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Development of Visitor Identity through Study Abroad in Ghana

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During the summers of 2006–2009, groups of U.S. college students completed a cross-disciplinary study abroad experience in Ghana, West Africa, entitled ‘Landscapes in Ecotourism.’ Beyond topical issues of community landscape design and sustainable tourism development, broad themes were explored including (a) cultural awareness of Ghana and Africa, (b) the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade (TAST), and (c) the concept of African Diaspora. This study sought to understand how the students’ sense of their own identity was impacted by being in Ghana, as a result of the activities undertaken in the study abroad course. Specifically, the students provided reflections on their ideas about race and heritage, their understanding of the TAST, and their perception of the African Diaspora. In most cases, the students noted an increased knowledge on these subjects through studying these topics in a Ghanaian spatial and cultural context. Additionally, they offered thoughtful reflection on issues of gender, race, class, and religion in Ghana, and while contrasting it with their own American experience, their own self-perception/self-identity was impacted through an expanded view of these constructs and how they play out in various socioeconomic and cultural contexts. The findings, particularly the distinct reflections of the African-American and Caucasian students, assist in understanding the interpretation of visitors’ internal responses to an international destination; in this case, a destination enshrined in a history of racial atrocities central to the nation's legacy has the potential to create tensions or transitions of identity in visitors as they situate their own lives in the sociohistorical context of their new surroundings.
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Keywords: African-American; Ghana; Visitor identity; cultural awareness; diaspora; heritage tourism; race; study abroad

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: North Carolina State University Landscape Architecture, Raleigh, North Carolina, USA 2: East Carolina University Recreation and Leisure Studies, Center for Sustainable Tourism, Greenville, North Carolina, USA 3: Department of Geography, College of Social Science, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, USA 4: California Polytechnic University Landscape Architecture, Pomona, California, USA 5: North Carolina State University Art and Design, Raleigh, North Carolina, USA

Publication date: 01 August 2013

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