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2006-08-09 / Family

Going to Ghana

John Tyler embraces international education By Katherine Peters

John Tyler embraces international education By Katherine Peters  

Grace Camillo holds one of the young residents at the Peace and Love Orphanage, located in Ghana. JTCC students recently traveled to Ghana as part of the college's international education program.
Most college study abroad programs land in Europe or somewhere equally developed. But John Tyler Community College students are traveling to some more uncommon spots - like Ghana - with some uncommon goals - like helping an orphanage.

"These trips have not been a stereotypical 'Let's go to England or Italy,' said Dr. Ray Drinkwater, JTCC's Dean of Student Services. "We've made excursions into what some would say are Third World countries and are indeed developing parts of the world."

The creation of an international oversight committee this year at John Tyler has catapulted its international education program. Trips abroad are becoming more numerous, frequent and formalized in the school.

The most recent trip to Ghana, the second in as many years, emerged as a joint effort between JTCC's Sharon Burnham and J. Sergeant Reynolds' Dr. Joseph Appiah, who is Ghanaian. And the trip was anything but stereotypical.

"We had so much contact with villages - it wasn't just a tourist trip at all. We met a lot of people," said Burnham, a history instructor. The group's tour guide was an old classmate of Dr. Appiah's, and he led them in a variety of local experiences.

In addition to pre-trip classes on West African culture and history, the small group of 11 VCCS students and faculty spent an hour or two together every night of the 21-day trip, preparing for the next day and debriefing.

"We were in the bush, we were 100 feet in the air on a canopy walk, we visited villages," Burnham said. The group met with the chief of Dr. Appiah's village, and Burnham bought fabric at Appiah's mother's store.

Most Ghanaians they met spoke English, the official language of Ghana. Still, local tongues proliferate on television and radio as well as in the marketplace.

"It opens your mind to how people live and how they survive," said student Carl-Heinz Wyzisk, a Chesterfield native. At 42, Wyzisk describes himself as a "permanent student" and has visited 16 different countries. "Of all the countries I've been to, it's the friendliest country by far," he said.

Of the trip's many highlights, the visit to the Peace and Love Orphanage stands apart from all others. There, the academic met the humanitarian.

Prior to the trip, students Grace Camillo and Molly Smith spearheaded a campaign to gather funds and supplies for the orphanage. Through emails to other John Tyler students and local churches, the two raised about $2,000 for Peace and Love, much of it donated by anonymous members of a local church.

Enough school supplies, toiletries and other items were tossed into collection bins at John Tyler's Midlothian campus to fill about eight 60-pound suitcases. Each member of the trip surrendered one of the two bags they were allowed to carry on the plane for the cause.

"It was a great experience. The children [at the orphanage] were fantastically friendly," Wyzisk said. "One little boy just walked up to me and grabbed my hand... it was one of the best trips I've ever been on."

The trip also created future opportunities for the international education program.

"We had an overture made to us by a regional minister that we establish at least a minimal exchange of students from Ghana with community college students," Burnham explained. "That's something we'd like to explore, [but] there are a lot of details that have to be worked out."

Mary Beth Wentworth, associate professor of English and humanities at John Tyler and the international education program coordinator, stresses the importance of seizing new opportunities whenever possible.

"We want to have contacts around the world," she said, stressing that both students and the community need to have a global awareness. Wentworth also stressed the importance of cultural festivities held at the John Tyler campus for the community, such as the "Mystery of China" and "An Evening in Africa" events.

Next year's destinations include trips to Iceland, led by one of the nursing faculty, and Peru, led by an information technology instructor. Drinkwater looks forward to continually expanding the program.

"I don't really think we're going to be content to merely sustain what we've been doing," he adds.

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