Written by Jessica Guo
Yeah, I did, and it’s not just another line on my resume. I didn’t go just so I could say I’d been to Africa in an interview. Last spring, I took the Stern International Volunteers: Ghana course because I believe that business is one of the most effective and innovative ways to enact sustainable change.
The spring semester course, which culminated with ten days of travel within Ghana, was a structured opportunity through which our class was able to explore the political, legal, cultural, and economic environment in Ghana, and in doing so, explore ideas for how we might be able to employ our business background in addressing any issues or opportunities we might find.
It allowed us the space to fully examine and confront social issues that I had never needed to give thought to in my comfort zone and to tie that into our business education in New York.
Our service trip was unique in that our itinerary was built from the perspective of a business student. We toured social enterprises like Blue Skies Juice Manufacturing, the University of Ghana Business School, cooperatives like Kuapa Kokoo Cocoa Farms, and an informal market in Kumasi.
Yet we also experienced a taste of Ghana’s dynamic culture and rich history through our volunteering in the rural Volta region, our stay in the more developed Accra region, and our visit to the historic slave castle at Cape Coast Elmina.
We wove Kente cloth, danced to Ghanaian drumming, and cooked with the villagers. Some of the best moments were our informal reflections, where we would relax on the Ghanaian beach after dinner, sipping palm wine and looking across the sea towards Antarctica as we stayed up to watch the 4:30AM sunrise. There is no better nor more rewarding opportunity to explore, collaborate, and engage than by traveling abroad and bonding with your peers, professors, and fellow global citizens.
Service trips are important not because we can effect change within the short timeframe of our trip, but because we tour countries very different from our own to remind ourselves that not everyone lives the way we do: our standards are not the norm.
These trips are a chance to recognize these differences, but also to celebrate the myriad ways in which we are alike – to celebrate the common humanity that we share. We cannot romanticize an entire continent and put too much emphasis on our role as mere volunteers. We did not go to Ghana to save Africa. Of course, Ghana as a country cannot speak for Africa as a whole, but if anything, our trip shattered pre-conceived notions that I’d had of Africa, and instead equipped me with the vocabulary and base knowledge to ask more questions with a better understanding of the context.