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Monday, Nov 24, 2014

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Hector-Harris with cousin

Ohio University student Carol Hector-Harris (right) is seen with Sangmorkie Tetteh, a cousin she located on a study abroad trip to Ghana.

Photographer: Catherine McKelvey

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Study abroad trip to Ghana reconnects journalism student's family link


The 19 Ohio University students who participated in the Scripps College of Communication’s first study abroad trip to Ghana, Africa, were treated to a once-in-a-lifetime educational experience and, for one student, an opportunity to reconnect a family link that had been broken for about 250 years.

Organized by OHIO’s Institute for International Journalism and held Dec. 14 to Jan. 9, the “Ghana: Media, Society and Governance” trip aimed to teach OHIO students coalition-building, cross cultural communication, problem-solving skills and a little about the relationship between media and the government. During the three-week trip, the students apprenticed with local journalists and collaborated with students at the African University College of Communication.

Students spent their time in Ghana working closely with Ghanaian journalists in a variety of activities, including field newsgathering, production and reporting. They visited and collaborated with Ghanaian radio and television stations, two newspapers and two advertising and public relations firms.

But for one of the students, Carol Hector-Harris, her educational experience in Ghana became quite personal when less than 24 hours after the group’s plane landed in Africa, she met one of her long-lost family members.

A doctoral student in OHIO’s journalism program, Hector-Harris has been tracing her family tree since the 1970s and had recently located a relative born in Ghana, which piqued her interest in the trip even more.

“It was a trip of a lifetime that made a prayer, a hope and a dream come true,” Hector-Harris said of her Ghana experience and of reconnecting with her family in Africa. “It is more than a rarity. It almost never happens.”

Hector-Harris credited the warm, friendly and outgoing personalities of the people of Ghana with helping her to find her family.

“Journalists always think they have words for everything, but there are no words to explain that feeling,” Hector-Harris said of finding her family, explaining that the link between her family in the United States and her family in Ghana had been broken for 250 years. “It changed me forever.”

Hector-Harris plans to share her story through a book she is writing, which will highlight not only her experience reconnecting with her relatives in Ghana but also her research.

Students who went on the trip returned to Athens in January but continue to work on one of two projects required to satisfy the journalism capstone requirement portion of the study abroad trip. Students studying broadcast and photojournalism will present a documentary featuring highlights of the trip, including Hector-Harris’ story, while those studying public relations and news writing will present an e-magazine on Ghanaian culture, environmental problems and government.

“I feel the students were impressed by the trip,” said Steve Howard, director of OHIO’s African Studies Program, graduate director of the Center for International Studies and professor in the School of Media Arts and Studies who accompanied the students on their trip.

“Instead of someone traveling to Athens to speak to the class, a group of American students got to go to Africa and have close contacts with working people in Ghana. Students got to see professional media types and Ghana culture.”

The students’ e-magazine and documentary will be available online after Feb. 20.