Students for a Better World: The Beyond the Classroom Blog

Stories, Resources, & More from the Beyond the Classroom (BTC) Program at University of Maryland

International Internship Connects Student to Local Community and Local Issues

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Editor’s Note:  Beyond the Classroom students are required to have an internship in their second semester of the program. BTC encourages students to pursue internships abroad, and this post highlights one student’s international internship experience.  Students interested in finding international internships or funding support for these experiences should contact Dr. Caitlin Haugen, Beyond the Classroom’s Assistant Director at

Schools in Ghana – and many other countries in Africa – are often run down and lack resources.

by Catherine Irwin, BTC Student

My trip to Accra, Ghana last year for a six-month study abroad program with University Studies Abroad Consortium (USAC) was a truly life-changing experience.

Once I arrived in Accra, it was really important to me to find a project that was going to make me feel like I was contributing to the community and giving back some of the warmth and genuine affection and care I was constantly receiving from Ghanaians everywhere I went. I did some research on and found two organizations looking for interns. I coerced our friends in our study abroad group into coming along with me, and got ready to get involved in the community. 

The first internship was at Madamfo Pa (which means ‘my good friend’ in Twi, the local language), an after school program that helped tutor kids in the neighborhood who went to school in a nearly abandoned development where they sat on bricks for chairs and often had up to 50 students in elementary school classes. The kids would come after classes and we would work with them on whatever subjects they needed the most aid with; math, science or English.

The second was the Green Ghana Project, an organization involved in a variety of different sustainability programs. We worked on a project planting moringa seeds in small plastic containers that we would then transfer to fields in rural areas that had been devastated by strip mining. Moringa trees are easily transplantable, able to flourish in a variety of conditions, and provide a lot of different benefits to communities. Among other amazing benefits, the bark of moringa trees can be used as local toothbrushes, their leaves have medicinal properties, and every part of the plant is edible as well as stocked with a ton of nutrients people need to survive. The trees were to be planted on lands that village chiefs controlled, and therefore the profits would be distributed equitably throughout the communities.

Working with both of these organizations was an incredible way to have a structured outlet to get involved in the community and gain insight to how Ghanaians live, how they think about issues, the problems they’re facing, and the solutions we can be a part of. Throughout my work there I was able to meet so many people who had been working on issues such as poverty, substandard education, and land degradation. Their expert insight into the unique obstacles Ghana faces in its journey towards a more equitable and environmentally friendly country was amazing.

For instance, Sal Kofi Mensah worked with our group at Madampfo Pa, and took us to see the school where the neighborhood children were taught. They sat on wooden slabs, the structures were unfinished, and the kids were crammed into the room, making it difficult to focus and really get an education. He told us about how the contractors who had taken government money to build the school and then fled with the funding, leaving the structures unfinished, needed to be held accountable. We worked on ways to get local news stations involved and aware, so that in the future this relatively common practice can end, and children can learnin safe environments.

Hayford Siaw, who worked closely with us at the Green Ghana Project, talked to us about the lack of education Ghanaians receive about environmental sustainability and how it is such a low-ranking priority in their society. He hoped that by starting these projects and people would see how profitable and beneficial environmental sustainability can be.  They would start to think about ways they could implement the same sustainable tactics in their own life, benefiting themselves as individuals as well as the country as a whole.

Ghana opened my eyes and taught me how to listen and learn. Adapting to a totally different culture and feeling very isolated at times was frustrating.  Once I found found issues and projects through my internships, I connected with people. It was easier to feel like we belonged, and to forge genuine friendships based on mutual respect that bridged cultural or language barriers we encountered.


Author: btcblogger

Beyond the Classroom (BTC) engages talented and diverse upper level undergraduates from across the university in a selective interdisciplinary living and learning community focused on civic engagement and social change in a global context. The BTC program prepares students to be active and responsible citizens and leaders in a complex, multi-cultural, and global society. We encourage students from all disciplines and majors to realize and develop their potential through an integrated program of academic, experiential, and service components. The Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, the world’s largest nonprofit and nongovernmental sector, becomes a place of learning through exciting internships and civic learning experiences.

One thought on “International Internship Connects Student to Local Community and Local Issues

  1. Pingback: Fulbright Provides Students Opportunities to Study and Teach Abroad « Beyond the Classroom Blog

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