By Teemages [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons.

In just a few short weeks, 14 Trent students will be returning from an eight-month long exchange in Ghana. As these students prepare to re-adjust to life in Canada, another group of students will be savouring their last few weeks at Trent as they look forward to spending a year in Ghana.

Each year, Trent sends a group of students to the University of Cape Coast in the Southern region of Ghana to continue their education of International Development Studies. One of the unique components of this exchange is that it is a departmental exchange open to International Development students, tailored to the study of International Development. Students spend the first two months in Cape Coast studying development before travelling to the Tamale in the Northern Region where they have the opportunity to bear witness to development practice.

The second half of the term provides an opportunity for students to participate in experiential education. Students acquire knowledge of development practice through learning in a position at an organization (usually an NGO) of their choosing. Students are not practicing development; they are merely learning about it through experiences — which is precisely what makes this program so valuable. There are very obvious limitations to studying development in a classroom that is part of a Western institution. International Development is a subject that is very embedded in theory, but simply does not exist without practice. A program like Trent-in-Ghana (TIG) serves to strengthen this understanding and transcend the limitations of the classroom.

This sentiment rang true with Madison Lebonbon, a TIG student who has just finished her placement with Amnesty International: “We learned about gender roles but from a Ghanaian perspective so it didn’t have any Western ideologies attached to it… We had to step out of the comfort zone of IDS at Trent. [At Trent,] we learn about how there are different cultures and they live traditionally, but we don’t get to actually understand it until we see it with our own eyes.”

And Lebonbon isn’t alone in this belief. One of her classmates, Sarah O’Toole said the program “entirely changed the way I think about development, volunteerism, and international relations. I ask more questions, conceptualize more relations and make more connections than I ever have back home. The invaluable knowledge that I’ve gained from applying the critical skills and approaches that I’ve learned at Trent to the context of Ghana has made every hour I’ve spent in an IDS lecture entirely worth it.”

Not only does this program provide a much deeper understanding of development, but it also helps its participants discover the role they want to play in this complex field, and in doing so, develop a deeper understanding of themselves.

Of course, moving to a foreign country for eight months is bound to be a learning experience, but there is something to be said about the unique position TIG students find themselves in. They are not tourists or volunteers or practitioners: they are students whose subject is not only development but themselves, with their course material being their everyday experiences.

Lebonbon also commented on this personal growth, saying “Eight months is an extremely long time to be away from home so there are some difficult moments. I definitely grew up a lot throughout the experience. I guess the best way to describe it is that I was confronted with the reality of the world.”

I know I speak on behalf of my peers when I say this is something that weighs heavily on students preparing to embark on this journey. Imagine walking into an experience knowing it will be formative and life-changing beyond your understanding. It’s an incredible feeling. But perhaps more incredible is hearing Madison talk about doing her assignments on the beach. That is certainly one of the TIG programs major perks that cannot be left out.

To students considering the TIG program, O’Toole had some valuable advice: “I would strongly encourage every single international development student to apply to the Trent in Ghana program! It will bring you so much closer to understanding your place and position in the world. I couldn’t imagine graduating International Development Studies without this experience!”