The Reward and Moving Forward

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Kwame Nkrumah statue at the Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum.

One of the rewarding takeaways about Ghana is the cultural norm of acknowledgement. From our very first days in Ghana during orientation, we learned that we should acknowledge everyone when entering a space. At times I did this and at times I didn’t, and I was called out for not doing it. This was notably different from the mentality and behavior I have coming from New York City as well as my more reserved personality and even my socially awkward self. In making this cross cultural comparison, I do not want to create a simple contrast between Ghana and New York City because within the city as well as other places in the U.S., there are cultures and subcultures with the element of acknowledgement. From my personal experience, however, I had just not practiced this as consistently or seriously.   

In moving forward, I reflect on how important traveling to Ghana was as an opportunity to not only see, but acknowledge a different place, culture, and people. To me, seeing means observing in a somewhat removed and superficial way. The active practice of acknowledgment suggests thinking of the significance of what one sees in places and cultures, or saying hello to someone. In thinking about my interactions with Ghanaians, other students at the University of Ghana, and students on my program, I ask myself, did I acknowledge them? I believe this mindset and action of acknowledging tied in with many social justice conversations about visibility that I had been a part of before traveling to Ghana.

Mostly in media, popular culture, and politics, I had often studied and discussed the visibility of marginalized people in these areas. I studied and discussed the opportunity for the public to see then acknowledge us and our existence through media. Though these weren’t in-person opportunities, they still were informative and transformative. Then I thought of not seeing many representations of Ghanaians in the media before studying abroad. Therefore, I couldn’t acknowledge Ghanaians and their experiences in that way. While in Ghana, I could and did! After acknowledging them, I had opportunities to talk with and learn about people in depth so they saw who I really was beyond my appearance and vice versa. In reflecting, I asked myself, how did I acknowledge not only people, but their stories too? The idea of acknowledgment was simple yet powerful and fundamental to moving beyond visibility as a study abroad student and someone committed to social justice. I firmly believe that opportunities to acknowledge marginalized people whether it be through studying abroad or watching films provide great chances to learn about our lives. However, they don’t change the environments causing struggles for marginalized people. I see justice as the positive change of these environments and marginalized people’s lives that comes after being informed through visibility and acknowledgement.

As someone strongly considering going into media as a career, I am pursuing an opportunity to do justice to myself, the various people I have met and our stories. By contributing to a medium that significantly impacts the minds and perspectives of people all over the world. Not everyone has the chance to study abroad, acknowledge someone, and learn from talking with them. Therefore, by justice, I also mean empowering myself to portray marginalized people, our beauty, and our experiences as a means of education through media. With that education, shifting people’s consciousness to better understand and know how to dismantle the oppression that causes marginalization becomes my ultimate goal. Furthermore, this goal means empowering others to do the same both domestically and internationally because I cannot and should not tell, for example, a Ghanaian’s story. At the core of my study abroad experience and the reward of a deepened perspective that I got from it is the humanizing act of acknowledgment. While this act is not new to me, it showed up in a particular way in Ghana that has framed my mind and actions as I strive to live what I have learned both in my everyday personal life and in my career.