Author Archives: Coryl in Ghana

About Coryl in Ghana

Hey, I'm Coryl and I will be spending spring of '17 in Accra, Ghana. Follow me along in this journey to hear about my experiences abroad!

Native Foreigner

“We shall not cease from exploration and at the end of all our exploration we shall arrive where we started and see the place for the first time” –T.S. Eliot

Upon my return to the U.S. I felt the results of reverse culture shock almost instantaneously. I was warned about this prior to my journey back home, but at the time I didn’t grasp how much it would actually affect me.

Everything feels unusual to me now. Just when I felt I had adjusted to a new environment, my whole world was reversed. At first, I was extremely happy to be back. Some things felt so familiar and natural to me. Soon after though, I found some situations and places uncomfortable. I felt changed, and everything else felt the same.

 

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This was my last visit to the international house. Unfortunately a friend and I had to say goodbye to our beautiful program director, Abigail, who has become a dear friend to us all.

 

The first thing that stunned me was the food choices. In Ghana, I was used to a diet with not much of a selection. In the States, I had almost the opposite problem. My first day back, I went to a breakfast buffet and was completely overwhelmed with the overabundance of food options available. From then, it was a gradual tuning out of the common courtesy I had known in Ghana, to the ones required in the U.S. I was used to saying please before every question, and having thorough conversations with complete strangers. I suppose the main dissimilarity that I continue to notice is the dramatic change from a collectivist society to an individualistic one. I had a difficult time adjusting to this when I first arrived in Ghana, and now it is the hardest to shake. People at home are not willing to have a drawn-out conversation with you if get lost, they don’t invite you to eat with them if you don’t have food, and they don’t typically think in terms that would give every person in a scenario the best outcome.

 

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This was our group all together one last time at the airport before we had to go our separate ways.

 

I am now approaching the completion of my first week back to the U.S. Although sometimes I still feel strange in particular situations, I feel like I am home. I do consider myself to have undergone a subtle transformation while I was gone. Now, certain circumstances and individuals don’t seem so black and white to me. Going on this journey was a blessing to my development as an individual, and I will always hold it as irreplaceable and valuable to me.

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Then and Now

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When I began this journey, I expected that I would change and grow as an individual, but I did not know the extent that study abroad would actually affect me. Of course, if you dramatically alter your typical routine and move to a new country, you’re bound to notice a change in how you used to act and think about things. Still, I had no concept of just how much I would find myself changed.

I have around eleven days left in Ghana. These past few weeks have brought long days with ample time to think about myself, and the time I chose to spend an important part of my life in. It truly is kind of insane to think about taking four months to go somewhere you’ve never been to spend time with people you’ve never met and immerse yourself in a culture you know nothing about. Yet, I did it, and it all went by at an unbelievably fast pace.

Admittedly, I have recently been in a kind of rut. I lost my phone in a car, mosquitoes have officially taken over my legs, and I feel as if I’m handling the weather worse than I had before. May has seemed to blend together in one long day where it seems there is no ending or beginning. Finals are stretched out over three weeks, and most of us have seen/experienced the majority of what we had planned to do already. I yearn for my favorite foods, my friends back home, and my university. Naturally, the empty space has allowed me a bit of time to reflect on my study abroad adventure. At the beginning of the semester, I took a self-assessment test to evaluate how mentally prepared I was for studying abroad. Recently, I took it again to reflect and value how much I have grown since my arrival.

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Instantly, a question that caught my eye when retaking the test was a query about my willingness to confront problems and look for alternative solutions. I would say this is something that I struggled with prior to coming to Ghana, but being here has forced me to deal with challenges head-on. Often when trying to get somewhere on time, there is a delay in the public transportation system, or a simple trip to get food takes way longer than you imagined it would. Instead of getting angry and giving up on whatever I had wanted to accomplish, I was forced to find an alternate way to get where I needed to go, or to get what I wanted.

