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Fifteen years and 6,900 miles later: Special Peace Corps relationship adds a new chapter

Mar 26, 2019

Peace Corps relationship brings international student Stephen Ehumah ’22 from Ghana to North Central College

There are many paths to North Central College and Stephen Ehumah ’22 certainly traveled his own unique journey to become a first-year student last fall.

Stephen was just 10 years old when he first heard about faraway North Central College. That’s because a family friend named Kimberly Sluis ’99 brought him a men’s soccer T-shirt while she visited the Ehumah family in Ghana. “That was my first experience with North Central,” he said of that life-changing moment 10 years ago when he met Kimberly, who is now vice president for student affairs and strategic initiatives.

Stephen never forgot about North Central College, leading to a deep desire to study abroad in the United States.

The Ehumah family connection dates back as far as 2001, when Kimberly first met Julius Ehumah, Stephen’s father, while serving in the Peace Corps in Ghana. As a volunteer leader in Kumasi, Julius was assigned as her driver. “We spent a lot of time together in his car, visiting volunteer sites but also running errands,” she said. “I knew that he and his wife Ama would be friends for life.” Stephen was preschool aged at the time.

The friendship grew deeper despite the distance. When Kimberly visited Ghana with North Central students in 2008 and 2014, Julius took vacation time from his Peace Corps job to act as their host and guide. In 2012, Julius attended the wedding reception of Kimberly to Joseph Maffey M ‘09/M ‘16 with the couple’s help. As part of his three-week visit, Julius saw North Central’s campus for the first time.

During high school, Stephen and his father contacted the education office within the U.S. Embassy and asked questions about student visas and other logistics.

From dreaming of study abroad to reality

Two years later, Julius and Stephen reached out to Kimberly about the College’s computer science program, admission process and scholarship opportunities. Stephen was awarded a Trustee Scholarship to cover his college expenses, while Kimberly and Joseph set up a Go Fund Me page for his airfare, textbooks, clothing and other needs.

“When I think back to applying to the Peace Corps, it blows my mind that this is where we are right now,” Kimberly said. “It’s been an amazing experience the past eight months.”

Stephen had never been on a plane before flying to Chicago and the air turbulence was especially memorable. “It was so fantastic,” said Stephen, who wants to become a pilot. During a trip with Kimberly to Washington, D.C., over December Term, the flight simulator at the National Air and Space Museum soon became his favorite attraction.

North Central alumni have been generous and enthusiastic about introducing Stephen to American culture. Esther Benjamin ’90 welcomed Stephen and Kimberly to Baltimore and conducted a thorough tour. Deana Guarino ‘15 added him to her guest list for her fall wedding. Kate Schmidt ’09 and her wife Theresa have taken Stephen to Cubs and Bulls games and outfitted him with Chicago sports gear. They also enjoyed dinner at a Chicago restaurant that serves Ghanaian food.

Immersion into campus culture and international programs

Stephen’s academic passion is coding and computer technology. One of his brothers in Ghana is hearing impaired and Stephen wants to establish a program to teach coding to people with hearing impairments. “Stephen is already exploring options like funding through Heston or Richter grants,” explained Kimberly. “He’s taking advantage of all that North Central College has to offer.” (The Mironda Heston Scholarship provides funding to North Central students for projects in human rights or human service. Richter grants help fund travel and other expenses for student research.)

Stephen finds joy in new people and new experiences. He’s enjoyed outings with the International Club, a Breakaway service trip to Puerto Rico and American celebrations for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. He participated in an international round table discussion and represented Ghana at the annual study abroad fair. He made the Dean’s List for fall term, overcoming an academic challenge with his first-ever American government course.

Stephen has accumulated a rich trove of memories. More than any other moment, he’ll never forget the day he arrived at O’Hare International Airport, when his dream of college in America was going to finally begin. “It was so joyful,” Stephen said. “I was so happy that it was me who got to arrive at O’Hare—instead of my dad!”