Bringing Home a Global Perspective

Written by Danielle Gehrlein ’21

Wow, where do I begin?!

My time abroad has been incredibly eye-opening and truly life changing. From flying internationally for the first time to adjusting to an entirely different way of life, I learned many new things about myself – like serving others doesn’t have to mean logging the hours you spent volunteering with an agency or teaching children how to add. It can simply mean sitting with someone who is alone, or making conversation with the woman who makes your egg sandwich every morning. Sometimes that’s all it takes to brighten someone’s day. As service has always been a big part of my life and a personal value of mine, I will be forever grateful that I was able to have a hand in making a difference (of any size), in a country as beautiful as Ghana.

My experience with the Play and Learn Foundation was by far the most impactful. It was humbling to work with the kids from the foundation and learn about what they have to deal with every day. They are the strongest people I know by far, and I can only hope they go far in their lives and stay as family-oriented as they are now. When I say that those children changed my life, I truly mean it. Meeting them and seeing how much weight they carry on their shoulders, yet how they still go about life with such happiness and gratitude, was truly inspiring.

Tutoring the children was another eye-opening experience for me, as I learned quickly of the differences between American and Ghanaian education. When covering our math and reading units, I was expecting to be asked questions or to explain things further. To my surprise, I was not. In Ghana, students are expected not to ask questions and are taught to think critically but not creatively. So when I was aware that a student was having a hard time with something, I would take it upon myself to explain it because I knew he or she wouldn’t ask me for help. This was really different for me, as all of the students I’ve tutored in America consistently ask me to clarify things. Seeing this in Ghana allowed me to gain a broader perspective for global differences in education that I will be able to consider throughout my career in education.


Below, is a video about the work the Play and Learn Foundation is doing – and I’m included in the video!

Thank you USAC Ghana

There's an old African proverb that says “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” We have to go far — quickly. Thank you University Studies Abroad Consortium (USAC), Abigail M Opong-Tetteh Claudia Tawiah-Amoako Madeline Pippel David Petersen Shelbi Torres Brooke Josenhans Paulina Nichols Video Credit @Brenna Jordan

Posted by Play and Learn Foundation on Wednesday, August 15, 2018

 

During my final group tutoring session, some of the kids asked about my last day in Accra and when I told them, two of the girls said they would come back to say goodbye. I wasn’t sure if they actually would because it was a few days away but to my surprise, they showed up on my last evening there. I gave them hugs, we spent several hours together, and they wanted to help me pack and stay to watch me get on the bus to go to the airport. It was getting dark and I wanted them to start heading back home since it took them a half hour to walk to my hostel. Many tears were shed but although it was hard to say goodbye, I am honored that they came to see me. I will never forget that special moment.

Photos of Roslyn and Evelyn who came to visit me on my last day

All in all, I have to say that I really enjoyed my time in Ghana and I have found myself missing it immensely since I have been back. Looking at the photos of me with my students and the new friends I made has become a regularity, to remind myself that although I’m not physically with them, my heart is and I will always have these memories to look back on. If given the opportunity, I would go back in a heartbeat, no questions asked.

I want to say “Medase, Ghana” (thank you, Ghana) for all that you have allowed me to see, all the wonderful people that I was able to meet and connect with, and for all that I was able to discover about myself during the time I was there. Ghana will always hold a special place in my heart and I hope that one day I can make it back to see how my students have grown up and flourished, like I know they will. This trip has been a dream come true, and one that I will never forget. Thank you to all that have been following along.

All my thanks,

Danielle

Danielle Gehrlein is a rising sophomore at Pace University. She is pursuing a double degree in Adolescent Education and English. She was in Ghana from July 15 – August 8 and has been posting about her experience here on the School of Education’s blog.

Fútbol Fun

Written by Danielle Gehrlein ’21

On our second to last day in Accra, we decided to talk to the director of the Play and Learn Foundation to set up a Tutors vs. Students fútbol game. There were only a few tutors so we had to recruit some of the kids to join us which made things a little more interesting for everyone. We thought this would be a fun way to wrap up our time with the kids and an opportunity to see their faces when they defeated us tutors…which they did well and good!

