Annual Ghana Trip Emboldens Student Empathy: The College at Brockport

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Annual Ghana Trip Emboldens Student Empathy

The annual intersession trip to Ghana for The Department of African and African-American Studies allows students to experience history, culture and differences in education.

From behind mounds of piled books and heaps of neatly stacked folders, sits interim chairperson for The Department of African and African-American Studies at The College at Brockport, State University of New York. John Marah, PhD speaks with a thick and charming Sierra Leonean accent. When he talks about his trips back to Africa, as director of the college’s Winter Intersession program with the University of Ghana at Legon, the excitement in his voice flares.

“We spend almost three weeks over there,” Marah says. “When we are there we take lectures from professors on the university campus, and also take field trips outside the capital city of Accra. It introduces them to other cultures, and [students] get to add an international experience to their resume.”

Marah was born in the Republic of Sierra Leone, and received his education in his native country, as well as the United States. Since 1984, he has lectured on African literature, African Politics and Society, and also created and taught the graduate class Multicultural Global Village for the department. Marah brings experience and expertise to the annual convoy of students who study abroad in Africa.

The Ghana trip departs in late December, and returns in mid-January. Its primary destination is the University of Ghana in the country’s state capital of Accra. Faculty and students are hosted by the University of African Studies, who provide lodging at an on-campus hotel.

Other stops on the itinerary include: Kumasi, the second largest city in Ghana, and Cape Coast. According to Marah, students visit museums, historical sites and also venture into villages away from the cities to explore the range of cultures within the country.

“When we go to the King’s Palace, there is [a guide] who lectures students about the history of the kingship, the Asantehene, and the rule that he placed in the culture,” Marah says. “When we go to the Cape Coast Castle, where they used to keep Africans before they were shipped here [during the slave trade], there is a lecturer who speaks about what kind of things those people experienced. So, it’s a mixture of academic as well as practical experience.”

Students are also given time to navigate independently—discovering some of the vastness of the culture on their own.

“Many students go to the beach, or go downtown when they have free time just to get themselves acquainted with the ordinary culture of the people,” Marah says.

Upon returning from Ghana, students have until May to write a term paper on their experiences—many of them present their work at the annual Scholars Day.

Marah says that most of his students come away with a deeper appreciation of the work ethic on display in the schools in Ghana, despite students’ lack of academic resources.

“One of the salient experiences is the difference in the educational system from here to there,” Marah explains. “[Students] are impressed with how seriously Africans take their education. They have all these problems, in terms of [the availability of] textbooks, computers and libraries, but they still show a lot of drive and motivation with their academic work.”

Marah says the experience often motivates students to “give back to people who have less than they do,” and he further attests that many of the students who have attended the trip abroad have gone on to become teachers, advance their studies in Graduate school, or work for various non-profit organizations.

“It opens students up to view other experiences—things that they take for granted—and have greater empathy for others,” Marah says. “That kind of exposure helps them out a lot.”

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