Tufts Global Education to overhaul Ghana program, implement interim plan for fall 2020

The University of Ghana campus is pictured. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons

In many ways, the Tufts-in-Ghana program offers students a unique study abroad experience. Students have the opportunity to live and learn with local Ghanaians, to take weekend excursions to sites of historical and cultural significance and to hone their sense of independence as they navigate an academic system that’s substantially different from the one in Medford. It affords an opportunity to enjoy summer-like weather while their New England counterparts brace themselves for winter and most of all, the program provides students with an eye-opening, growth-inducing experience of Ghanaian culture.

Through the program, students from Tufts have studied at the University of Ghana, a premier institution located just outside the nation’s capital. Introduced in 1996, the Tufts-in-Ghana program has since served many students well. One of those students is senior Adaeze Dikko, a senior who studied in Ghana in the fall of 2018.

 “I really, really loved my experience abroad… there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t yearn to be back” Dikko said. “It was a really, really crucial time in my life, and I was so lucky to have spent it in Ghana with my cohort, which is such an amazing and supportive group.”

Dikko cites the cohort as one of the reasons behind the positive experience. 

“We’re all still really close. Every time we get together, we’re just yearning for Ghana,” Dikko said. 

Unfortunately, the program hasn’t worked for everyone. Between 1996 and 2000, at least four Tufts students were sexually assaulted while studying at the University of Ghana, according to a previous article in the Daily. Included in these four cases was a violent incident of rape in the spring of 2000 which prompted the former Vice President of Arts, Sciences, and Technology Mel Bernstein to suspend the program.

After deciding to add an extensive pre-departure meeting and hiring additional faculty to oversee the program, administrators decided to reinstate it for the 2002-2003 academic year

On Feb. 12, applicants to the Tufts-in-Ghana program for fall 2020 received an email informing them of a mandatory meeting that was to be held the following week. According to sophomore Iman McPherson, an applicant, the meeting was conducted in Dowling Hall on Feb. 20. There, faculty from Tufts Global Education informed the applicants that they were planning to overhaul the Tufts-in-Ghana program.

“[The faculty] said that there had been some past issues with the program and how the program ran [this past] fall” McPherson said.

Concerns about housing, academics and safety were cited as reasons that necessitated change, according to McPherson. In an email to the Daily, Senior Director of Study Abroad and Global Education Mala Ghosh confirmed this. 

“We have decided to redesign the program in order to meet the academic, cultural, and professional development goals of our current student population,” Ghosh wrote. “We are working with a variety of stakeholders to innovate a robust, intentional experience by strengthening ties to academic departments at the University of Ghana, enhancing cultural excursions, and integrating internship opportunities.” 

In the past, the program’s resident director, Kweku Bilson, has led a 10-day orientation for students after they arrive in Ghana. He conducts lessons on the local culture, its history and means of keeping safe, according to a brochure from Tufts Global Education. 

This orientation, along with “pre-departure preparation,” “student support services” and housing, are some of the program’s features that will be considered for improvement, according to Ghosh.

Of course, it will take some time to implement these changes. Ghosh expects the revamped program to be ready for the 2021-2022 academic year. In the meantime, she and her colleagues are working with students who applied for fall 2020 to customize an interim plan. 

According to McPherson, the faculty at the Feb. 20 meeting mentioned that, in the interim, students might live with host families instead of in on-campus hostels. Moreover, they may take classes with fellow international students at the School for International Training’s center in Ghana, and not through the University of Ghana. These are some of the reasons why McPherson decided to withdraw her application. 

“I wanted to be really immersed in the university with actual Ghanaian students and professors,” McPherson said. “I also had some reservations about the homestay. I was thinking, ‘Okay, here’s my day. I go and I take classes with all Tufts or international students and then I go back to my host family.’ [I would] never actually get to meet the students from the country that [were my] own age.” 

For Dikko, living in the International Students Hostel was one of the more powerful aspects of the program. “[Being in the hostel], that’s how you’re meeting people, that’s how you’re finding out what’s going on in the city, that’s how you’re tapping into actually living in [Ghana’s capital] Accra,Dikko said.

Dikko recalls that the experience, like any other study abroad, was challenging in the fact that it is difficult to learn in a new context. For Dikko, the experience of the 2018 fall cohort “wasn’t difficult in ways that could have been better facilitated by Tufts-in-Ghana… It’s not supposed to be a hand-holding experience.”

Nonetheless, Dikko emphasized that the program is not a “one-size-fits-all,” and that the overall experience, as well as the issues that arise, vary with each cohort.

Given the circumstances, applicants to Tufts-in-Ghana were allowed to submit an application to another Tufts program abroad, even though the deadline had passed.

For McPherson, the situation itself was more upsetting than the way that it was handled by Tufts.

“I think they pretty much handled it the best that they could,” McPherson said.

Over the next year, Tufts Global Education plans to include an array of voices, including some from the Tufts community and others from the University of Ghana, in order to ensure that the changes to the program will be effective. 

 “As always, our goal is to offer our study abroad students a transformative experience that will help them build skills and enable them to engage with the world around them,” Ghosh wrote.