FES in Ghana

FES in Ghana

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Spring break is a notorious time for adventure. At FES, many students take the opportunity to travel all over the country and around the world for Yale coursework. About 40 of us participated in various Global Network Weeks, an offering through the School of Management and its partner institutions as part of the Global Network for Advanced Management.

During Global Network Week, students travel to a networked business school abroad to take a one-week intensive course on a specific topic. This spring break, students went to Vancouver, the Philippines, Costa Rica, and Ghana. Our course in Accra, the capital of Ghana, was focused on “Urban Resilience in the Global South.” In our group, FES was the predominant presence: 13 out of 15 students were from FES, one student was from the Yale School of Management, and one student was from Hitotsubashi University in Japan.

We spent our first week of break in Accra and then the following week travelling around the country.

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The Global Network Week group at the University of Ghana

Jessica Leung and Allyza Lustig, two second year MEMs who went on the trip (front row, second and third from the right), share their thoughts here:

University of Ghana Business School

Jessica:

At the beautiful University of Ghana Business School, we had guest lectures for about 4 hours a day. We learned about public administration, human capital development, marketing, finance, and the technologies needed to build a resilient Accra.

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The library of the the University of Ghana’s Legon campus; the largest library in West Africa!

Many FES students in the course were new to the African context, but all of us are interested in themes such as urban sustainability, climate change adaptation, water, and energy. These concepts were incorporated into the lectures throughout the week, and it was intellectually stimulating to think about problems we were familiar with but in a different geographical, political, and cultural context.

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FESers presenting their pitches after a session on urban marketing

One of my favorite exercises of the week involved the case study of a tragic flood event that occurred in 2015, where significant flooding and a gas station explosion killed hundreds of people. The class split into two parties, one more politically to the left and the other more to the right. We brainstormed a range of ways that the city might address the larger waste and sanitation problem that led to this event: incentives for private sector involvement, effective government policy design, and ways of empowering marginalized citizens with technology to help reuse and reduce waste. The activity helped me better understand the unique challenges of development but also many similarities between the U.S. and Ghana, in particular with regard to human behavior.

On a general note, University of Ghana has a significant presence in Accra. They have many undergraduate and graduate program offerings and their campus is huge (it reminded me a lot of Stanford’s campus). We took a brief tour one day, and learned that former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan is the chancellor for the school! We also got to meet and network with some current business school students who visited Yale for Global Network Weeks in the past. Overall, we all enjoyed our experience in the classroom and had a great time interacting with the students, staff, and faculty.

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Jessica with UGBS students during the Global Network happy hour

Learning about Ghanaian Culture and History

Allyza:

I felt very welcome in Accra, and the Ghanaian vibe was very warm and friendly. In one instance, while we were lost in Accra looking for our hostel, the cab driver solicited help from his friend, who in turn asked her friend, who called the hostel — before you knew it, all parties were snugly in the car with us and driving through the city until we reached our destination.

In another case, on one afternoon after class, a friend of a friend invited us to join him for an African dance class that he teaches to teens who would not otherwise have access to arts education. Our dance instructors patiently walked us through the steps and rhythms of several basic moves. After about an hour, we were soloing clumsily but enthusiastically. It was a very memorable afternoon.

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Learning some Ghanaian dance moves!

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With our dance teachers, several of whom dance in the National Dance Company of Ghana

And, of course, it was especially wonderful to meet up with FES alum Ada Ndeso-Atanga, who is currently based at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. Jess and I had the privilege of chatting with Ada at an event we hosted on behalf of the FES admissions office. Connecting with her after our lecture was a wonderful example of the strong community spirit that connects FESers around the world.

Religion also came up quite a bit throughout our visit, as the majority of Ghanaians are quite observant. While traveling along the coast, I had an interesting conversation with a teenage boy who approached me and asked me very directly about my belief in God. Ghana is a primarily Christian country, though a sizeable Muslim minority is based in the northern part of the country. There is little, if any, religious conflict in the country and in Accra, people of both faiths seemed to be fairly integrated… definitely lessons to be learned about mutual respect and coexistence.

Of course, there are challenges to navigating a new space and context. Small things, like taking local transport, feels like triumph (frankly, even the Ghanaians we spoke with seems surprised we managed to navigate the system). Poverty is also unavoidably apparent, and issues of wealth inequality are frequently discussed in the media. As one of our UGBS professors told us, radio in particular provides an equalizing platform for all citizens to make their views and political beliefs known.

Similarly, the castles along the coast are dark reminders of the terrifying history of the triangular slave trade that connected Europe, Africa, and the Americas; hundreds of thousands of people were forced to walk tremendous distances to arrive at the castles, where most died from horrific conditions and the rest were sent into slavery. Though we learn about the history of slavery to a certain degree throughout our lives in the States, visiting those castles is something that every American should do. It was a tremendously powerful experience for us all.

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Elmina Castle

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Cape Coast Castle

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Local fishing area; view from Cape Coast Castle

Extracurricular Activities

Jessica:

Learning to surf in the small beach town of Busua was one of the most fun (but challenging) things I did on this trip! Busua is about a five hour drive west of Accra, along the coast of the Gulf of Guinea. One afternoon, two friends and I decided to take a 2.5 hour lesson — it was a blast. I was terrible at standing up on the board, but I did manage to catch a couple (mini) waves!

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Allyza met Haley (on the right in the photo above) back in Accra at their Airbnb. She is a lawyer from Canada who is taking some time to visit Ghana after having studied abroad in Accra a couple years ago. She ended up traveling with us and it was great to have her company. We tried to do yoga on the beach on afternoon in Busua but were attacked by six giggly children who just tried to imitate our poses and constantly made us lose our balance!

We also visited Kakum National Park, only a 45 minute drive from Cape Coast. It is a tropical rainforest known most famously for a tree canopy walk you can do (discounts for students!). My FES friend, Santi, and I spent about an hour in the trees, about 100 ft from the forest floor. It was a beautiful view and a nice change of environment from the city and beach surroundings of our trip.

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Allyza:

I really enjoyed our trip to Kokrobite Beach, just outside of Accra. It is a recreational beach to some extent, but it also has a large fishing presence. We were there right in time to see the boats coming in with their afternoon catch, which was pretty incredible:
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Fishing boats coming in at Kokrobite Beach

I also really enjoyed our trip to the maze-like Makola Market, where we experienced the hustle of Accra’s urban center. You could find anything: shoes, hot peppers, linens, freshly caught fish, etc. Sara, an FES friend, had a dress custom made by a local tailor, and we had some good Ghanaian food: jollof (a spicy rice dish), plantains, and a bean dish called red red.

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Some tasty Ghanaian food

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Sara gets fitted for her dress at the Makola Market

Last Thoughts:

Allyza: This was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime journey. I learned a lot from the trip and left with more questions than answers — the sign of a good educational experience! It was a pleasure to experience a small taste of Ghanaian culture and get to know my fellow FESers better. Thank you for this wonderful opportunity!

Jessica: I have had the privilege of travelling to many different countries since I have been at FES, and each experience keeps expanding my intellectual horizons. Trips like this one to Ghana have made me realize the value of being uncomfortable in new places: by embracing the new and unknown, you can really learn a lot. Echoing Allyza, diving into this experience with FES classmates made this an even more memorable trip!