ASU grad student co-directs Ghana study abroad program

By

Matt Oxford

Arizona State University student Alicia Ellis’s trip to Ghana this summer was two-pronged.

First, a co-director was needed to assist in leading an undergraduate study abroad program — one of more than 250 in more than 65 countries organized by the ASU Study Abroad Office. Students can participate in programs as short as a week, as long as a year and everything in between for academic credit.

Second, traveling to Ghana provided the political science graduate student an opportunity to meet sources and build a network as she began to look into case studies for her dissertation on the relationship between the political economy of agriculture and democratic accountability.

When discussing a typical day on the trip in Ghana, Ellis highlighted the fact that every day the group was best served by “planning for the unexpected.”

The group would go on academic visits so that they could see in person the topics they were studying in their Politics, Culture and Society course that they took while in Ghana. 

An example of this was when the group toured the W.E.B. DuBois Museum and Cultural Center. In the classroom the students learned about W. E. B. DuBois, a Pan-Africanist and pre-eminent scholar of race and power in the 20th century and one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples (NAACP). The museum, which is now a mecca for the world-wide African Diaspora, showcased his grave and the house where DuBois lived and studied.

Students can read and study these topics in the U.S. but actually experiencing them first hand is “mind blowing,” according to the program director and political science professor, Okechukwu Iheduru.

While it was difficult to choose just one stand-out experience of the trip, Ellis made a point to describe the personal connections she and the group made while in Accra, Ghana’s capital city, and Kumasi. A connection in Accra, her Uber driver for a trip around town, pointed her in the direction of a woman in Kumasi who ran a cocoa farm and a preschool. She described eating a palm soup with dough and fish, being told to use her hands. She also joked about being teased by the woman as she struggled to eat the soup, fondly describing the atmosphere within the small farm.

While visiting the city of Kumasi, the group was fortunate enough to attend the Akwasedie ceremony at the Asantehene’s (king’s) palace. This event marks the end of the Ashanti 42-day calendar month and features every sub chief and leader who must attend to pay homage to the king. While typically visitors sit in stands to view the ceremony, the study abroad group were treated as special guests. Each student had the pleasure of personally bowing to the king who was dressed in all gold traditional regalia.

Ellis said that this trip reaffirmed something she had learned from serving abroad in the past: humanity is the same despite geographic location. When arriving in a foreign nation with a starkly contrasting culture, it is easy to focus on the differences. But the fact is that humanity is continuous despite borders and distance — people have love, families, aspirations, and desires everywhere.

Now that she is back, Ellis is planning her next steps in completing her dissertation. Next summer she hopes to return to her newly-established network in Ghana, following up on a case study for her research.