Jessye Kass - 2013 Program Participant
What first influenced you to volunteer abroad?
I had a semester off before starting university and I wanted to do something worthwhile with my time. I had never left the country before. I knew I wanted to teach abroad, so I researched volunteer programs where I could teach in some form.
How did you first come to work with Projects Abroad?
I had been interested in traveling to Africa ever since doing a project on Zimbabwe at 18 years old. In looking at volunteer abroad options in Africa, I came across Projects Abroad. Projects Abroad seemed to provide the most comprehensive package, allowing me and my parents to feel confident that I would be safe and taken care of.
What made teaching in Ghana through Projects Abroad a particularly interesting experience?
What made teaching abroad in Ghana through Projects Abroad so interesting was the immense cross cultural exchange in which I was able to learn some of the language, make local friends, and interact with my community. I had the freedom of my day to create it how I wanted and I immersed myself to the fullest extent.
What’s something about your program that future participants should be aware of?
Living and working abroad is what you make of it. Projects Abroad provides you a community of support from both the local and international staff, as well as other volunteers navigating the complexities of work abroad. The best part of Projects Abroad is the freedom it gives you to grow as a thinker, learner, and experiencer in cross-cultural communication and mutual understanding.
What was your favorite part of the Ghana program?
I really loved living in a host family house, rather than living in an apartment or dorm. In Thailand I lived alone but in Ghana I lived with a host mother who became my second mother. When I returned I lived with her, and when she devastatingly passed away in 2011, I spoke at her funeral and joined the family at the front row at the services. Her family has become my family and this program allowed me to have a second family in Ghana through its promotion of getting to know your host family.
Looking back, what's something you wish you’d done differently?
I wish that I had spent more time learning the language and had realized how important it was early on. Instead I only learned a fair amount of Ga towards the end of my trips.
Describe a typical day volunteering for Projects Abroad in Ghana.
Before beginning my own foundation, as a Projects Abroad volunteer my days consisted of waking up early then going to the school down the street and teaching English songs and games for three hours in the morning. I would come home for lunch and return for an afternoon with the nursery children or I would go to the orphanage nearby to help take care of the children there.
Did you experience culture shock the first time you went to Ghana? After so much experience abroad, what advice would you give others now on how to overcome it?
Having never left the country, I absolutely experienced culture shock. But because I lived with other international volunteers I was able to discuss my concerns and confusions. We learned together and I was able to think of culture shock as a learning experience rather than something to be fearful of or overwhelmed by. When I ran my own foundation, I ran workshops on how to understand culture shock and used parts of Projects Abroad’s handbook to explain to my volunteers what culture shock was and how to understand it.
In what ways have your experiences abroad made an impact on your life?
The program impacted my life beyond belief. I did not volunteer in Ghana to put it on my resume and say goodbye. I returned 6 times, spending cumulatively over a year. It inspired both my Anthropology and African studies majors in college, as well as my trips to Kenya and my Fulbright to Thailand. Without this first trip abroad, I would be a high school history teacher in Boston, MA. Now I'm applying to graduate school in domestic and international education programs, hoping to advance social change in education on a global scale.