It was so heartwarming to see the kids’ faces light up once they stepped onto the field. I’ve never met a group of people as passionate about anything as these kids are about fútbol, and it made me stop and think that maybe life doesn’t have to be so complicated and we should just enjoy what we’re doing in the moment while it’s there. For some people it takes a lifetime to find their passion and others may never find it, but if you’re lucky enough to have something in your life that makes your face light up as bright as those kids’ do when they play fútbol, I’d say you’ve found your passion. So to all my fantastic students and fútbol superstars, thank you for being my passion and letting me watch you pursue yours.

I’ll never forget when I went to watch some of my students play in their fútbol game, a little girl was sitting alone on a ledge overlooking the field, so I sat down next to her and learned that her name was Rosalyn. She was waiting for her brother to finish the game so that they could walk home together. Within a few minutes of keeping her company, she started pouring the bagged water she was drinking onto my ankles. I was confused why she was doing this, but looked down and saw that they were covered in red dust from walking on the dirt paths to get to the field. I was shocked to see that she would take it upon herself to sacrifice her drinking water at the expense of helping someone next to her.

She also noticed that I was shivering (it gets pretty cold here after the sun sets) and asked me if I had a jacket. I assumed she was asking so she could wear it so I said yes, but when she took it out of my backpack she put it on me. From a very young age, children here are taught to care for their siblings. Rosalyn is nine years old and has five other siblings, so she is used to looking after them. Ever since that point, she has clung to my side and runs up to hug me anytime she sees me. Moments like that really put things into perspective for me.
Danielle Gehrlein is a rising sophomore at Pace University. She is pursuing a double degree in Adolescent Education and English. She was in Ghana from July 15 – August 8 and has been posting about her experience here on the School of Education’s blog.

Adventures in the Treetops

Written by Danielle Gehrlein ’21

Today was our only free day since the summer program began, so my friends and I decided to make the most of it. About two and a half hours away from the Greater Accra Region, is the Kakum National Rainforest, which features a rope bridge walkway over the forests’ canopy. This attraction was on all of our “Things to do in Africa” bucket lists, so we knew we had to set aside one of our remaining days to go visit.

We started our day at 5am and walked to the tro-tro (public transportation van) station about ten minutes away from campus. There are no tro-tro schedules, so the way you figure out which one to get on is by listening to someone lean out the window and yell out their destination. In a half an hour’s time, we caught the only one that was going to the central tro-tro station, where we boarded another one that would take us an hour north toward Kakum. Once dropped off, we had to take a taxi the rest of the way since the roads are too rocky for tro-tro’s to handle, so we piled the six of us into a tiny cab for the hour-long drive.

After what seemed like forever, we finally arrived at the National Forest and couldn’t wait to get out of that cramped cab and explore. We got set up with a tour guide, and trekked up hundreds of stone stairs to get to the rope-bridge.

Once we got there, I was in awe over how breathtaking it was. The view looking down was a blanket of trees and vines, and looked out over tall mountain ranges. It was unlike anything I had ever seen before and as an avid hiker, I have seen my fair share of mountain tops but none of their views could hold a candle to this one.

So, although our journey was incredibly tiresome, it was all worth it in the end, especially since I was in great company the whole time. And as gratitude floods through my veins every day (and even more so since I’ve been in Ghana), this was just one more experience to remind me of how lucky I am to be able to witness sights like Kakum.

Danielle Gehrlein is a rising sophomore at Pace University. She is pursuing a double degree in Adolescent Education and English. She is in Ghana from July 15 – August 8 and is posting about her experience here on the School of Education’s blog.

Culture of Heart

 Written by Danielle Gehrlein ’21

About five days after arriving in Accra, I visited the Echoing Hills Orphanage and Center for the Disabled with my Service Learning class. The issue of abandonment of children is highly prominent in this area, as many people can’t afford to care for their children and sometimes children will wander away from their families and get lost, never finding their way back. In cases like these, policemen often pick up lone children on the street and bring them to shelters such as Echoing Hills. The supervisor of this institution told us about the devastating reality of orphanages in the area: that most children who enter are never adopted and end up living their whole lives there. This is such a reality that they even have a cemetery on site to bury those that die there.

But the children are some of the happiest that I’ve ever met. It was  humbling to see that even though these kids are so young and will likely never get adopted, they go about life with a level of gratitude that I had never seen before. We met one girl who was brought to the orphanage when she was two years old, is now five, and is one of the happiest little girls I’ve ever met…and all I can hope is that she’ll stay that way. When she came up to me and gave me a hug, I couldn’t help but start to cry because I knew that she had been through so much at such a young age and would likely not leave the institution. I left wishing that I could bring all the kids home with me. I’ll have their memories to cherish forever, and I guess that will have to be enough.

