Strong ties to Ghana create partnership model

International Student on exchange says it's her 'calling' to be in Africa
- Michele Coffill

The University of Cape Coast in Ghana has a longstanding exchange agreement with Grand Valley. In the top photo, Rebecca Hambleton, from the Padnos International Center, is shown with Ghanaians.

The fact that most of her morning showers are coming from a bucket of water, rather than a faucet, is a minor inconvenience for Jennifer Brooke DeLosh.

DeLosh, an international relations major from Grand Rapids, is studying at the University of Cape Coast in Ghana, Africa. Even before arriving in Ghana in January, DeLosh said she felt such a strong connection to the continent, she considers it her calling to eventually live and work there.

"In Tanzania, there is a movement to build schools because there's no place for kids to go to school," she said. "During my time in Africa, I just want to travel and learn as much as I can; then work to create awareness of the problems there. There is so much to be done."

DeLosh is one of two Grand Valley students studying at UCC this winter. They are continuing a string of student and faculty exchanges between the two universities that started in 1987 and was formalized in 2002. A contingent of eight Grand Valley faculty members traveled to Ghana in the fall for a conference that focused on the best practices in Ghanaian and American education; President Mark A. Murray gave the keynote address.

Similar to Grand Valley, UCC was established in 1962. It's one of five large public universities in Ghana and has an enrollment of 14,000 at the Cape Coast campus and another 12,000 through distance education.

Last year was the end of a three-year $100,000 grant from the U.S. Department of State that facilitated the exchange program with goals to strengthen UCC's information technology, literacy education and study abroad departments. Ghanaian faculty members who have visited Grand Valley during that time have helped shape its African Studies program.

Rebecca Hambleton, director of study abroad and international partnerships at Grand Valley's Padnos International Center, said although the grant has ended, the partnership with UCC will continue. It's one of 30 formal partnerships Grand Valley has with universities around the world. Hambleton spent three months last year in Ghana helping staff members shape their international education office.

Nikki Gaines, a staff member in Grand Valley's housing office, spent two weeks at UCC working in its student affairs division.

"This kind of exchange helps us draw a clearer picture for students who might study in Ghana," Gaines said.

During her visit, Gaines had the opportunity to visit a UCC class taught by her uncle, a Ghanaian resident. "There was no talking at all. The students all got up at the end of the class and took their chairs - they carry them to each class so that everyone has a place to sit," she said. Books, if not shared, were also in short supply, she said. In fact, when Grand Valley English Professor Jim Persoon left to teach in Ghana on a Fulbright Scholar grant, he brought textbooks and other books he had collected.

Hambleton said it's remarkable that Ghanaians are so enthusiastic about learning given their limited resources: Internet access is slow or non-existent; libraries lack volumes; running water is intermittent at best; and classes are overcrowded - she said it's not uncommon to see students lined outside the door of a class, listening in.

"The students there have to try so much harder to get the same information that students here have access to," she said.

Yet, it's that modified, simpler life that DeLosh plans to embrace.

"From what I understand, the people there are very welcoming, very accepting," she said prior to her trip. "It's that calming down and having a more simplistic lifestyle that I look forward to."

Page last modified July 22, 2011