The Ghanaian sun rose early on Mary Kate Frey ’19.
By 6 a.m., it was already starting to get hot and humid and there was no air conditioning. Frey found she couldn’t drink or brush her teeth with tap water or take hot showers. She learned how to wash her clothes by hand in a bucket with a bar of soap and hang them on the line outside to dry.
While she did have to adjust to new living conditions, Frey was thrilled to be part of what she called “a true cultural immersion that most Furman students can only hope to experience.”
Frey, a communication studies and politics and international affairs double major from Myersville, Md., was one of 10 Furman students who traveled to West Africa as part of the May Experience course, Media and Culture in Ghana.
The course, led by Communications Studies Professor Janet Kwami and Professor and Chair Cynthia King, gave students a first-hand look into Ghanaian media and culture through visits to four regions of the country to study topics including the trans-Atlantic slave trade, gender roles, socio-economic development, media practices, local customs and traditions. Health Sciences Professor Shaniece Criss participated in the program through a grant from the Rinker Center and shared valuable experiences from her days in the Peace Corps in Guyana.
“My favorite aspect of this trip would have to be going to the different regions of Ghana and seeing how they differed,” said Amani Bright ‘19, a public health major from Decatur, Ga.
Students visited historical and cultural monuments such as slave castles at Cape Coast and Elmina, and saw Volta Lake, the largest manmade lake in the world. They visited local markets, met with the chief and elders in the village of Krofu, participated in collaborative community work and toured Manhyia Palace museum of the Asante traditional kings.
“Ghana is an intriguing blend of successful modernity and rich colonial history,” explained Kwami. Students experienced multifaceted and rich culture of Ghanaians ranging from cosmopolitan dining options and architecture in the East Legon area to the everyday realities of hawkers balancing wares on their heads and selling on the streets of Accra.
“I wanted to travel somewhere that I could not pick up a book and do it on my own. I also loved that Professor Kwami is from Ghana,” said Kassidy Hadley ’19, a sociology major from South Riding, Va. “This was perfect because I wanted to learn as much about the culture as possible.”
As a Ghanaian, Kwami provided a unique perspective of her native country and led the group to reflect on the shared historical ties between Ghana and America with regards to the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the Civil Rights Movement and Ghana’s independence movement.
Homestays with local families and personal encounters with Ghanaians from different walks of life challenged widespread stereotypical negative portrayals and tropes of African countries and people. The homestays provided students with true cultural immersion, an opportunity to learn about themselves and to gain an appreciation of everyday life in Ghana, said Kwami.
With Ghanaian media as the focus of the course, students also visited major media organizations such as Radio Universe, Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, Joy FM and TV3, meeting with editors and production crew and conducting live interviews.
Self-reflective multimedia storytelling enabled students to develop both multimedia and intercultural competencies, by reflecting on and documenting their experiences through videography, photography and blogging. Topics ranged from stereotypes Ghanaians and Americans have of each other to the challenge of weaving a simple piece of Kente cloth for the first time.
“I loved how we were able to blog about our experiences. We had awesome readings that paired well with our experiences,” said Hadley. “Blogging enabled me to focus and reflect on the material and culture presented to me.”
For students and faculty, the highlight of their adventure was getting to know the local people.
“Traveling to Ghana enriched me as a person and as a professor,” said King. “It’s a country of thoughtful intellectuals, sophisticated people, astute business-minded people, talented craftspeople. I have a newfound appreciation for diversity, cultural humility and the strength of the human spirit.”
Susannah Pazdan ’19, a communication studies major from Greenville, also received a taste of what she hopes to do full-time in the future.
“I learned that my passion is photojournalism. I cannot wait to pursue this career,” she said. “This trip pushed me to see my potential and what I could do.”