Oct. 4, 2012
Originally published in the Sept. 29 edition of the Cal Football Gameday Program
While pop culture categorically bemoans summer school, it's a useful option for today's college students. California women's soccer goalkeeper Emily Kruger took that one step further by attending summer school in Ghana. Taking a class through UC Davis entitled Culture, History and Development in an African Nation, Kruger spent a month just north of the equator in Ghana.
While Kruger had never considered studying abroad due to the demands of being a Division I student-athlete, her mother encouraged her to examine a brochure Emily received in the mail. Friends and family members had told Kruger that she would love Ghana, so it was fitting that the class Kruger was most interested in taking was also in Ghana.
Kruger - a peace and conflict studies major - had already taken classes in Berkeley about development and Africa, so she was well prepared for the month-long course taught by an African-American Studies professor from UC Davis. The class began with a focus on Ghanaian culture, followed by the history of the country and then development - defining and theorizing it, and then examining how it has played out in practice. For Kruger, what made this class different and especially effective was the time spent outside of the classroom.
"We visited numerous museums and monuments, notably two of the largest European castles in West Africa where slaves were held before departing to the Americas, as well as natural ecotourism sites," Kruger said.
While both an academic and enjoyable traveling experience, studying abroad brought Kruger face-to-face with larger issues.
"I didn't like that I was placed on a pedestal just because I am American," Kruger said. "It was unreal how many Ghanaians told me that their dream is to either live in the U.S. or that one day Ghana will look like the U.S. I think that tourists, volunteers, and governmental/institutional aid are some of the main reasons for Ghanaians' perception of the U.S. as a wonderful paradise."
While she had studied Africa before, actually studying there and being a tourist gave Kruger a much different perspective - one she continues to process.
"I'm still trying to get a better handle on my presence in a country that has become extremely dependent upon foreign aid - both governmental and non-governmental through tourists," Kruger said. "I am still processing what I've learned about development and the effects of foreign aid in Ghana."
Kruger's study abroad experience also shed new light on problems in America and even more locally in Berkeley.
"Being in Ghana made me realize that we have similar issues here in the States with poverty," Kruger said. "Before my trip, I used to imagine joining the Peace Corps, but now I'm not so sure. My current goal is to continue thinking and asking questions about development efforts until I understand where my place is in it all. I think I could try and make a difference here in the Bay Area."
A native of the small peninsula town of Woodside, Calif., Kruger had been outside of the country before - making trips to South America and Europe - this was her first foray to Africa. Kruger thoroughly enjoyed conversing with her fellow American students along with other visitors at the hostel, many of whom hailed from all over the world. Though she was not with her fellow football Bears, the five-foot-11 keeper was never far from her sport of choice in soccer.
"I bought a soccer ball from the market and carried it around with me everywhere," Kruger said. "I spent hours each day juggling or playing pick-up games with Ghanaians. Every once in a while I even got to jump in a goal and have people shoot on me. It was a great way to meet people because it gave us a commonality that put us on an equal level."
Kruger and her classmates traveled around the country, the Golden Bear also enjoyed fully emerging herself in Ghanaian culture.
"Another cool way to meet Ghanaians was music," Kruger said. "Some of my friends and I would go around playing drums and dancing with the guys who make the drums at the market. It was really cool experiencing the universality of music and sport."
Keeping her soccer skills fresh in Africa helped her make a smooth transition back into training camp in Berkeley. Her Cal soccer squad is already off to a great start to the 2012 season and has serious and achievable hopes of besting last year's second-round venture into the NCAA Tournament.