Ghana study abroad returnee fields many questions

I’ve been back in the U.S. for a few weeks now. Almost every­one I see asks me how my trip to Ghana went. I spent 26 Decem­ber through 22 Jan­u­ary in Ghana for a Com­mu­nity Engage­ment in Ghana pro­gram with the Uni­ver­sity of Wis­con­sin – Supe­rior. How do I explain the time I spent in Ghana? To show 1500 pho­tos, to share a cou­ple sto­ries, to wear my new dresses — these just don’t seem to cut it. These things bring back mem­o­ries for me, but how do I share this expe­ri­ence with oth­ers? Bring them to my world while I was in Accra, to have those same thoughts, awk­ward moments, new feel­ings? To have peo­ple expe­ri­ence the sounds, views, smells and tex­tures? I keep ask­ing myself all these questions.

Often, I just tell peo­ple my trip was amaz­ing. There is no other word that seems to get close to the mark. Amaz­ing. That’s a good way to sum it all up. But some­how I must tell peo­ple more so they can under­stand what Ghana is like. So I tell them about the won­der­ful weather, the kind peo­ple, writ­ing for Wojaku, the unique fruits I got to try. Peo­ple lis­ten, and then often respond by say­ing, “Oh, wow.” That is not the response I want. I want to engage them in dis­cussing life in Ghana, but because many peo­ple in the U.S. have never never trav­eled inter­na­tion­ally, they have noth­ing with which to com­pare their lives. I tell them about how in Ghana peo­ple snap their fin­gers when they shake hands, they say things are “nice” and they are doing “fine,” and how every food in Ghana seems to be smoth­ered in pep­per. I tell them about Makola Mar­ket and how lively it is there, and how I wanted to go back there sev­eral times dur­ing the trip because there was always some­thing new to see. But because there is no way to imag­ine some of the things I did in Ghana, I lose a part of my audi­ence. Some­times they tell me that the things I say mean that cul­ture in Ghana is back­ward. But how can we say some­thing is back­ward with­out see­ing it in action and under­stand­ing the rea­son it’s done that way? We as Amer­i­cans often think that our way is the best way, but maybe that is because it’s the only way we know. What if there was a bet­ter way, or a dif­fer­ent way, to do things? How would we learn it? By leav­ing the coun­try! That is why I keep telling peo­ple that I had no inter­est in com­ing back from Ghana. I knew, in the four short weeks I was there, that I loved the way every­thing was done in Ghana, and wanted to con­tinue learn­ing a new per­spec­tive on life.

So now I keep going with life in Amer­ica. I’m hav­ing trou­ble get­ting used to it again, because I became accus­tomed to the changes in Ghana, but at least I can share what I expe­ri­enced with oth­ers so they can learn. Most responses are pos­i­tive, and peo­ple often ask ques­tions about the sto­ries I tell them. How was the food? Where did you stay? Why did you go? And I answer as best I can. Some replies I receive show the many mis­un­der­stand­ings that peo­ple have. Some com­ments went some­thing like, I could never do that!, or How dan­ger­ous!, or Will you go some­where more civ­i­lized next time?, and I’m glad you made it back alive. So I explain that I was not liv­ing in a hut on a safari (although that would have been great), and that I felt quite safe in Ghana. I tell them that I enjoyed my time enough that I really didn’t want to leave. I tell sto­ries about what I did in hopes that they will under­stand me since it’s obvi­ous they are strug­gling to under­stand what life in Ghana is like.

I’ve got­ten to show peo­ple the blog I worked on for my study abroad group, and I’ve been able to put pho­tos and updates on Face­book about my adven­tures. I will soon be doing pre­sen­ta­tions at a local health care cen­ter, at the uni­ver­sity, at a study away fair, and at a few club events. I am fight­ing to nar­row down my pho­tos and sto­ries into a man­age­able 30-minute talk. How do I fit all the impor­tant things I learned in Ghana into that short amount of time? I will find out. It’s another part of the adven­ture that will help me come to terms with so many of the things I learned while I was in Ghana. I really miss all the peo­ple I got to know, the weather, and the laid-back approach to life that allows for build­ing friend­ships and all sorts of new escapades. If I can get just one other per­son to con­sider trav­el­ing around the world to expe­ri­ence and learn from another cul­ture, it will be worthwhile.

The blog I worked on for Com­mu­nity Engage­ment in Ghana can be read at uws-ghana.blogspot.com.

Images cour­tesy of Dara Fill­more — The Stinger
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