One other major difference that I noticed in myself was under the resilience category of the test. It asked what your ability was to keep a sense of humor when placed in a stressful situation. Stressful situations are inescapable, and they have happened to me more than a few times during my experience in Ghana. For example, language barriers have constantly been an issue that I have considered to be stressful, especially when it is problematic trying to buy food. Most of the time, it just takes a little patience and kindness to turn around this setback. This is a valuable skill to have no matter the location, and it makes a person deal with an issue that is bound to happen at some point in their life.

I hope you find yourself in a place you’re not familiar with to do things you’ve never done before. I promise it’s worthwhile.

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Your Guide to Ghana

As my classes come to a close, I’ve begun to reflect on my time spent in the country that I’ve called my home for the past three months. It has been packed to the brim with adventure, amazement, and wonderful memories. Now that I have become familiar with many aspects of Ghana, I want to offer a guide of my personal favorite suggestions of where to go and visit if you choose to study abroad in this part of West Africa.

  1. Cape Three Points

Last night, I arrived home after a tiresome journey from the furthest southern point in Ghana. It is called Cape Three Points and it holds the most picturesque beaches that I have seen in this country. At Cape Three Points one can participate in a variety of activities from surfing to taking in the views from a quaint lighthouse after a hike through a nearby village.

 

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I could not believe the color of the water, it was intense and inviting. We all had to soak up the views for a few minutes to take it all in.

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The lighthouse. It takes about twenty-five minutes to hike through the village and up the mountain.

 

  1. Cape Coast

Another point of interest that any traveler should venture to see is a place called Cape Coast. This popular and historic spot is known for its national park, a natural rainforest where visitors can tiptoe through the treetops on a stunning canopy walk. Along with that, be sure to take a tour in the old slave castles that were used in the Triangular Trade.

 

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High up in the treetops, I enjoyed the view of the lush rainforest. As long as heights don’t frighten you, this walk is fairly extraordinary. If you’re lucky, some visitors spot elephants down below!

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In a slave castle called Elmina, this door is haunted with the memories of slaves who entered and never returned. It was an enlightening and somber experience to walk through the walls of the castle so riddled with unforgettable atrocities. 

 

  1. Mole National Park

Mole is a national park destination where visitors can stay in northern Ghana. The park is home to a wide variety of animals such as elephants, baboons, and warthogs. One can can take an early morning or late night safari on a hike (or a jeep!) and see the wonders that occupy the African savanna.

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Our late night tour started around 9 o’clock and lasted for around two hours. We saw a multitude of animals while touring the dark sanctuary. 

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This was one of the magnificent elephants we encountered on the early morning hike. It was an remarkable occasion to have witnessed a real African elephant so close and observe his daily routine at the water hole.

 

  1. Bojo Beach

If you find yourself looking for a pleasant and peaceful day trip, Bojo is the place to go. The private beach is only accessible by a short canoe ride. The island makes the perfect place for a cool dip in the Atlantic Ocean, or tanning spot while reading your favorite novel.

  1. Wli Falls

Located in the Volta Region, this waterfall is essential on the must-see list. The falls take about a twenty-minute hike to reach, but the view is well worth the excursion. Even the chilly water is welcoming to take a break from the heat.

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All of the members of my study abroad program came together for a group photo in front of the falls. (Also including two other Gilman recipients!) Swimming in this splendor was surreal, and probably one of my favorite moments in Ghana.

 

  1. Afajato

The tallest mountain in the country dwells in the Volta Region. Though exhausting, the hike up is more than worth the journey. On top, the view full of natural beauty represents the spirit and wonder of the country.

 

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I could not help but pose with the Ghanaian flag after feeling particularly accomplished following the tricky mountain trek.

 

  1. Kumasi

Next to Accra, Kumasi is one of the largest cities in Ghana. There is an abundance of activities to do, but Kumasi is known for its unique shops and art centers. At the village of Bonwire, one will find the traditional kente cloth weaving. Not far from this spot exists a market where handmade wood carvings are sold in designs so detailed it’s hard to believe the craftsmanship.

