During the 2006-2007 school year, a bulletin in Dempster Hall caught Nelson Elliott’s eye. As a direct result months later, he would find himself walking a foot bridge suspended 130 feet in the air surrounded by the treetops and wildlife of a rainforest and traveling to slave castles -- the “point of no return” for slaves sold to Europeans by their captors.
This bulletin was for the International Business Internship Exchange. Under this program, he worked and traveled in Ghana for eight weeks to further his degree plan as a major in integrated marketing communications with a minor in economics.
“I had an incredible time. I learned a lot about economics, international business and culture,” Nelson says.
There were a lot of challenges as an American in such a foreign land. Communication was his biggest challenge. Although English is the official language, it is often second or third behind indigenous languages. This can make it very hard to do business sometimes, especially since many Ghanaians still speak several different dialects.
The low level technology in Ghana is also an obstruction to business.
“I’m used to my PDA with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, but in Ghana, even a slow connection from a desktop is iffy. And that’s if the power is even on,” he says. “Cell phones are pretty cheap, but the call volume is often above the infrastructural capacity, so sometimes the connection is terrible. Every once in a while, I had to try for five minutes just to send a text message.”
Nelson spent most of his time there building a Microsoft Access database for Avis in an effort to centralize information and streamline sales and fleet management processes. It was difficult because he was designing a system for users who can’t even type. So it had to be very intuitive and pretty straight-forward. He considers it a great project and says he feels like it really allowed him to provide value to the organization while using and expanding the skills he learned in his classes.
“The things I’ve learned in class give my experiences context and depth and help me to make the most out of them,” he says. “For example, the concepts I’ve learned in my economics classes helped me to understand Ghanaian poverty, both at the national level and at the individual level.”
Culturally, Ghana took some getting used to. Nelson ate foods he had never heard of with names like fufu, banku, kenkey and waakye. Ghanaian food contains a lot of starches and it can be difficult to have a healthy diet, however, he says some of the dishes are really delicious after you acquire a taste for them. Also while there, he gained an appreciation for the Ghanaian nightlife, especially the local music scene.
“The biggest highlight was probably being able to see our own culture from an outside perspective,” Nelson says. “Being immersed in another culture is a great opportunity to measure your own against it. Being totally out of place socially and living without running water or steady electricity and getting to be totally okay with it took a lot of fear out of me. The world as I know it, literally, could end and if I was still alive, I’d be fine with it. I can move countries, I can change cultures, I can learn new languages. If I ever felt tied down to America, it’s a feeling that’s gone now.”
This sentiment is easy to see in his future plans. Nelson will be graduating in the spring of 2008 and is looking at master of business administration programs in northern Europe as his next step. He also hopes at some point to travel to Spain, Australia, the United Arab Emirates and eastern Europe.
His advice to current and future Southeast students reflects on his involvement with the Southeast community, through Greek Life, Student Government and Presidential Ambassadors.
“Leave your dorm. Seriously. Start a rally, support a cause, join a club," he says. "It doesn’t really matter what you do, just that you’re doing it. College life won’t come knocking at the door while you’re playing Xbox. You have to go make it happen.”