Now, why did you decide to come to Ghana?
That is a question that I have frequently received, from when I first started thinking about studying in Ghana to acceptance, arrival and still during my time here. I get asked that by friends and family back home, fellow international students, and Ghanaians I’ve met. I have various answers. To some I say I am studying International Development, others get something like ‘well I just wanted to come to Africa and I picked Ghana.’ The real reason isn’t interesting though. I picked Ghana because of all the Africa programs my university offered, Ghana was the one that worked with visa deadline, program start date, and classes towards my major. I couldn’t have made a better decision though. Ghana is not too developed (I will get to more of that later), so I feel like I have had a pretty good “Africa” experience. But Ghana isn’t a low-income country… according to the World Bank it is a lower-middle income country. The roads are paved (sometimes), there are a few malls, and almost everyone has a cell phone.
The University of Ghana has a very pretty campus and my dorm is well built and comparable to dorms in the US (I don’t live in a hut or tent). That being said, there are many things that I’ve experienced while being here that one would not likely experience when studying in Europe, New Zealand, or Australia. For those studying in parts of Asia, Latin America, or Africa… the following might sound a bit familiar:
- The water is NOT drinkable, which is much different from my experience last semester in Switzerland. This is because there were literal fountains (not drinking fountains, bubblers, water fountains or whatever you call them) found throughout the country that you could drink out of.
- I ALWAYS have to watch where I am walking. If I don’t, I’m likely to either fall into a gutter (which are mainly open), or get hit by a car.
- Did you take your malaria medication? is a normal question my friend and I ask each other… and while there are a few different anti-malarial medications, we are taking the people taking Mefloquin often have interesting, scary, or saucy dreams to share.
- Traveling is a bit more tedious; there is not RyanAir, Eurostar, EasyJet, or other quick, easy transportation methods. When taking a bus somewhere, it leaves ‘when it’s full,’ not at a specific time. And when someone tells you a trip should only take 4 or 5 hours… they really mean 6 or 7, or maybe more.
- Almost nothing has a set price. I bargain for fruit, fabric, cab rides, really anything besides water or things that aren’t sold in an actual store.
- Seeing livestock in or on top of public transportation vehicles is a normal occurrence; I’ve sat next to a chicken before.
- I can get a large/filling meal for less than a dollar.
- Not having running water or power for periods during the day or longer is pretty normal.
- I hand wash my laundry.
- Even though my classes had a set start date, most lecturers didn’t show up for another week or two. This is because not all class timetables were posted before classes were supposed to start.
- When at a traffic light or stuck in traffic, hawkers (street vendors) come up to the vehicle selling everything: water, books, food, maps, gum, paintings, belts, bras, phone credit — really anything is possible… the shopping comes directly to me!
- On a weekly basis I get asked how Obama is doing; people think I might actually know him.
- I am bringing back a large percentage of the country’s population back in my suitcase… not sure how they’ll all fit! (On a daily basis I am asked by people to take them back with me to the US)
- My neighbor boils water for her bucket shower (there is running water though) when the temperature drops below 70 degrees Fahrenheit and her teeth chatter.
- ‘Obruni, you look familiar, have we met before?’ is a question I often get asked on the street or on campus. But no we haven’t met before… I just look like any other white brunette female in this country. (Obruni is the word for foreigner in Twi, one of the local languages.)
So those are just a few ways that studying in Ghana may not be ones’ typical study abroad experience. That being said, it has been an amazing experience- one that is unfortunately soon coming to a close. Studying abroad is amazing experience, and regardless of where you go there will be amazing, one of a kind experiences.