A reflection of my experience studying abroad in Ghana.
Before I left for Ghana, I felt a bit afraid, but I was still idealistic about the trip. I expected to learn about Ghanaian culture, and make friends with the local students. Of course, I knew it would be difficult because of how different Ghana is culturally from the US, but I really didn’t know what to expect. I was very excited to have the experience of my life and grow as a global citizen. I was prepared to have my worldviews challenged. And that’s exactly what happened.
It was a definite culture shock being in Ghana. Seeing women walking on the streets with huge basketfuls of drinks or watermelons on their heads. Hawkers walking between lanes on the road, between cars selling stuff– everything from phone cards to maps to food to even chairs or tables. The smogginess of the main roads contrasted with the lush green of the university campus. There were open gutters, which I fell into and sprained my ankle. There are lots of unpaved dirt roads. And there were so. many. people. Walking on the streets, driving, people trying to sell you stuff on the street, people getting on and off trotros, young beggars pulling at your hand for a peswa. There was always someone looking for your attention, especially at busier areas and trotro stations. It was amazing and I marveled at the energy of Ghana, but it was also a bit overwhelming to take everything in.
It wasn’t always smooth sailing. There were ups and downs, but I didn’t expect the downs to be so challenging. Being immersed in an environment where everyone was of African descent and dark-skinned forced me to come face to face with the colorism/racism embedded in modern society and the psychological/sociological impacts of that slavery still has on African communities. I’m not saying all African women, but it isn’t uncommon to see women lightening their skin or relaxing their hair. There is this almost universal beauty standard of lighter skin and Western features. Some of my friends also shared how a few Ghanaian guys explained how they wished to marry a white woman. There was also an admiration of Western culture, again not everyone, but a lot of Ghanaians were so eager to make friends with obrunis/foreigners just because they looked different or from Western countries. It annoyed me a lot for awhile when people would randomly ask me for my phone number just because they wanted to be my friend because I was lighter-skinned or from the US. Some men would even ask to marry you since being associated with lighter-skinned people or obrunis was more to boost their own social status.
It was overwhelming, to say the least. This social climate was so different from what I’ve ever experienced, but it’s taught me to be more firm and to not be afraid to say what I feel. If I’m faced with unexpected situations or people are asking for phone number or if I’m being harrassed, there’s no need to feel like I have to be polite. I know that it’s okay to do what makes me comfortable since I don’t owe anyone anything. It helped me reinforce my own self-worth and become assertive. I learned how to interact people of different cultural backgrounds, values, and behaviors while still standing up for myself. Because I want to pursue a career in international development and possibly diplomacy, these skills are very crucial — to deeply understand a culture and the socioeconomic/political conditions people may experience, to have respect for those who are different, to be tolerant and not evangelical, but still stand up for what I believe in. I’ve definitely grown a thicker skin, which will help me stay determined and persevere in achieving any goals I set for myself.
So far, I’ve shared the challenges that I’ve had and that have helped me grow, but these experiences do not characterize the majority of my trip. Like I said, there were ups and downs throughout. What really made my study abroad experience worthwhile were the people. Not everyone in Ghana wants your phone number … for awhile I grew very weary of making friends with any Ghanaians, but eventually I was able to make friends with Victoria and Agnes, who were in two of my classes, and they really helped me out with what was going on in class — when exams were, what to study. I also made friends with Nii, Senam, Elizabeth, and Elorm. Without them, I couldn’t have survived in Ghana. Their advice on how to bargain or interact people was so helpful. Having them as friends really made me appreciate kindness and sincerity, which brings me to my program coordinators Auntie Rose, Auntie Sharon, Auntie Joyce, Auntie Elsie, and Uncle Albie. They were so amazingly loving and caring. They were always there to guide us. Through these people, I was able to see and explore how beautiful Ghana is. Once you get past the cold water, handwashing laundry, spotty electricity, and lack of WiFi, you realize your humanity, and how you can survive even without the luxuries of American living. And I’ve realized how spoiled I am coming from the US and seeing how Ghanaians in villages are living just fine. They definitely have a far thicker skin than I do, but living in Ghana made me appreciate the different ways of living.
I’ll miss the greenery, and wildlife — how they’re so many different species of birds chirping in the morning, how blue the sky is, the reddish orange of the soil…I’m really going to miss how friendly everyone is, all the people I’ve met. And I’m so thankful for Fund for Education Abroad for funding my education abroad because without them I couldn’t have had this experience, so thank you so much.