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Zhana Edmonds (Class of 2019) Reflects on First Student-led Trek to West Africa

By Lauren Wallace-
zhana-edmonds-class-of-2019-reflects-on-first-student-led-trek-to-west-africa

Zhana Edmonds (Class of 2019) recently participated in Darden’s inaugural student-led trek to West Africa. Zhana, center in above photo in front of Ghana’s Independence Arch in Accra, shared her reflections from the trip: 

Since beginning my time at Darden, I have taken several opportunities to travel to places I’ve never been before. I participated in a Darden Worldwide Course in Argentina, where I worked on a consulting project at a vineyard, and I traveled to Cuba over spring break with several friends from Darden. Each of these experiences showed me the smallness of my own world and opened my eyes to the vast world around me. After attending events during the inaugural Africa Week at Darden, I was thrilled when the Darden African Business Organization (DABO) announced that they would lead a trek for students to Ghana. I was excited to continue to learn more about Africa; I had always wanted to go to the continent, but it is so large and there are so many countries to choose from that I would always get overwhelmed thinking about planning a trip. I was personally drawn to this trek to West Africa because I believe it is important, as a black person, to understand and explore where my ancestors are from. Of course, I was also excited to travel to Ghana with some of my closest friends at Darden – experiencing this trek with them quickly became one of the highlights of my time here!

One of DABO’s main objectives of the trek was to expose Darden students to business in Africa. We visited entrepreneurs in the manufacturing and oil and gas industries, and I was fascinated as we learned more about their businesses and the changes and opportunities they see as Ghana’s economy grows. Just before traveling to Ghana, I  finished a course on emerging markets in which we studied Africa extensively. It was gratifying to see firsthand many of the topics we discussed in class playing out in reality. My main takeaway from the visits with these entrepreneurs and business people is the importance of investing in local talent for the economy to continue to grow.

Traveling to Ghana was particularly special because of our classmates from Accra, Ghana’s capital. They showed us around and invited us to experience their culture; in fact, both of their families hosted us for dinners! They were so welcoming and we felt at home even though we were thousands of miles away from Charlottesville. One of my favorite people that we met during the trek was Maame Tutua Temeng, a family connection of one of our classmates who led the trip. Maame worked in the oil and gas industry for years before deciding to start her own business as an attorney. She was incredible. I was inspired by her determination to be a successful woman entrepreneur in a typically male-dominated industry in Ghana.

The most memorable parts of the trip for me were exploring the rainforest of Kakum National Park and touring Cape Coast Castle. The Castle tour was powerful. In the 18th century, this coastal fort held those who had been forced into slavery during the Transatlantic Slave Trade. We heard from superb guide who walked us through the entire experience of the slave dealings at this fort. The highlight of the tour came when we walked through the “Door of No Return”, turned around, and walked back. As we re-entered the Castle through the door, which has since been reclaimed as the “Door of Return”, our guide welcomed us back with the Twi phrase “Akwaaba”, meaning “Welcome”. The whole experience was deeply moving and incredibly meaningful to me.

I am grateful I took part in this trek to Ghana and I already cannot wait for my next trip to Africa. The continent is so vast and there is so much more to learn and to see. Luckily, I’ll be back soon since I’ve already planned my spring break trip to Morocco!

Darden students trek through Kakum National Park in Ghana