Eight students from the University of Alberta arrived in Ghana this summer as part of the course EDFX 490: Global Citizenship Field Experience in Ghana. Joined by two Ghanaian classmates — teachers from the village of Atwima Apemanim — the students formed the sixth contingent to participate in the Faculty of Education program.
For most of the students, a week-long stay in Apemanim was the highlight of the program. With their instructor Dr. Ansu-Kyeremeh, students spent time in the schools, resource centre, and other facilities that have been established in recent years. They also had the opportunity to learn about the governance structures of the community from Apemanim’s Queen Mother.
Most profoundly, students had the opportunity to spend time with local families. Through the sharing of conversation and daily routines – from farming and operating a small business to carrying out chores and preparing a meal – the students gained greater affinity and understanding of Ghanaian culture. Commenting on the significance of the exchange, Ansu-Kyeremeh notes, "I sense deeper understanding and greater personal reflection, moving from touching the life of the community to touching the life of the individual."
The participation of two local teachers in the program was also invaluable to the exchange of knowledge and perspectives, as the University of Alberta students (future teachers themselves) learned about the Ghanaian education system.
While each component of the course provided valuable opportunities for learning, what students gained was more than the sum of the program’s parts.
Before embarking on the experience, Emily Pohl anticipated “learning so much about a culture I had no experience with, and finding a new perspective.” Afterwards, she described the experience as, “So much more than I expected. This experience…taught me that learning can be uncomfortable. You have to face things that contradict a lot of what you thought was right, wrestle with it a bit, and then reach a new understanding.”
Her sentiments echo those shared by participants throughout the years. As Heather Shapka from the 2007 group observed, “It has become a part of who I am as an individual, but also who I am as an educator.”
Since 2007, 106 University of Alberta students have taken part in the EDFX 490: Global Citizenship Field Experience in Ghana program. In 2009, 2010 and 2011, participants also included students from the Faculties of Nursing and Agricultural, Life and Environmental Sciences. Twelve local Ghanaian teachers have also participated, with two making a reciprocal field visit to Canada.
Now in its fifth year, past participants continue to connect with Faculty of Education staff, each other, and contacts made in Ghana to discuss how their experiences there have carried forward in their lives both personally and professionally. As Georgia Davies of the 2009 contingent notes, “Almost every day I share stories with my students about my time in Ghana. My experience has become part of my teaching practice and has been integrated into daily lessons.”
As the EDFX 490 program looks ahead, there is a sense that its impacts will continue to make themselves known long after participants have come home and unpacked their bags.