The North Star Project, 2013-2014 Report Number Seven — Ghana, Semester at Sea, by John Cutshall

The North Star Project, 2013-2014 Report Number Seven — Ghana, Semester at Sea, by John Cutshall


The crazy thing about Semester at Sea is that you experience so many different cultures, languages, and customs in such a short period of time. After having spent a week in Morocco I was still feeling the high of the experience. However, I only had 5 days to come down and get ready for another amazing experience in the heart of Africa.


The first day that we arrived in Ghana I went with my history professor to the slave castles that we had learned about in class. The bus pulled up to the castle and immediately we were swarmed by about 50 locals. A boy around 16 came up to me and spoke to me in English telling me that he was in school and was looking for extra money. I looked into his eyes and saw his desire to do well and accomplish all that he could, so I gave him a few dollars. From there we proceeded into the slave castle. There were many slave castles built along the coast of Ghana and they would host the slaves before they were shipped over to the Americas. The feeling walking into the castle was very peculiar. On the one hand, it was an amazing structure, but on the other you could feel that there were unspeakable horrors that occurred at this place. We toured around the castle and we got to one of the cells. Our tour guide packed about 30 of us in a cell and I felt extremely claustrophobic. He then went on to tell us that they would put double the amount of people in the cell. It was hard for me to believe what he was saying. The slave castles showed me the horrors that humanity has put itself through. It was an unforgettable experience and I am glad to have had it. After that, the rest of the trip dealt with the amazing wilderness that Ghana had to offer.


For the next three days I went on a trip that took us into the heart of Ghana’s jungle. The first stop on this trip was Afadjato Mountain. We climbed for about an hour on a grueling dirt path that winded up the side of the mountain. After copious amounts of sweat were shed we reached the top. The view is one that is eternally burned into my memory. For as far as you could see was lush, green jungle. Far off in the distance was the Wli Waterfall. It was about 200 feet tall and looked so small, but we were headed there next. When we got to the waterfall it towered over us. We were also greeted by hundreds of bats flying over us. We also swam under the waterfall and it was unreal feeling the force of that water. The following day we went to the Mona Monkey village. It is deep in the jungle and monkeys will actually come up to you and eat out of your hand. We weren’t supposed to feed them, but I thought that it was worth the risk! On the way back to the bus we actually got the opportunity to interact with local children at school. This was one of the highlights of my entire Semester At Sea Experience. We rolled tires, I showed them my camera, and we had a great time. It was the perfect way to end the trip in Ghana. After that we returned to the boat.


I will never forget the faces of the people I met in Ghana. Most of them had next to nothing, and yet were smiling the entire time. The kindness and warmth that Ghana offered is something truly unique and I would love to go back and visit. Our next port took us to Cape Town, South Africa. There I went abseiling, bungee jumping, great white shark diving, and on a safari. I can’t wait to share my experience there!

Youtube video of Ghana:
Picture 1: Cannons at the slave castle
Picture 2: Wli Waterfall
Picture 3: View from the top of the mountain
Picture 4: Feeding Monkeys at the Mona Monkey Village


For all of the North Star Project 2013-2014 Reports, see

For all of the North Star Project 2013 Summer Reports, see

The North Star Project: Collaboration between The Middle Ground Journal Student Interns, The College of St. Scholastica, and North Star Academy 8th Grade Global Studies Classes, 2013-2014 School Year Reports.

Under the leadership of our North Star host teachers and student interns, The North Star Project has flourished for two years. For a brief summary, please see a recent article in the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:

Having re-tooled and re-designed the collaborative program, we are drawing on the experience of our veteran student interns, ideas from our host teachers, and new projects provided by our incoming student interns. This school year The Middle Ground Journal will share brief dispatches from our North Star Project student interns, particularly from those who are currently stationed, or will soon be stationed abroad. As of the time of this report we have confirmed student interns who will be reporting from Mongolia, Southern China, Shanghai, northeastern China, The Netherlands, Tanzania, Ireland, England, Finland, Russia, and Haiti. We also have students developing presentations on theatrical representations of historical trauma, historical memory, the price individuals pay during tragic global conflicts, and different perceptions of current events from around the world.  We will post their brief dispatches here, and report on their interactions with the North Star students and teachers throughout the school year.

Hong-Ming Liang, Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal, The College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, MN, USA, 2013-2014 School Year

(c) 2013 The Middle Ground Journal, Number 7, Fall, 2013. See Submission Guidelines page for the journal’s not-for-profit educational open-access policy.


Filed under North Star Student Editors, Professor Hong-Ming Liang

17 responses to “The North Star Project, 2013-2014 Report Number Seven — Ghana, Semester at Sea, by John Cutshall

  1. Morgan Schmitz

    First let me start with sharing how jealous I am that you got to spend a semester at sea, that sounds amazing. I think it is really interesting that they called the slave castles. I think we often view castles as an amazing princess type structure. I think this title makes us forget the horrors that happened at these places.

  2. Tayler

    I think humans capability to continue being happy and smiling when they have nothing is truly amazing. This provides the extraordinary opportunity for those of us who have enough to spare to truly realize how priviledged we are. It is also a time to reflect on those who have helped us to get where we are today. It may not have been as many generations ago as one thinks that his or her own anscestors were living a life where begging was neccesary and that should be acknowledged.

