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An Immersive Experience

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A group of NYU Stern Undergraduate College students travelled to Ghana as part of the Stern International Volunteers Seminar.

For Jessica Guo (BS ’17), opportunities to combine business education with international travel and service enhance the student experience at the NYU Stern Undergraduate College.
 
Recently, Guo and 15 other Stern students traveled to West Africa as part of a course taught by Professor Rachel Kowal: the Stern International Volunteers (SIV) seminar in Ghana. Throughout the spring 2014 semester, students enrolled in the course participated in weekly discussions about legal rights, business opportunities and cultural norms in Ghana. The course culminated in a ten-day service learning trip to Accra, Ghana, where Guo and her classmates experienced, applied and compared what they learned in class about Ghana.
 
“It's important to be fully immersed in a culture because that is, I believe, the only way you can truly experience the place,” said Guo, whose concentrations at Stern include Marketing and Finance. “If you're not open to the culture, you risk comparing your experiences to your sense of ‘normal,’ causing you to define everything as ‘weird’ and ‘other.’ You can't fully experience a culture that way.” Guo said that the SIV seminar helped open her mind and prepare her for her travels.
 
Students toured several Ghanaian business operations, including Blue Skies Juice Manufacturing, a global supplier of fresh local fruit juice, and the Kuapa Kokoo Farmers Union, a cocoa producer that has successfully implemented a cooperative business model. In addition, students toured the University of Ghana, where they donated over 100 pounds of accounting books to their Ghanaian colleagues, and several historic sites throughout the country, including the historic Elmina Slave Castle.
 
“Exposure to the complex issues facing developing countries is one of the primary goals of the course,” said Kowal, a Clinical Professor of Business Law at Stern.  “Reading about these issues is different from seeing and experiencing them first-hand. For many of the students, it was a life-changing experience.  Studying about how communities lack running water and actually carrying water from a distant source in order to perform a task can be an eye-opener.”
 
One of the highlights of the trip, said Kowal, was the time the group spent volunteering in a rural village in Ghana’s Volta region, where they mixed concrete for the community’s new school, interacted with villagers, and cooked a meal over an open fire. Students also tried their hand at the local art of Kente weaving.
 
“We see so much of Africa in the media, but it is often romanticized and exoticized, with a skewed focus on Africa's poverty and not necessarily its opportunities and its tenacity,” said Guo. “This trip was eye-opening and humbling not just for business students, but for us as global citizens.”