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Reflecting On a Year Abroad in Ghana


BY ELLICE ELLIS, STAFF WRITER

It’s been almost nine months since I left America for Ghana. Over 100 plates of rice, 212 malaria pills, and one bout of malaria later, here I am – almost done. I’ve eaten my last banku and taken my last trip to the seamstress and stuffed my suitcases to their weight limit.

For those who are not aware, I’ve spent my junior year living with a host family in Ghana, going to a local high school and exploring the country that’s also known as the Gold Coast. This year has been a piñata of new experiences, exciting memories, trials and tribulations. I’ve thought about staying forever and going home early; I’ve missed my grandmother’s funeral and watched friends live their lives as normal high school students; but it’s been one heck of an experience.

Many would ask: Would I do it again? Were the bucket showers and days without electricity worth it? Despite my problems, I vigorously reply “Yes.”

I’ve learned that despite poverty, religion and skin color, we are all one people.

There is no doubt that being an exchange student for 10 months is rough, especially in a country where you can witness extreme poverty and other situations that are not typical in the US. Back in months five through seven, I thought about going home almost every day. The only thing that kept me going was knowing that school would end soon, volunteering at a local primary school and making weekly phone calls to my parents.

unnamed-2But what made my exchange worth it was the people. Volunteering and going to a local school was an imperfect window into learning more about not only Ghana, but people in general. In a time when racism, Islamophobia, homophobia and sexism are all around us, I’ve learned that despite poverty, religion and skin color, we are all one people – and I don’t think any documentary or lecture could have truly taught me that. I had to experience it firsthand through learning about the lives of the people I’ve met – like the French teacher who was a refugee from Cote d’Ivoire, gardening teachers from North Carolina and a Liberian who lived in Silver Spring, Maryland and was inspired to start a bagel shop because of Panera Bread.

Both Ghanaians and Americans have questioned my decision to come to Ghana. I’ve been doubted and I’ve doubted myself. It took nine months, but my whole exchange finally makes sense.

In the latter part of my exchange, I started volunteering at a local primary school that focused on teaching students about the African diaspora, and I would say it was the definitive experience of my exchange. I not only got to teach kids about leaders such as Malcolm X and Kwame Nkrumah, but also gained insight into the Ghanaian school system and into the lives of the Africans from all over the world who run the school.

Coming to Ghana has helped me embody the Ghanaian adinkra symbol of the Sankofa bird, meaning “back to your roots.” I’ve connected with members of the African diaspora and learned about myself and black people from all over the world, and I owe it all to Ghana. Visiting places like the slave dungeons in Cape Coast and making connections with members of the diaspora at a local restaurant called ‘One Africa’ made me feel connected to something greater than myself in a way I never have before.

I can’t even begin to go into every other detail of what I gained during my exchange in writing, but I will say this: Don’t judge a book by its cover. To anyone who wants to study abroad, especially in Africa, be open-minded. I lived in Ghana without ever sleeping in a tree or living in a hut, and even if I had to, I still would’ve had an awesome and eye-opening time.

PHOTO COURTESY OF ELLICE ELLIS, STAFF WRITER

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