Ghana study abroad returnee fields many questions

Dara Fillmore -- The Stinger

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.

Dara Fillmore -- The Stinger
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