Since the trip to the orphanage, I’ve toured with University Studies Abroad Consortium (USAC) and seen a  few historical sites as well an indigenous village located in the southern region of Ghana. Probably the most eye-opening site that I’ve seen thus far was Nzuelezo, a remote village on stilts.  In order to get to this village, my group took a bus for seven hours to the general area and then had to row in wooden canoes for an additional forty minutes to get to the village itself, as the only way to get there is by boat.
Once we arrived in this village of about 200 people, I was amazed at how different their way of life was compared to the lifestyle that I had grown accustomed to living in the city of Accra.  But that’s probably the most meaningful lesson I’ve learned while here, is that culture is all around, yet each is different in its own way.

And so as I finish out the rest of my stay, I plan to keep experiencing the many cultures here and update you along the way.

Until next time,

Danielle

Danielle Gehrlein is a rising sophomore at Pace University. She is pursuing a double degree in Adolescent Education and English. She will be in Ghana from July 15 – August 8 and will be posting about her experience here on the School of Education’s blog.

A Bumpy Start

Written by Danielle Gehrlein ’21
 

Akwaaba, or welcome, to my first blog post written all the way from Accra, Ghana!

I’ve been here in the capital city of Ghana for about a week and a half now, and it has been the most eye-opening experience that I’ve encountered in my life.  From enduring my first international flight by myself, to acclimating to an entirely new culture and working toward my goal of helping to improve the community, my time here has flown by!

People say that culture shock is inevitable no matter where you travel, and I was expecting to be hit hard with it. To my surprise, however, I haven’t felt “shocked” while I’ve been here…and I think I owe that to the hours I spent researching the culture before I left. But, it’s one thing to read about it versus actually experiencing it.  And so, I will say, that although the food is some of the spiciest I’ve ever eaten, and having to get used to people hissing at you to get your attention, has taken some getting used to, I think I’ve finally gotten comfortable here.

Indomi is a traditional (and spicy!) noodle dish

However, there was one thing that came completely out of left field that no amount of research could prepare me for…and that was not getting to do what I came here for.

I traveled to Africa with the hopes of teaching in their secondary schools to learn about their system of education and compare it with what I am used to.  However, on my second day of being in Ghana, I was told that the children were set to vacate from school just one week from then. This news was incredibly hard to accept, and I was disappointed beyond belief. After coming off of terrible jet lag and experiencing serious coffee withdrawal, this news was the last thing I needed to hear. Upset and now questioning the worth of my stay, I realized that this was out of my control. I was determined to find some way to work with children despite this devastating news, and I am thankful that I did.

I became aware of a foundation called “Play and Learn”, which is an after-school program that extends into the summer months, where children come to receive tutoring and football training (American soccer).  The kids meet outside, almost every day, next to my hostel. The director of the foundation, Nana, told me that within two years he plans to have a facility built to accommodate their growing program size.

Nana went on to tell me that when the school is built, he plans to approach its structure in a completely different way than is traditional in Ghana.  He told me that teachers in Ghana do not encourage student participation and if they do, it is often seen as disrespectful, so they are made to feel guilty for asking questions. Students are taught to think only critically and not to explore their own opinions – so much so that Nana described many of the children’s academic performances as robotic.  When he told me this, my heart broke knowing that so many children here are academically suppressed and do not often reach their full potential as a result of this teaching method.

For this reason – among many others – I am honored to be able to work with this foundation that aims to change the trajectory of education one child at a time. So although I won’t be able to teach in a physical classroom or see how their education system works for myself, I am excited to have the chance to be a part of the Play and Learn team.  Since joining as a volunteer, I have been assigned to teach math and English to four boys between the ages of 11 and 12. I begin tutoring them tomorrow and truly cannot wait!
Until next time,
Danielle
Danielle Gehrlein is a rising sophomore at Pace University. She is pursuing a double degree in Adolescent Education and English. She is in Ghana from July 15 – August 8 and will be posting about her experience here on the School of Education’s blog.

