Aug. 12, 2009
Proving there is a lot more to being a student-athlete at Santa Clara than just their time on the fields, pools or courts, Nate Mensah, a junior walk-on with the Bronco men's basketball team, took a very special immersion trip this summer. Mensah, a Salt Lake City native who is majoring in finance, traveled to Ghana as part of a program through the Leavey School of Business and the Agricultural Economics Department, to learn both a mixture of business and social cultures in that country.
Mensah sat down and talked to WWW.SANTACLARABRONCOS.com after the trip, including sharing a number of his photos with SCU.
SCU: When did you go to Ghana this summer and why?
NM: I was in Ghana for about two weeks at the end of June, beginning of July. It was a business immersion trip through the Leavey School of Business and the Agricultural Economics Department to experience a mixture of both the business and social cultures in the country. I traveled with a group of 12 other Santa Clara undergraduate business students. It was the most amazing trip I have ever been on. I learned and experienced so many different things.
SCU: What was your main goal on the trip: personally, as a group and as a Santa Clara student?
NM: My personal goal was to really connect and interact with the people of Ghana in order to gain a better understanding of how they live. I was very interested in experiencing aspects of life there and comparing them to how life is here.
As a group, our goal was to use research we did prior to leaving as well as our experiences on the ground there to further our knowledge of the business world. As Santa Clara students we were there to expand our education way past traditional classrooms and to provide volunteer work to others who aren't as fortunate as us. Outside of the businesses aspect of the trip we focused a lot on social justice and equality. Our encounters in Ghana provided valuable knowledge of how business communities can affect and help improve social problems.
SCU: Did you have to do class work prior to going or upon your return?
NM: We had several class meetings as a group during the spring quarter in order to meet each other, finalize our itinerary as well as have discussions about what we hoped to get out of the trip. We did some research on both social and economic problems in Africa, especially the Gold Coast region where Ghana is located. We learned a lot about such things as micro-financing and how aid from outside countries such as the US affects the stability of a developing country.
SCU: What was your favorite experience while you were there?
NM: We had a really great experience staying in the farming village of Nkwantakese, which is in the rural part of Ghana towards the middle of the country in the Ashanti region. It is a Habitat for Humanity community and we spent several days there. The villagers were extremely welcoming and open with us, even sharing their houses and cooking meals for us. Although communication was difficult at times they loved to talk with us, answer our questions and teach us new things. We went to work with them either on their farms or in the market. We helped them to finish building a community library and donated many books and school supplies. I really enjoyed this part of the trip because life was so simple there. I went the whole time without seeing a clock, a mirror or even a trash can - objects that are so natural for me to see in almost every room in my house. But they have no use for these things and it was very refreshing.
SCU: You have family in Ghana, your Dad's family is from there. How many of them were you able to visit and when was the last time you were there?
NM: My dad was born and raised in the capital of Ghana, Accra. I hadn't been back in 12 years! While I was there I was able to meet up and spend about two days catching up with many of them. I spent time with uncles, aunts and cousins that I have met before and some that I was too young to remember. I met a lot of younger cousins who weren't even born last time I was there and that was really fun. It was great to spend some time with family and share stories. Comparing my experiences at Santa Clara University with my cousins who go to university there was really interesting. We took lots of family pictures and it was great to be able to come back and share family stories and memories with my dad because he doesn't get to see them very much.
SCU: Did you feel a sense of pride being with your Santa Clara classmates and showing them parts of Ghana you may have already been to in the past?
NM: It was fascinating to go somewhere and have memories of my last trip come back to me. Things that I had forgotten about were sparked when I was back visiting the same places. Some of the traditional things that we saw on this trip, I had experienced before so I was able to further explain them to my classmates. The Ghanaians seemed to really like me because I was a black American and once they knew I was Ghanaians as well they really seemed to respect me and look at me as the leader of my group.
SCU: What did you learn?
NM: I learned that despite the common stereotypes of Africa and although life there is very different from here in the US, the people are extremely similar. In talking with and getting to know them, I learned that if you take away the lavish items we have in the US they aren't much different then anyone that you would find here. The students there have the same complaints about homework and going to class that my classmates and I have. The parents care just as much about providing for the kids as any American parent would. The only things that make us different are the luxury and comfort items that we as Americans have.
SCU: What was something that really surprised you?
NM: I was surprised at how welcoming they were towards us. Every person on the street would wave and say hi. That is something that I'm not familiar with here. I thought that they might think of us as just another group of tourists there to look at them, but they were very happy to have us.
SCU: Did you see any unique animals running around in the wild?
NM: We didn't see many wild animals. The farm animals walk all around in the streets and dogs are all around too. We spent time in the rainforest and were able to see monkeys very up close and personal. Some of them even came down and took food from us. We didn't have enough time to travel all the way into the savannah northern part of Ghana where the elephants and lions are.
SCU: What's the biggest difference from the USA, including Santa Clara, to Ghana? What is the weather like?
NM: We were there during the wet season so it rained more then usual but it was still amazingly hot and humid. The thunderstorms were heavy and lasted a long time. If you walked in the rain you would be completely soaked in seconds and maybe even washed away. The roads almost completely flood and wash out when it rains so that makes travel kind of difficult. It is almost impossible to compare Santa Clara to Ghana. They are so completely different but both great places. Life is just much simpler in Ghana but at the same time just as, if not more fulfilling.
SCU: Do you have plans to make another trip like this before you graduate to another part of the world?
NM: Being part of this trip really inspired me to travel more. I can't wait until I get another opportunity to travel and experience some more cultures. I know I will be back in Ghana to connect with my family again in the near future but I would definitely like to volunteer in other parts of Africa as well.
SCU: Anything inspire you while you were there?
NM: I was completely and totally impressed by the people. They work so hard but are still extremely happy. I learned that a lot of the luxuries that I enjoy here in the US definitely aren't necessary in any way and I have an even greater appreciation for what I am blessed with. I admire and thank the people that I encountered there for what they showed me about life. I have been inspired to continue to be a better student, athlete and person so that I can help others.