"The younger students really want to know one thing: are there
big differences between you and me?" says Akua Akyea, a UI
alum from Ghana who has participated in the Universitys International
Classroom Program (ICP) for the past seven years. "I spend
a lot of time speaking about commonalities. They ask if we live
in houses and have roads and keep pets. And, of course, I answer
yes to all of the above. As they get a little older, they understand
the similarities, so we address the subtletiesthe realities
of living abroad."
Akyea is trilingual, speaking fluent English, French, and Ewe,
an indigenous language of Ghana. She came to Iowa in 1993, following
her parents who had moved here so her father, an international peace
worker, could complete a cross-disciplinary Ph.D. in anthropology,
art history, and English. Akyea also completed a bachelors
degree in an interdisciplinary programLiterature, Science,
and the Artsat The University of Iowa. Then she went on to
earn a J.D. as well as a masters degree in African American
Someday she plans to start a law practice specializing in immigration
and domestic violence. But right now, she is very happy to be interim
assistant director of cross-cultural programming and outreach in
International Programs at the University.
"This program is so important," Akyea says. "Its
great for international and internationally minded students because
it gives them the chance to speak about and validate their experiences.
The audience gets to see that moment at which people from different
cultures can communicate and have a dialogue. This is so helpful
in building communities."
ICP recruits volunteers from countries around the world, offering
them the flexibility to talk about various areas of expertise: everything
from native dances to the religions or economies of their countries
of origin. Schools in southeastern Iowa request ICP speakers to
augment curricula ranging from social studies to history to world
The University also uses ICP volunteers to enrich classes. The
Department of Spanish and Portuguese, for instance, invites native
speakers from Mexico, South America, and Central America, as well
as Spain. They help students hear and understand the differences
between dialects and understand the cultures that shape and mold
But it is the contact with young children that Akyea says makes
the program most satisfying. So satisfying, in fact, that she has
gotten both her brothersAnsa, an MFA student in theatre arts,
and Modei, who recently finished a bachelors degree in Literature,
Science, and the Artsto speak about Africa in elementary schools.
"What I know about young children is that they take information
and blend it with what they know already," Akyea says. "Once
we visit them, the world makes perfect sensethey dont
see any rough edges. I love that about them."