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University of Washington Study Abroad Program in Ghana Goes Haywire

This piece from Inside Higher Ed caught my eye. A summer study abroad program in Ghana led by a University of Washington professor resulted in about half of the student participants being medically evacuated from the northern part of the country. Here’s a quick excerpt.

A University of Washington summer study abroad program that ended in the medical evacuation of about half of the 17 student participants may point to the potential perils of faculty-led programs, which can fly or flop based on one particular professor’s management ability and expertise. That is especially true in the developing world, where partnerships and relationships can be more complex and sometimes more fraught.

A university spokesman, Norm Arkans, confirmed Monday that this summer’s “Sustainable Development & Modes of Empowerment in Northern Ghana” program is under investigation by an independent fact finder. He added that the institution has not yet responded to formal requests from students to recoup their expenses, but is considering the requests as the review proceeds. (Students paid $2,100 in fees, plus the cost of airfare, books, immunizations and visas for the five-week program on community-based sustainable development projects in rural Africa).

While it’s hard to pass judgment from a single media piece, it seems that the professor was inattentive, the Non-Governmental Organization with which the professor contracted was practicing a form of extortion, and the students had very little assistance when they needed it the most.

Sometimes parents and student don’t ask enough questions about study abroad. Most programs are fantastic. And frankly, I’m usually partial to the programs that faculty members create themselves, because they often have a stronger academic focus and build upon excellent personal and professional contacts of that individual instructor. But professors can also be very poor managers.

Moral of the story: ask more questions. Do more research about the programs you in which you plan to participate. Seek independent opinion, of possible. There are no guarantees, but more information is usually better than less.

Mark Montgomery
Developer of Study Abroad Programs in Mexico and South China
Leader of Study Abroad Programs in France

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