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!

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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Different is Not Bad

My name is Coryl Jackson, and for the next four months I will be studying abroad in Ghana. Follow my blog posts to hear and see all that I will engage in during my experience here.

 

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About a week ago, I arrived in a country within West Africa called Ghana to continue my studies, and also to experience as much of this wonderful country as I can. My main goal for this blog is to describe Ghana to the best of my capabilities as I experience the country with a desire for an expanded, open mind that can absorb this new environment.

While my attempt at describing what I have already seen and done here in Ghana may be in-efficacious, I can only hope to share a taste of what I have absorbed and grown from already. When reading about culture shock, it seems like a fairly basic concept. One might think that they are prepared for not being used to what they have always known, but experiencing culture shock is not something that can be left with a few words. As I begin to adjust to my new life in Ghana, I can not help but comparing everything to what I have always known. The music, people, places, and even the toilets are foreign to me. One aspect of the culture here that is considerably unusual for me is the concept of time. Today, I showed up for class about thirty minutes early only to find that the professor was not to come today. It was a bit frustrating, but the Ghanaian students seemed to accept it without any hostility towards the professor.

At orientation we learned the saying ‘time is time.’ Time is treated differently here, and many are late even to important events like weddings and funerals. It is easy to get angry about little differences here that I have never had to experience before. ‘Time is time’ has become a sort of a motto for many of the international students here when dealing with a difficult situation. I have begun to accept certain characteristics of the culture here (such as what I would call at home an invasion of personal space) with the outlook that this is how things are done here. Market vendors may grab a potential customer in order to get their attention, but no one finds this strange.

However, there are so many parts of the culture here that I adore. I love going to the night market by my hostel and bargaining for fresh mango and pineapple for breakfast. I cherish the people who have welcomed us here with open arms and minds because that is the way it is done here. I get excited when I wear the garments that the local seamstress sewed for myself and many of the international students. It is vital to understand that different is not bad, just different. I have only been here a week, and yet I feel I have seen more than I ever have. I had the chance to canoe to a village that resides on stilts in a thick marsh west of Accra. I have been paddle boarding in the Atlantic Ocean on a lovely beach on a particularly hot day. I have been to a bustling market in central Accra where people barter for various goods. Moving forward from this point, I wish to learn everything that I have the chance to immerse my mind in, whether this be through my classes, or the adventures I will partake in outside of the classroom.

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