It still feels surreal to me that I’m leaving for Ghana in three days. Just thinking about it produces wild butterflies in my stomach from either bounding excitement or extreme panic. It’s probably a combination of both. Regardless, for the next four months I will be living and working in Cape Coast, Ghana.
I’m not exactly known as a big traveller. That would be my sister who boasts of travelling throughout Europe and select destinations in the South West Pacific. My experiences are merely limited to chunks of the United States and Canada, as well as a last minute, but lovely trip to Ireland. My most exotic trip to date was Hawaii when I was six.
However, my limited experience is not due to lack of enthusiasm, but rather the constrained resources of money and time. The constraint of money is pretty much expected from a college student who relies on her parents and a retail job for cash (though the co-op program helps quite a bit with this). While my parents are more than willing to help me fund some travelling, I would feel too guilty to take them up on this. Time is trickier. Drexel students get very limited vacation, particularly those on the Fall/Winter co-op cycle. Since we don’t get summers off, any trips including ABs or service trips have to happen during the one or two week breaks between terms. Unlike tons of the Drexel population, I’m not from the tri-state area and don’t get to come home that often. Thus, I need to decide whether to spend my vacations travelling or seeing my family. So far, I’ve always gone home. I miss my family too much.
So, how did a girl who’s barely left the U.S. manage to get the opportunity to go live in Ghana? Drexel’s Co-op Program (Feel free to skip this paragraph if you’re familiar with co-op). Drexel is one of a dozen or so schools to focus on cooperative education. The program was launched in 1919 and is one of the largest in the country. According to Drexel’s website, the point of co-op is for students to get “paid employment in practical, major-related positions consistent with the interests and abilities of participating students.”[i] In layman’s terms, the co-op program consists of six-month (often paid) internships. Drexel students can either choose a three co-op program taking five years, a one co-op program for four years or a regular ol’ four-year program. Students are then split up into two cycles: Fall/Winter and Spring/Summer. Spring/Summer is most like a traditional school experience. However instead of getting summers off, students have a full time internship. Fall/Winter students, however, intern during normal school months and take classes during the summer. There’s always a debate on which cycle is better, and I firmly believe that Fall/Winter students get the short end of the stick, especially if they aren’t from around Philly. In the summer, the class selection is smaller, facilities all close down earlier, there more adjuncts, and there are fewer activities such as Welcome Back Week. Despite the inequality in cycles, Drexel’s co-op program is a practical solution to hedging against the high unemployment for college grads and I consider it a good investment for my future.
I am in the three co-op, five year program and happen to have the Fall/Winter cycle. Currently, I am in my third or “pre-junior” year and am an accounting and finance major with a minor in history. For my first co-op, I worked at the law firm Chimicles & Tikellis, which handles class actions. While I discovered that I am not interested in a law career, I enjoyed the autonomy of the position and variety of assignments. For my second co-op, I knew very early that I wanted to go abroad. At first, my search was extremely broad, as I didn’t quite know what type of position I was looking for or in what country. After a bit of thought, the answer was obvious: microfinance.
During the winter term of my freshman year, I took a two-credit class called Social Responsibility in Business. It was a business elective taught by the wonderful Juli LaRosa in which we discussed ways businesses can enrich society and examined successful models of social entrepreneurship. The class that most stood out to me was Professor LaRosa’s lecture on microfinance. The simple definition of microfinance is “banking service that is provided to unemployed or low-income individuals or groups who would otherwise have no other means of gaining financial services.”[ii] Generally, microfinance is considered a means to combat poverty and promote entrepreneurship and fiscal responsibility in developing countries. (See my next post for more information on microfinance).
That brings me to ProWorld. ProWorld is a subsidy of Intrax, which is one of the largest providers of global educational, employment, and volunteer programs in the world. Most importantly, Intrax is one of the few organizations designated as a sponsor by the U.S Department of State.[iii] ProWorld’s first student group was in Peru in 2000 and has expanded to include several other countries. Currently there are programs in Belize, Thailand, Peru, and Ghana that cover many areas such as education, journalism, health, environmental management, and microfinance. I had first heard about ProWorld through my friend Nora, who participated in a program in Mexico. After doing my own research, I came to the conclusion that ProWorld would be a terrific program to be a part of.
From October through January, I will be interning at a NGO in Cape Coast, Ghana. I will be living with a host family and taking biweekly language lessons to learn Fante. In the next few posts, I’ll give more details, about microfinance, Ghana, and my specific project. Hopefully I’ll be able to add some interesting pictures soon.