I had always thought studying abroad was for art majors who wanted to go to Italy, or language majors who wanted to go to … well, Italy. However, after a friend of mine returned from Jordan unscathed and loaded with stories that put any of my Friday-night-in-Auburn memories to shame, I decided to look into studying abroad for myself. Being a political science and English literature major, I wanted to go somewhere that would not only allow me to complete some courses in my curriculum, but also give me a very different perspective on these subjects. I quickly ruled out Western countries and eventually decided to study in Accra at the University of Ghana.
Most Americans think of Africa as a very dangerous place, a hotbed for war, genocide, poverty, corruption, tribal conflict and AIDS. This notion couldn’t be more false. Although neighboring Cote d’Ivoire had a civil war during my stay, and although I did get malaria once, the war never spilled over into Ghana and malaria was really nothing more than the flu (with proper treatment that is). Ghana is a very stable and peaceful country, and Ghanians are probably the nicest people I have ever met. That being said, anywhere can be dangerous if you aren’t familiar with the area and if you’re with strangers instead of friends. Besides malaria my experience in Africa was danger free.
I had all kinds of opportunities to do something new. I went paragliding with friends in Kwawu during the annual Easter festival (Imagine a three-day long, three-town wide outdoor party. Utter craziness!), volunteered with residents of Agblogbloshie (the largest e-waste slum in West Africa) and recorded a hit song with a Ghanaian hip-hop artist . In one weekend alone, I went to a monkey sanctuary, hiked to Wli Falls (the tallest in West Africa) and up Mt. Afadjato (the highest mountain in Ghana). Not only did I get to do all this and more, every day I experienced a new part of Ghanaian culture, like inviting the people around me to share my Fufu and Light Soup and walking as slow as possible to avoid breaking out in a sweat.
The things I will miss the most are, oddly, the smallest: roll of rice and plantains, only handing things to people with your right hand, Club and Star beer, bargaining, making that weird “tsk” sound when something or someone annoys me and, of course, the Ghanaian handshake. I may not miss the constant sweating and lack of air conditioning or malaria, but these things only add character to you and your experience.
It’s hard to give a brief summary to such a huge experience. Studying abroad in Ghana has been the most important decision of my life to date. Not only was I able to complete a whole semester of coursework in a unique setting, but I traveled throughout the country and met friends from around the continent and the globe. I never expected I would have had such a full experience in a developing country, but after doing everything from volunteering with slum residents to recording a song with an up-and-coming hip-hop artist, I find myself wishing it had never ended. Studying abroad is something I would do again and again. Not even an Auburn football season can compare. After all, who doesn’t love monkeys!?