 

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This is one of the expert weavers of kente. He may spend days or weeks on the same piece of cloth, depending on the number of colors and intricacies that are woven into it. It is a skill that is hard to master, and takes years of practice to perfect.

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A Home Away From Home

Often I mention the extravagant trips I take with my program or the exciting things that happen here, but rarely have I talked about my everyday life. Although occasionally the day-to-day routine can seem mundane at times, I thought it would be interesting to tell of my average week here and what it entails.

Monday through Thursday, I have at least one class per day. When I wake up in the morning I go downstairs to the quaint kitchen where three Ghanaian women work and order some of my favorite breakfast food (usually porridge with honey and bananas) or grab a fruit smoothie from the convenience store on my way to class. My host campus is quite large, so typically I try to take the school shuttle on the especially scorching and humid days as to not show up to class looking like I’ve just got out of the shower.

Classes here last two hours and they only meet once a week, so this was an adjustment for me when I first arrived. There are not many assignments either, but when there is, you can bet that it is going to be group work. This also reflects the sense of community that is evident all across Ghana. Not to mention there is a huge emphasis on group discussion and tests. Although it may not be my traditional style of education, it’s refreshing to get a feel for a learning style other than the one that I’ve grown up with.

 

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My host campus has plenty of events to attend. This one was a presentation that my friend Christian got to speak at. We all try to get involved in the local events/activities at the university.

 

After class on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I usually make my way to the hospital. As a part of my service-learning class, I had to choose a location to volunteer at while I am here. Since I am a nursing major, I decided the best course of action would be to try and get some experience at the university hospital in the children’s ward. My days here are never exactly the same. Sometimes I get to have conversations with a sweet and stressed mother whose baby was born with some complication. Or occasionally I’ll get to play with restless children while their fatigued mothers attempt to get some rest. I have to admit however that my absolute favorite activities at the ward revolve around learning from the nurses. They have taught me how to check vitals, let me assist with drawing blood, and showed me how to change an IV.

 

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This is one of the mothers who I had the chance to sincerely connect with at the hospital. Her name is Edwardin and I treasure the time I got to spend with her.

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On my way home from school, I sometimes stop at the nearby market and grab some rice and chicken or goat kebabs for dinner. But maybe if I am feeling adventurous, I’ll have a bowl of banku and ground nut soup, a dish that contains fermented corn and cassava and is adored by locals. I also joined the University of Ghana swim team, so it’s typically off to practice for me! A school night usually consists of me talking with friends at the hostel, and then a refreshing cold shower on my way to bed.

 

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Myself and some other international students on the ISH (International Student Hostel) swim team! We did fairly well in this competition, and it is a blast getting to know some of the students from other halls!

 

When Friday rolls around, I have to admit it is my favorite part of the week. Often I’ll explore Accra on little day trips by trotro (the main form of public transportation) or hang around the hostel eating my favorite snack (this little marvelous packaged ice cream called FanIce.) My local friends offer neat sights for me to go and visit, and each outing always blesses me with something new to be learned. I love the life that I have made for myself here, and can not wait to see what else the future has in store.

 

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Locals usually purchase animals such as chicken or goat at the nearby markets, and then transport them on the trotros. It still makes me giggle a little when I see chickens in the seat ahead of me.

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One of Ghana’s treasures is the Aburi Botanical Gardens. These gardens are home to a variety of plants, but this carved tree was definitely one of my favorites. It had intricate designs of bodies and animals all throughout.

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As Accra is located on the coast, there are plenty of beaches to visit. This particular beach is called Bojo Beach, and to get there one has to take a canoe across to a tiny island where one can relax in the gorgeous sights, or take a dip in the Atlantic.

 

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Tenge Emmanuel

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My time here in Ghana has brought some truly memorable life experiences, and with this came some equally astounding individuals whom I have had the pleasure of getting to know. One of these is someone who I consider a good friend, and who constantly blows me away with his dedication to school, family, and extra-curricular activities. His name is Tenge Emmanuel, or Emma for short.

