New study abroad program takes students to Accra, Ghana’s evolving capital

While exploring the history and culture of Accra, recently labeled “Africa’s Capital of Cool” by The New York Times, students will craft blogs and websites to share their discoveries with global audiences during a four-week digital humanities course this summer in Ghana.

Leading “African Cities: Accra” is history Assistant Professor Jennifer Hart, a 2009 Fulbright scholar whose project that year led to a nine-year study on the social and cultural history of late colonial and post-colonial Accra through the careers of local taxi drivers.

With the support of the Office of International Programs, Hart is partnering with colleagues at Accra’s Ashesi University and designing a program integrating field work and community engagements with assigned readings and class assignments. The trip runs June 30 to July 30 and qualifies for the university’s Spring/Summer 30 percent discount for students who meet program requirements. 

“Everyday experiences offer a fascinating view, and better understanding, of any society or event, and challenge our preconceived notions about the world,” says Hart.

The program complements all disciplines, she says, allowing students to conduct research reflective of their own studies, whether that is entrepreneurship, engineering, public health, computer science, performing and visual arts, history, journalism or political science. Through studies and personal experiences, Hart says, students will discover who is, and who may not be, benefiting from recent economic and urban advances in Ghana.

Hart’s goal is to offer students an experience similar to her Fulbright project, when she arrived in Ghana to study Christianity and was academically rerouted by a chance meeting with a taxi driver.

Stopping to get directions from him transformed her life, she says, and her book “Ghana on the Go: African Mobility in the Age of Motor Transportation,” demonstrates that as early as the 1910s, the African drivers understood how using imported motor transport could further social and economic agendas.

“Engaging students in activities to support (reading assignments) adds richness and depth to their studies,” says Hart. “It can be transformative.”

Hart is not new to leading study abroad programs. She was a mentor in Ghana and Tanzania for the university’s African Democracy Project, which combines study abroad opportunities and intensive seminar courses focusing on citizenship, government systems and language to explore emerging democracies through a global lens.

Honors student Marvi Chaudhry took part in the Tanzania trip with Hart and former WSU President Irvin D. Reid. She took her analysis on HIV/AIDS policies a step further, presenting her findings at the Institute of African Studies at Carleton University, Ottawa, where her research earned second place in overall paper submissions.

“Dr. Hart encouraged us to be active members in our surroundings,” says Chaudhry, who is majoring in political science and plans to attend medical school. “I learned to think critically about my role as researcher in a foreign country and learned to think and analyze situations like an ethnographer.”

Apply now for “African Cities: Accra.”

The Office of International Programs leads Wayne State’s global engagement by creating opportunities that foster international education and research, facilitate the exchange of individuals and ideas that promote global competencies and citizenship, and provide resources that support the expansion of the university’s global agenda.

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