Before staff member Dave Poortvliet was awarded a GVSU faculty/staff grant he had been in contact with University Cape Coast (UCC) in Ghana, assisting with questions over email. After being awarded the grant he was able to travel to UCC in order to help them in person.
UCC was interested in getting suggestions and help with their website from Dave before he even considered travelling there. Someone suggested to Dave that he go visit them in person, which he had not considered before, explaining, “I didn’t even know that this was a thing. I knew students could study abroad, but I had no idea they had a grant for staff or faculty.”
After receiving the grant Dave was able travel to Ghana. This was Dave’s first time going to Africa, which took him outside of his comfort zone, but allowed him to discover a lot of things. “One, you get a new worldview. You think everybody lives like people in the US and they don’t not even close. So you get this perspective about how other people live in the world,” explained Dave.
The university was larger than Grand Valley with 47,000 students. “I didn’t quite understand that until I got there and saw the amount of students on campus, it was just unbelievable,” said Dave.
Another change that Dave had to adapt to was in his work schedule. “I went in thinking that everybody has this schedule and is all about productivity and working through a certain time to get things done,” said Dave. This turned out to not always be the case as productivity was not always the main goal. According to Dave, “your tasks are kind of secondary to forming relationships and talking to people.”
Dave went to UCC to help with their website. Even though they have a larger student body than GVSU they had to do more with less. Where GVSU has a room of servers that handle blackboard, my banner, and email, their website had one server and one rack in one room, “so it was a much smaller scale and they were doing a lot with a little, which was awesome to see,” explained Dave.
Dave had researched the website and found ways in which new technologies could speed up their servers and make them mobile friendly. When Dave got to UCC he worked with their web team and looked at their analytics to help them find new ways to optimize their website. They were able to see how people were using their site and what devices were being used to access the website.
This created a unique experience for Dave, “how annoyed would you be if somebody came for two weeks and sat with you at your job and all of a sudden telling you how to do your job better.” This was not the case though as Dave was able to put together a one hour presentation for the web team. “They were just so hungry for more. They wanted to learn more and were really excited about what I had to say,” said Dave. The web team’s desire to learn made it easier for Dave to talk to the team. Instead of Dave feeling like he was telling them what to do, they were, “sharing an experience together where we were all learning,” expressed Dave.
Summarizing his trip Dave explained, “My underlying thing I always say to people is you really don’t grow until you are outside of your comfort zone. If you are always comfortable doing whatever you are doing in life you might learn some things, but as soon as you are really uncomfortable that’s really when you start to learn and have empathy for other people and cultures, and realize people are not all like you and like Americans. People live very different lives and have very different worldviews and it’s just awesome to be able to be a part of that.”