IES Abroad Granada Alum Granted Thomas J. Watson Fellowship

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Abby Baric
August 25, 2017

Kelvin (Kweku) Ampem-Darko (Granada, Spring 2016 | Wheaton College) was deeply impacted by his study abroad experience. His worldview changed, and the relaxed pace of life in Granada inspired Kweku to study other cultures’ lifestyles, asking himself the question: Is there a right way to care for each other?

Kweku was recently awarded the prestigious Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, a one-year grant for purposeful, independent exploration outside the United States. For the next year, the Watson Fellowship will allow him to research aspects of caregiving models in Senegal, Zimbabwe, India, and Bolivia.


IES Abroad: What is the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship? How were you selected?

Kelvin (Kweku) Ampem-Darko (KAD): The Thomas J. Watson Fellowship is a fellowship that awards $30,000 to fellows to undertake a year of exploring a passion that is of deep personal significance.

The fellowship involves 40 colleges and universities across the country, and each institution has four applicants it can submit to The Watson Foundation for interviews. However, prior to this, there are two rounds of internal selection processes that reduce the number of applicants in each school from an even larger pool of students. After interviews are completed for the national finalists, 40 applicants are chosen to become Watson Fellows, and the announcement is made via a press release.

IES Abroad: How are you using the Watson Fellowship grant?

KAD: For my Watson year, I will be looking at the multidimensional nature of caregiving in different contexts. It is, at its core, a search for an answer to a simple question: Is there a right way to care for each other? Over the year, I will be traveling to Senegal, Zimbabwe, India, and Bolivia to study different aspects of what caregiving is in these cultures.

IES Abroad: Did study abroad influence you to do research abroad? If so, how?

KAD: Studying abroad most definitely influenced my desire to conduct research abroad. Travelling had never really been an interest for me before I left to study abroad in Granada. I had done some volunteer work in a hospital in Quito, Ecuador, which had piqued my interest in learning Spanish, but that was about as international as my desires went. However, after studying abroad in Granada for a semester, I started to realize how context shapes so much of who we are as individuals. The more relaxed, no pasa nada, culture in Granada was quite a sharp contrast to what I was used to here in the United States.

This got me thinking that if such a subtle difference can affect the priorities we have in life, what else do contexts influence? Courses in Art History and Anthropology also showed me the value of qualitative research as opposed to pure empirical work. From then on, it was only a matter of combining this newfound perspective with caregiving, which I had always been passionate about.

IES Abroad: You mentioned that studying abroad in Granada changed your world view on a fundamental level. Can you explain this in more detail?

KAD: The one person that I am most grateful for is Dr. Javier Martínez de Velasco, the IES Abroad Granada Center Director. He always advised us to stay in Granada, enjoy it, and absorb everything it had to offer. It was easy to fall into the trap of traveling to different countries just for the benefit of the next Instagram post. Of course, I had always had an idea about how implicitly interconnected our world is, and Granada only solidified this for me. Nonetheless, his advice was a reminder to value depth and immersion.

Living in Granada showed me little things about to know people with whom you share few cultural similarities. As an aspiring medical doctor, connecting with people really matters to me. What Granada showed me was that there is almost always a way to connect with someone regardless of where they're from.

Fundamentally, the world is full of people who are eager to learn about others just as much as I was interested in learning about them. Without realizing it, I had developed this mental model that the world is a hostile place. Studying abroad in Granada showed me that there is more good than bad in the world and that optimism has become a core belief that motivates me in everything I do.

IES Abroad: Did you always know you wanted to study abroad? What drove you to make it a reality? Were there any resources that helped you make a decision?

KAD: I did not want to study abroad. Ultimately, it was my desire to acquire a third language that led me to study abroad. Wheaton College's (MA) Center for Global Education was a great help when it came to my decision to study abroad. Also, prior to my departure, Javier came to visit even though it was only three of us who were going to study abroad in Granada that semester. I really appreciated that gesture because it showed his dedication and that made me feel welcomed.

IES Abroad: What would be your advice for someone who isn’t sure if they should study abroad?

KAD: Go for it! At the end of the day, I believe you're more likely to regret not studying abroad than you are to feel regret if you do give it a shot.

IES Abroad: What are your plans after you return from completing your Watson Fellowship?

KAD: I will matriculate into the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai to begin my medical education!

IES Abroad: What do you think the benefits are for studying abroad?

KAD: Studying abroad showed me that our world has a lot to offer. Living in our own bubbles, we forget childlike wonder that leads us to explore; for me, study abroad rekindled that. Go in with the right mindset (of prioritizing depth and immersion), and there will be no limits to where studying abroad can take you.

If you’re interested in finding your passion abroad, be sure to check out our study abroad programs, as well as find more information on studying abroad in Granada.

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Abby Baric

Director of Communications & Outreach

For more information about IES Abroad, our programs, or to arrange an interview with our study abroad experts, see contact below. • 312.261.5032

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