Five years ago, a group of faculty-led students went to Ghana as a part of UNC Asheville’s first study abroad program to the continent.
Charles James, an associate professor of chemistry,, was one of the professors who helped spearhead the creation of this study abroad program, which is over a decade in the making.
The first study abroad trip to Ghana was in the summer of 2000, many years before the university began its own program there. This trip was organized by the high demand of students, but since the university did not have its own program to Ghana at this time, the small group of students and faculty, including James as a chaperone, traveled as a part of NC State University’s study abroad program.
Prior to the establishment of UNCA’s first-year colloquium, James said there was an honors course called African-American Colloquium.
“It was designed to be a safe space, it was also designed to be an honors-type experience for the African-American students,” James said.
This course drove UNCA students to ask the school’s administration for a study abroad program to the African continent. At the time the school boasted multiple study abroad programs to countries like Ireland, England and Italy, but there were no programs to Africa.
“Whenever people talked about Africa the continent, it was only in terms of resources and problems,” James said. “You would get a lot of things like, ‘If you want to go there, you’re going on a mission trip, you’re going to help.’”
Mission trips were all that were available to UNCA students. James said the students saw they could go to Ireland if they wanted, even though it had its own problems and still be immersed in the culture. They did not have to go on a mission trip.
This prompted the school’s administration to send a small group of students with NC State’s group to Ghana in the summer of 2000. This trip happened a couple times, but two problems with going as a part of NC State’s study abroad program were soon revealed.
The cost was one problem and another was the transferring of credits.
NC State’s summer tuition is more expensive than UNCA’s, so the only way students were able to participate in their program was if UNCA subsidized the costs. Even then, some students had to get special grants or scholarships.
As for transferring credits, James said they could only be counted as elective courses. As a result of NC State leading the program, the credits were first transferred to NC State, then to UNCA.
James said the combined issues meant students who went on the trip had to explain to whoever was supplying them their scholarships or student loans that the money they needed was for a study abroad program which would not aid in their progress toward graduation.
“At that point, we started working on a UNCA program,” James said.
Between 2002 and 2011, James and other faculty and staff at UNCA worked toward creating its own study abroad program to Ghana.
Rather than having to transfer in credits earned as electives, they worked to create courses that would fit into the school’s curriculum. They made connections with people in Ghana and got other professors involved. James even went on sabbatical to work on the project.
“We did faculty development trips, we took people there and back,” James said. “I got a sabbatical to work on just this. In 2011, we finally got our first UNCA program ready to go.”
The first program took a similar form to NC State’s. They stayed in various hotels as they traveled throughout the country. Students take two courses through the program: CHEM 373: Science in Ghana and HUM 414: The Individual in the Contemporary World. Both courses contribute to a student’s progress toward graduation.
The first trip went well, but James said Agya Boakye-Boaten, an associate professor of Africana studies and a Ghanaian, who also went on the first trip, discovered a more economical way to approach the program and their lodging situation.
His solution was simple: they rented a house.
“It did wonders for the budget,” James said.
Instead of going from hotel to hotel in Ghana and covering those costs in addition to bussing students to and from their destinations, James said they rented a house for their month-long stay, hired a cook, some cleaners and security.
Now the study abroad program to Ghana happens every other summer.
“It’s quite popular, especially because it is one of our few programs in Africa,” said Bonnie Parker, director of the study abroad program at UNCA.
The study abroad office reports students partaking in many activities outside of the classroom such as sightseeing and visiting markets, as well as learning about Ghanaian culture.
On last year’s trip the group went to the Mampong Centre for Scientific Research into Plant Medicine to learn about herbal remedies and visited an adinkra printing village, where they learned about creating dyes from roots and tree bark and needle embroidery.
Jesse Ingham, a senior chemistry student, went on last summer’s program. He said he enjoyed getting to experience a new culture as a result of the trip.
Ingham said in the time they were in Ghana, they visited historical sites, took part in religious ceremonies and were introduced to new cuisines.
“I have learned a great deal of information about Ghanaian culture,” Ingham said.