    • Madina Tall

      Hello John!
      I’m glad you got to experience something so wonderful! Slavery is unfortunately a part of African history that it may never completely recover from. Learning about the horrors that humanity has caused helps us understand the way the world works today. It was cool to see your amusing experience with the monkeys also! Those animals are quite cunning!!

  3. Maija

    The slave castles would be a surreal place to visit. I can only imagine what it felt like to be so crammed in a room, or even just visiting like in this article. All the places that were visited seem amazing, and not what you would typically think of going around those areas, at least I didn’t.

  4. Mindy Aubin

    The first part of your trip sounds like it was very breathtaking. I can see how hard it would be to stand in that room and imagine twice as many people were in there at one time. I went to the holocaust museum in DC so I can relate to the things you were probably feeling. When you said you showed the kids your camera, it kind of stuck with me. Those kids have probably never even seen a camera in their life and I bet they were so amused by it. The mountain climbing and swimming in the waterfall sound awesome. I bet you had a great time.

  5. Morgan Young

    I have to say Africa is one of the most interesting continents on Earth. Like you said, these Ghanaian people have so little, yet they are still so happy for the chance to be able to better themselves. I can’t imagine how much they suffered during colonial times. It’s an unfortunate and unjust chapter of world history.

  6. Tommy Traaholt

    It must have been surreal walking into those slave castles, and i cannot imagine how it must have felt being in there. It’s interesting that you saw the horrors right away, and must have felt nice to see how beautiful it actually is. That is awesome that monkeys actually came up to you! I feel like they would be scared of humans, but they must be treated well over there. Great article!

  7. Mackenzie Sherrill

    I loved hearing about your trip and how traveling to a new place had somewhat of a “spell” over you as a result. I thought it was interesting that the tour guide placed you in one of the cells where the slaves would be kept so that you were able to feel just a minor sense of how they probably felt there. Also, I really thought it was neat how the monkeys were so friendly with the people.

  8. Karn Pederstuen

    It sounds like you got to partake in a lot of great experiences on your trip. I really enjoy hearing about travel abroad experiences from students so that other students and I can learn about other cultures even though we didn’t have the opportunity to see them ourselves.

  9. Evangelista Chicheko

    I enjoyed reading your reflection. It is great to hear about your experiences on the trip. I am glad you had to encounter the other side of the world, learn about different cultures from your own and got to know more about Africa. Thanks for sharing

  10. Michel Doege

    Your trip sounds like it was amazing. I myself am looking into studying abroad and your experience has only reinforced my desire to go. Meeting kids and the people who lived in those countries must have been very interesting, cultures can differ so much from out own. What we see and experience in life is what defines us, never forget those awesome views and memories you had while on the trip.

  11. Eleni

    It sounds like you had quite the experience. The way you described your trip makes me want to jump on a plane and go see the wonders for myself. I would also like to say that, coming from Ethiopia myself, tourists (especially white ones) are easy prey for smart kids to make money off of and that you might have been fooled there. No matter though I applaud you for trying to help.

  12. Jimmy Lovrien

    Interesting that you were able to see so much in just a semester! I can only dream of seeing that many places in my lifetime. Experiencing the slave castle must have been a powerful but troubling experience. I visited the Holocaust Museum when I was younger. Although I was familiar with the huge toll of the Holocaust, I really was not prepared to see all the artifacts and read the detailed accounts. This was on an eighth grade school trip, so there was certainly a difference in tone and energy among my classmates from our arrival to our departure.

  13. Carley Nadeau

    I knew that Ghana was at the heart of the slave trade, but I never knew that they had built slave castles. I found this very interesting, along with many other parts of the article. It seems you had a great time and explored so many different things! Not many students have seen the heart of Africa, and it seems like a very enlightening thing that more people should experience. Was there any major differences between Morocco and Ghana? If so, what was the biggest one? Nice job!

  14. Megan Bingham

    Wow! This trip sounds so amazing! Sounds like you are learning and experiencing so much more than in a normal class room setting. The slave cells is horrifying to read about and I couldn’t imagine what it would feel like to stand in there with 30 people let alone the 60 they used to put in there. I feel that being there puts the facts into perspective a lot better. I hope you enjoyed the rest of the trip! I want to read more! Thanks for sharing!

  15. Megan Gonrowski

    Hello John,
    A semester abroad it a crazy enough adventure, but a semester at sea sounds like a whirlwind of amazing experiences and new places. I think it is wonderful that your learning mirrored the type of place you were going to see because it gives you a great appreciation for the places you visit and the people you meet. I have never learned about the slave castles in Ghana, but it sounds like an eerie reminder of the horrors of colonialism, triangular trade, and slavery. I wonder what the people in the area think when they see these old castles. If they have stories about the enslavement of their people and the fear that surrounds those truths. Overall, this study aboard experience sounds very eye opening and I hope that you were able to connect with local people in all the places you visited because that is the best way to respect and learn about other peoples’ cultures and ways of life.

  16. Andrew Bailey

    Hello John, thank you for sharing your experience travelling in Ghana! Your adventures in every way sound like the adventure of a lifetime. It sounds like visiting the slave castles was very sobering; I find it incredible the length at which we humans will go to exploit others. As you discussed your hike, I thought of how when I hike a mountain or visit a naturally beautiful place, I often take a picture to later post on social media, but I never truly soak in the view. Recently in my own adventures I have been trying to take less pictures to share with others, and soak in the view myself as you have done. Finally, I must admit I am low key jealous you had the chance to feed a monkey. I would agree that it was worth the risk!!

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