The beauty of an African rain forest. The horrors of the African slave trade. The creativity of inquisitive Ghana students embracing new technology. The opportunity to make a difference.
It was all there for seven Luddy School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering students during their 12-day, five-years-in-the-making May Ghana Tech Trip.
They took full advantage.
For Jack Tyndall, a junior computer science major, the best part was the people.
“They made the trip worth it,” he said. “It was finding the connections between our cultures, learn more and strike those chords that connects all of us.”
Tyndall said he tries to stay educated about world events, but nothing resonated more than experiencing a new country.
“It was a true expansion of my world view.”
Nela Riddle, a junior computer science major, said the trip boosted her cultural understanding and provided first-hand experience with technology’s transformative power.
“I left Ghana with a desire to continue sharing my passion for technology,” she said, “but especially within new contexts and cultures. There is an infinite wealth of knowledge to be discovered in new places.”
Also making the trip were Caden Walden, B.S. computer science and informatics; Agness Lungu, B.S. intelligent systems engineering; Luke Jacobson, B.S. computer science; Isabela Dockter B.S. informatics; and Zachary Harper, B.S. business.
The Luddy School partnered with Young at Heart Ghana, an organization that improves digital education access to rural and disadvantaged communities throughout the country.
The mission, said Tiana Iruoje, Luddy director of student engagement and success, focused on allowing Luddy students to develop technology skills for elementary schools and surrounding communities, implement STEM outreach programs, and help local students work with technology.
It also tied in with Indiana University’s overall goal for all students to have international experience.
Iruoje said Luddy students didn’t just learn about the Ghana culture, they lived it.
“It opened their eyes to how other countries operate.”
Iruoje said Ghana was chosen because it’s an up-and-coming African country with increasing technology capacity. Google has a strong presence in the country.
Luddy students immersed themselves in Ghana’s culture and shared their technology knowledge, which included showing local students how to create their own videogames and music.
Activities included volunteering at Brentford International Academy, taking a forest walk in the trees at Kakum, visiting the National Museum of Ghana, and touring the University of Ghana, the Aburi Botanical Gardens, the W.E.B. DeBoise Centre, slave castles at Cape Coast and Elmina, Labadi Beach, Black Star Square, and a cacao farm (the seed used to make cocoa and chocolate).
Luddy students also attended a cloth-making demonstration, and negotiated with aggressive market vendors.
“We learned to navigate the very forward and persistent marketing style locals had for foreigners to get the best price,” Tyndall said.
Luddy students also traveled to most of the country’s major cities.
“Many of these activities were excellent for introducing us to not only the history and economics of Ghana,” Riddle said, “but also some prevailing ideas in Ghanaian culture.”
Luddy students were impressed by the Ghana people’s politeness and friendliness. They learned about “Anansi,” the cunning spider character prevalent in many of Ghana’s folk tales, as well as the historical meaning of Adinkra symbols, characters that convey bits of wisdom found everywhere in the country. They also learned about kente (a tight, handwoven cloth) production and cocoa trees.
They found time to play soccer, uno and hangman. Staying with local families sparked conversations and activities that sometimes lasted late into the night.
Spending four days at the Brentford International Academy, Tyndall said, was challenging and rewarding. Rigid structure gave way to go-with-the-flow flexibility that was a trip highlight.
“I had a great time interacting with students, making conversation and answering their questions about my appearance, my purpose in Ghana, and American culture,” Tyndall said. “It was interesting to hear their thoughts and questions, and get a glimpse of their view of Americans.”
Walden, a sophomore, said spending time at the school was the best part of the trip.
“It was completely immersive. All the people we interacted with were some of the coolest and most welcoming I’ve ever met,” he said. “I learned a lot from them.”
Luddy students lived and worked with volunteers from Ghanaian universities in the city of Koforidua. They set up computers for children to use the gamified learning app designed at Young at Heart Ghana. The app used Anansi tales to teach lessons.
Luddy students also taught Scratch coding to help ease the children into programming.
“Every student said this was their favorite part,’ Walden said, “because we let them have the freedom to create whatever they could think of.”
Riddle said it was a hands-on way to interact with students and provide personal instruction.
“There was plenty of opportunity to talk with the kids and get to know them,” she said. “They were very intelligent, energetic, and fun to be around. It was a blast.”
Reading about the slave trade doesn’t compare to seeing where it happened, Luddy students said. They visited Assin Manso, the location of the Ancestral Slave River. It’s where slaves were auctioned off and branded before being taken to Elmina Castle or Cape Coast Castle, and then transported to the Americas.
“We learned -- in detail -- about the horrific 400 years in which the trans-Atlantic slave trade took place,” Caden said. “You don’t walk away from those places the same person as when you entered.”
Iruoje said the trip accomplished more than provide great international experience.
“It was a great recruiting tool,” she said.
A Ghana college student has contacted Iruoje about transferring to IU. Others could follow.
“Indiana University is looking to build a stronger relationship with Ghana,” Iruoje said.
She added this trip will be a yearly opportunity, but officials also hope to add trips to Kenya and South Africa.
Walden is all for it.
“The whole experience was life changing,” he said. “It was educational and enriching. Social and personal connections were made and strengthened.
“If the opportunity arises to go again, I will be first on that list.”