Note: Simmons returned to Ghana in the summer of 2013 and blogged about her experiences.
Cori Simmons spent most of last summer without a hot shower, washer or dryer for her clothes, or, as only a true lover of caffeine would lament, “real coffee.” Yet she wouldn’t have traded those comforts for what she calls “the most incredible” experience.
One week after completing her sophomore year at Suffolk, Simmons began an 11-week program working and teaching at an orphanage in Ghana, a trip the international affairs major researched, planned, and financed.
“My particular area of interest in international affairs is economic development, so I wanted to travel and I’ve always had an interest in Africa,” says Simmons, 20, a junior who is also an economics minor. “And issues of economic development relating to children are really what tug at my heartstrings.So I decided to make my own opportunity. I went there wanting to help and work with kids, and living there was the most incredible thing. Being there and living the life they live, there’s so much value in that.”
Through the New Zealand–based group International Volunteer Headquarters, Simmons was placed with a host family in Kasoa, about 15 miles from Accra, Ghana’s largest city and capital. She worked for the West African Children’s Foundation, a small orphanage and school that is home to about 50 children, with an additional 100 children attending classes. She taught French (Ghana’s official language is English), but spent most of her time taking care of children who ranged in age from 2 to 13. When she wasn’t working, she traveled throughout the country as much as possible.
“My favorite thing was to talk to random people and ask them about their lives, what they do, and what they think about different things, just conversations with people in the tro-tros [public buses], cabs, and on the street,” Simmons says. “I stuck out like a sore thumb, but I felt completely comfortable and that was one of the things I loved most. I traveled all over. I went to the Volta Region, I went up to the Western Region. I never felt unsafe while I was there. It was more than just sightseeing. I got to see how people live. To have the opportunity to do that for a much longer period of time really helped me reflect on what the country is really like.”
Rachael Cobb, an associate professor and chair of Suffolk’s Government Department, had Simmons as a student prior to her Africa trip. The same open, inquisitive nature that served Simmons so well in Ghana was also apparent in Cobb’s Research Methods and Political Science class.
“Cori was extremely thoughtful when she spoke and always had an insight that was profound. She was articulate, meticulously well-prepared for class, and was always gracious to her colleagues in the class,” Cobb says. “She also wrote an impressive paper on the role and efficacy of nongovernment organizations, and she just kept coming back to key questions—reworking things, rewriting things, and rethinking things so that she got it right. It demonstrated a tremendous dedication and concern for the quality of the product as well as a concern for the ethical obligations of a researcher.”
Prior to her trip to Ghana, Simmons had only traveled outside of the United States once, for a 10-day school trip to France when she was a high school sophomore. Growing up in Standish, Maine, which Simmons describes as “a tiny, rural town,” she is the second of three daughters. Her father, now retired, owned a landscape architecture business, and her mother was a nurse.
Simmons developed an interest in art early on, but was also drawn to international affairs. As an extracurricular activity, she joined her high school’s chapter of Amnesty International, the global organization that promotes human and civil rights. Eventually, her French teacher encouraged her to look into Model UN, an academic simulation of the United Nations that educates participants about the organization’s agenda and issues.
“You’re on a team and you’re assigned a country to represent, and then you’re on different committees modeled after a real United Nations conference,”says Simmons, who is president of Suffolk’s Model UN. “There are things like General Assembly and special committees like [Economic and Social Council], Commission on the Status of Women, and Security Council. You research and prep, and then you rep- resent that country’s interests in the topics you’re assigned to research. It really pushed my interest in international affairs.”
Though Simmons initially came to Suffolk to study art, she made the switch to international affairs because she was so impressed by the College of Arts & Sciences’ honors program. She’s is now vice president of CAS’s Honors Scholar Student Council. She was also selected to serve as the student representative on CAS’s Strategic Planning Committee, which is modeled after Suffolk President James McCarthy’s five-year plan for the University.
“It’s been interesting, and I’ve learned a lot about how this University works and how CAS works,” Simmons says. “To be the student voice has been a real privilege. I’ve had to think actively about giving a well-rounded opinion and representing not just myself, my immediate circle, and the activities I’m involved in, but thinking about what’s best for thousands of students.”
Simmons will spend this semester in Washington, D.C. for an internship at the U.S. State Department. She also plans to apply for the Harry S. Truman Scholarship, for juniors committed to careers in government, the nonprofit or advocacy sectors, education, or other areas of public service. Recipients receive financial support, and must commit to work in public service for three of their first seven years after completing their graduate degree.
“That would fit perfectly for me, since that’s what I want to do anyway,” she says. “What I ultimately learned in Model UN and Amnesty International, and has been reinforced here at Suffolk, is that—and I know it sounds clichéd—I really do want to help people in life. I’m interested in learning about other cultures and other people, and serving them that way. I think I can do a lot for the world through that.”