Emma is a level 400 senior at the University of Ghana where he is currently studying business administration and has a rather heavy load in terms of outside activities. He works actively with USAC (University Studies Abroad Consortium), which is how I have come to know him so well. His family resides in the neighboring country of Togo, and I along with other USAC students had the chance to visit his family there.

 

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Emma and I in Lome, the capital of Togo, during a weekend visit to the country. Here we are just about to go and see the national museum featuring the history of Togo. Did I mention this country’s official language is French? And that Emma can not only speak French, English, and Twi, but about four other local dialects as well?

Q + A with Emma
What was your education like growing up?
Having studied business at Ntruboman Senior High School and completed as the overall best student in the year 2013, I became the first student from my high school to gain admission into the University of Ghana. This academic success presented itself with great financial need which my family had no capacity to fulfill. Fortunately, Educational Pathways International (EPI) came to my aid and offered me a full scholarship for my four years of undergrad studies.

What’s life like for you at the university?
As someone who has in general attended less endowed schools, I have made it a point to organize and participate with my colleagues in voluntary teachings to basic schools in less fortunate communities within the Volta Region to combat the declining educational standards. Besides this, I enjoy volunteering with USAC. I am now in my final year here at the University, so I look forward to what the future holds.

What are your goals and plans for the future?
I aspire to be a chartered accountant and as a result I am preparing to start writing the professional accounting examinations with the Institute of Chartered Accounts, Ghana in November this year. As a business-minded person, I hope to set up my company someday and contribute to educate financially burdened students. It is my dream to obtain my postgraduate degree in finance/economics from a college outside of Sub Sahara Africa to gain further experience and exposure to different types of businesses. I then hope to implement these systems here in Ghana.

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This photo was taken at Mole National Park in Ghana with my two good friends Claire and Emma. We woke up early in the morning to catch a cool safari walk in hopes of seeing some animals. In the background there’s an elephant walking away!

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A Venture into Volta

One of my favorite experiences thus far in my study abroad endeavor was a journey into the Volta Region in Ghana. Ghana is split up into ten regions, and the Volta Region is named accordingly due to its physical border of the grand Lake Volta, the largest man-made lake by surface area in the world. The Akosombo Dam is also located in this region, and provides the majority of energy for the country. The Volta Region holds some of the nation’s most prized natural wonders, some of which I had the chance to see over a refreshing weekend excursion.

At the beginning of our adventure, we stopped to walk over the Adomi Bridge that overlooks the Volta Lake. The bridge held marvelous views of the rolling green hills and fishermans’ villages below. After we crossed, the villagers sold local dishes, most of which included the seafood caught from the lake below.

 

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The view of the lake from the bridge.

 

Later that day, we had the chance to visit a monkey sanctuary called Tafi Atome where wild but protected monkeys approached with hunger as we suspended bananas in front of them. Eventually, the furry creatures warmed up to us, and one even jumped on my arm to take his share of the fruit! Later in the evening we were invited to meet some of the elders in a village nearby, and we went through several customs and rituals such as pouring some alcohol on the ground in honor of the ancestors past.

 

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Our furry friends.

 

The following morning, we awoke at the crack of dawn to begin our hike up the tallest mountain in Ghana. Mt Afadja is 885 meters high, so this was no laid-back climb. High humidity and extreme heat followed us up the nearly entirely vertical path. After the many stops to catch our breath and wipe away the moisture that clung to our clothes, we arrived at the top of the mountain. I hope you trust me when I say that the view was not a disappointment.

 

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After our big hike.

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Posing with the Ghana flag. 

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The incredible view from the top.

 

Following the spectacular views from the top of the mountain, a quick lunch break ensued to refuel our energy for one last big pit stop. A breathtaking waterfall awaited us at a short distance, and not much else sounded better than swimming in chilly water after a long hike. I welcomed the misty spray from the powerful beauty as I approached the base of the falls. Each step closer built my confidence to creep under the crashing beast and I accepted the wonderful pounding of the water to wash away any worry and fill my mind with awe and marvel.

