where students explore the rainforest canopy on one of the world’s few treetop walkways. Merk enjoyed the canopy walk so much that he returned at the end of the program to spend the night in a tree house and watch elephants and monkeys in the dark. “It was unreal,” Merk said.
The most important part of students’ experiences, according to Mate- Kodjo, is one-on-one interaction with Ghanaians. Through those relationships, Mate-Kodjo said students learn there is more to Africa than news of violence and crisis— and Ghanaian students care about many of the same things that are important to Central students. “I want them to learn that the world is bigger than they knew, but it is still the same world,” Mate-Kodjo said. “People in Ghana are just like people in Iowa. They have many of the same aspirations and needs.”
Lucas Lazenby ’15, a biology student from Yale, Iowa, said he loved playing soccer with Ghanaians in summer 2012. Whether in the city, on the soccer field or at the beach, Lazenby said his Ghanaian friends set an example for what it means to treat someone as different but equal.
In the future, Mate-Kodjo hopes the Ghana program can expand and offer semester- or year-long studies in several fields so students can take advantage of the wide range of disciplines offered at the University of Ghana.
Several Central faculty and staff members visited Ghana in 2012 and 2013 to explore possibilities for biology courses, business internships and other studies. Semester-based programs would also allow students to use their financial aid in Ghana, which Mate-Kodjo hopes would increase enrollment.