The Journey from Dreamer to Doer

Written by Danielle Gehrlein ’21 

If there’s anything that my first year at Pace has taught me, it’s that nothing is off the table when it comes to opportunity.  As a first-generation student, I was worried that this status would limit the amount of opportunities that would be within my reach.  Because I had no one in my family to ask for advice during the college application process, let alone the study abroad process, I wasn’t sure that it was something I would be able to do on my own.  However, it wasn’t until Pace’s education abroad advisors gave a presentation in one of my classes, that I was convinced otherwise.  They showed me that studying abroad knows no boundaries and is an experience that is able to touch the lives of anyone who wishes for it to.  With this new sense of encouragement, I began exploring the programs that were offered, in hopes that the place I had always wanted to travel to, would be on the list…and thankfully it was.

Volunteering in Africa has always been my biggest dream in life, and when I saw that a summer trip to Ghana was being offered through study abroad, I knew that I couldn’t let it pass by.  I began working with children eight years ago, and I haven’t stopped since.  During that experience, I spent two years tutoring underprivileged kids in the inner-city of my hometown – Hopewell Junction, NY – for a service project that I was working on at the time.  The experience extended so far beyond just a service project, as getting to know those elementary students and their stories sparked a level of compassion in me that I never knew existed.  I was baffled at how strong and kind-hearted those children were. They had virtually no support at home and were receiving a less-than-average education, but they moved through life happily.

I eventually became compelled to reach out globally because I knew that if children in my hometown were in such need of educational support, that there must be others in the same or worse positions in areas all around the world.

And so, a little while later, I worked alongside other individuals to send care packages to impoverished areas in Africa.  Through this, I became more aware of the immense lack of educational opportunity that existed in many of the countries in Africa.  This struck me like nothing in the past ever had, and after having completed the project I felt a dire need to one day travel there and help them in any way I could.

Some seven years later, I find myself preparing to finally embark on the journey that I never thought possible, and I’m so incredibly humbled that it has become reality. I’ll soon be boarding the plane that will allow me to achieve my dream of volunteering in the schools of Ghana, and it still feels surreal. I’ve had so many emotions running though me ever since I received my acceptance letter into the program, and those feelings grow more intense with each day that my departure draws nearer.

Gehrlein holding her acceptance letter into Pace’s summer study abroad program

Excitement probably lies at the forefront of all these emotions, but intense gratitude is giving excitement a run for its money.  Seeing this trip become a reality has come as such an incredible shock, that sometimes I find myself pinching my arm to make sure that I’m not dreaming.  When I realize that I’m not, tears flood my eyes as I look back at how far I’ve come and how much further I have left to go.  And so, for this reason, I feel ready to embark on this long-awaited journey.  Of course I’m nervous, but as Mark Anthony once said, “her passion burned brighter than her fears.”  This quote has stuck with me throughout my entire preparation for this trip, as it really conveys my motivation for traveling to Ghana.  Fear shouldn’t be granted the satisfaction of standing in the way of achieving your dreams.  And let me tell you, there is truly no greater feeling than being able to shed the title of “dreamer” and replace it with “doer.”

During my three weeks abroad, I’ll be enrolled in an African Studies program that includes taking two classes and participating in community service opportunities as well.  One of the two classes, and the one that I’m most excited for, is a Service Learning class. Through this, I’ll learn about some of the most devastating issues that locals face in their communities, and eventually go out into the field to help alleviate those problems.  The class covers a variety of issues and informs about volunteer sites that help to lessen the severity of each community problem.  After we learn about each issue and correlated site, the professor will take us on a tour of each, and we will then select which site we would like to complete our field work in.  These sites range from health care centers, to orphanages and elementary schools/ schools for children with special needs, to homeless shelters.

The other class that I’ll be taking to fulfill a Pace requirement for my major, is an African Literature course.  As I plan to teach middle school English, taking a multicultural literature course is a key component of the program track.  Being able to take this course, immersed in the culture that the literature originated from, is something that I know will prove to be incredibly valuable.

While abroad, I’ll be sure to keep you updated on my experience as an American student integrating into a European style classroom, along with stories from my volunteer work, and what it’s like living in Ghana as a first-time international traveler.  I’m anxiously awaiting the arrival of this journey, and I can’t wait to share it with you once it’s here!

Until next time,

DanielleDanielle Gehrlein is a rising sophomore at Pace University. She is pursuing a double degree in Adolescent Education and English. She will be in Ghana from July 15 – August 8 and will be posting about her experience here on the School of Education’s blog.