 

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Eight Remarkable Characteristics of Ghanaian Culture

As I approach my first month here in Ghana, I have had the chance to witness and be a part of many central features involving Ghanaian culture. Absorbing and observing another culture other than one’s own is an awe-inspiring experience, and for that reason I’ve shared some parts of the culture here that I’ve found pretty cool.

1. Community. Is. Everything.
Ghanaians share an immensely powerful bond with each other, and it is evident all throughout the country. For example, if a person was eating next to a total stranger who did not have anything in front of them, it would be customary to say, “You are invited.” Everyone shares, and it makes my heart warm to see such a simple kindness between two unrelated individuals. Complete strangers may show up to funerals, weddings, or any other ceremony because all are welcome.

 

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Some of the international and Ghanaian students out for a Friday night.

 

2. Systems Don’t Work, People Do
I have been told this several times over the course of my time here, and I believe that I am starting to get better at accepting it. In summary, this motto is a way to say that face-to-face interaction is more effective than any program or technology. Efficiency comes second… always. Many of the international students are used to time being associated with money and productivity, so taking it slow is an alien concept.

3. People Adore Dancing
I have yet to find a person here who detests music and dance. Music floods the university, the hostels, and downtown. Also, people just naturally have rhythm and are familiar with at least a few traditional dances. A favored pastime of numerous college students involves visiting a local nightclub to listen and dance along to the popular Ghanaian artists.

4. Greetings are Imperative
Basic conversation is expected in most environments, especially when asking for something. It is considered impolite to get straight to the point, first one should question the other on their day and well-being. When a person asks a question, they often start it with ‘please,’ as the person answering is performing a favor when doing so. Closer friends frequently use a local handshake, a kind of snap between one’s thumb and middle finger for casual greetings.

5. Soccer, Soccer, Soccer
One of the first nights at the hostel, I heard intense screaming throughout the building. In a moment of confusion, I rushed outside to see what was causing all of the commotion. It turns out that half of the hostel was upstairs watching the African Cup, cheering for the record-holding Ghanaian Black Stars. Besides watching soccer, one can see students enjoying an afternoon game after school, or visiting the Accra stadium to watch the local Ghanaian teams.

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Some of the Black Star players prior to a big game. This year, they made it to the semi-finals, but ultimately lost against Cameroon.

 

6. The Way You Dress Matters
After coming from a university where sweats and ponytails are the norm, it’s a bit refreshing to see that mostly all students will put time in their appearance for lectures. Going to college is both a privilege and a sign of adulthood, and individuals in Ghana believe it should be represented as such. Besides the classroom, one can find that different occasions call for assorted attire. Happy occasions demand white, while funerals are filled with black or red. As for everyday apparel, colorful (and usually handmade) clothing fill the bustling crowds.

 

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On a trip to Kumasi to visit the Ashanti King, we had the chance to see the unique wraps of kente cloth (a type of hand stitched fabric) among important officials from the palace.

 

7. Bargaining is an Art Form
Unless someone wishes to pay a ridiculously overpriced amount for a possession, bargaining must be used. The two main markets in Accra, Madina and Accra Central, are extremely crowded streets filled with booths selling various goods. From fresh produce to a new cellular device, the markets are the place to get a deal. The only catch is you have to bargain for it… and do it well. If a person does not know the correct price range for a product they run the risk of overpaying. In addition to this, patience and skill is required because bargaining is a process, not a quick action with a time frame.

8. Language is Fluid
When I say that language is fluid, I am struggling to express my best explanation of how locals interact with each other. Although English is the official language and most people can speak it, it is mostly used for formal settings. In the markets, vendors and customers mostly speak Twi, one of the many local languages here in Ghana. Sometimes, people will casually switch between the two. Pidgin is also an accepted way of communicating, a kind of broken English most commonly spoken between younger adults and friends.

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