Voices: The dilemma of photographing developing Africa when studying abroad

“Voices: The dilemma of photographing developing Africa when studying abroad”

by Natalie Marshall via “USA Today

Last May, I went on a short-term study abroad trip to Ghana. The trip involved lots of interaction with Ghanaians with visits to schools, villages and cities to see how different groups of Ghanaians lived.

I took pictures every day because I wanted to remember all the incredible moments I experienced and all the things I learned. One picture that I thought would be particularly special is a photo of me with a group of children from the Gomoa Tekyiam village. It was taken after the chief welcomed me in a ceremony and I spent most of my day playing with the kids in the village. I asked for permission from the parents of the village to take the photo. They allowed it, so I thought I was doing everything right.



When I returned to the United States, I suddenly became self-conscious about this photo after I was bombarded with a flood of satire about the typical white American twenty-something who poses with African children for ‘likes’ on Facebook. The most popular satire surrounding this concept was an article in The Onion about a 22-year-old whose “completely transformative” trip to Malawi “has completely changed her profile picture.”

What became problematic for me was that my experience actually was very transformative. During my time in Ghana, I redefined my perception of poverty as I interacted with people who lived in mud huts— but had food security — sent their kids to school and generally lived well. I also learned that — despite some cultural differences — humans are fundamentally the same. We share common needs, concerns and feelings. When I took the picture with the kids, it was meant to serve as a memory of the very people who made me reevaluate my knowledge and understanding of the world. . . .


“Off the beaten path: ‘Huge opportunities’ stem from African study abroad programs”


“Off the beaten path: ‘Huge opportunities’ stem from African study abroad programs”

by Natalie Marshall via “USA TODAY

When college students search for study abroad sites, sub-Saharan Africa is not usually among the top contenders for possible host regions. According to a report by the Institute of International Education, about 12,859 students studied in sub-Saharan Africa during the 2011-2012 academic year, while about 151,143 studied in Europe that same year.

However, while students are not necessarily flocking to African study abroad sites, many students who have studied on the African continent have found their experiences to be very beneficial.

Zach Sturiale, a sophomore at Arcadia University, says that he was exposed firsthand to numerous issues during his time abroad. He studied in Cape Town, South Africa during his fall 2014 semester.

“South Africa is by far one of the most interesting countries in the world due to its past and current political, economic and social climate,” says Sturiale.

Most of all, he says he was exposed to the inequality that remains after the history of apartheid in South Africa.

“Studying in Cape Town made inequality strikingly apparent to me. I saw some of the largest examples of wealth I have ever seen in my life, but also saw the most tremendous examples of poverty I have ever seen in my life.”

Zach Sturiale '17 takes a break from sandboarding in South Africa (Photo courtesy of Sturiale)

Anna Wagman, a junior at Dickinson College, agrees that students can learn a lot from studying abroad in African countries. After studying in Madagascar, Tanzania and South Africa, she found that her study abroad sites offered numerous learning opportunities.

“Studying in a culturally disparate country is a huge opportunity for personal and academic growth, and great stories,” she says.

That being said, studying in developing countries often comes with challenges that students do not usually experience in more traditional study abroad sites.

Wagman says, “It’s always nerve-wracking to go somewhere so different from what you’re used to, but it was always really satisfying to push myself like that. Sometimes we had some really difficult living conditions . . . but I know the shared discomfort of these experiences made me really close with everyone in my group.”

Jessica Hawk, a senior at New York University, agrees that the challenges she experienced while studying abroad in Ghana were worth it in the end.

“There [were] days where I had to block my friends — who were studying in Florence — on Facebook so I couldn’t see the lavish lives they lived with great food,” she says. “But I gained local friends — who I now consider my family — that others sites may not offer. Sometimes water wouldn’t turn on or the lights would go out, but it was all really worth it.”

Jessica Hawk '15 walks across one of the many treetop canopies at Kakum National Park in Ghana. (Photo courtesy of Hawk)

For Hawk, the challenges continued after she returned to the United States, as people from home did not fully comprehend her experiences in Ghana.

“I hated it when someone [from home] would introduce me as the person that studied in ‘Africa’ and everyone treated me like I was brave. It was a weird concept to think about. I wasn’t brave for living there. I ate, worked out, I went out at night. Life was pretty normal,” she says.

Despite some challenges, students generally hold fond memories from their study abroad experiences around Africa.