Doing Without

At the beginning of this month I did some journaling on my experience here in Ghana, as I have been doing without many things that I am used to. I would have liked to post some of these reflections earlier; however, the “studying” part of studying abroad has kept me quite busy as of late.

At any rate, about a month and a half into my time here I struggled with a couple weeks of the “hostility stage.” It’s quite easy to become frustrated with a foreign system and the ways things are done in a new place. I have had lots of trouble getting things done here; certain tasks that should be simple and easy would take so much longer. For example, you can’t just Google directions for a destination in the area, rather, most things are known only by word of mouth. Many things aren’t as straightforward, such as, when a store will open or close. While I was journaling I came up with a  very long list of all the things I am “doing without” while here.  I found myself embarrassed with the ease in which I was able to fill a whole page of the things I am missing in my daily life. I split my list into three parts. 
The first group consists of trivial things that are by no means necessary for life, but I find comfort in them. To name a few…

  • Netflix
  • All the music that I listen to via the internet (aka all my music)
  • Coffee shops
  • Grilled chicken
  • Gluten-free bread, baked goods

The next group holds things that just make life more convenient/comfortable.

  • A small campus
  • Kitchen supplies (An oven, a blender, half-way decent utensils)
  • customer service
  • GPS
  • Wifi –that is, reliable, consistent, and virtually everywhere
  • email (to professors)
  • washing machine and drier
  • warm showers

And then there are the things that I find terribly inconvenient to live without

  • Consistent running water
  • Consistent electricity
  • toilet paper and soup in public bathrooms
  • reliable sanitary food
  • sage drinking water from the tap

I could probably keep going.

Yet I realized that I am gaining so much here. When I go home I am going to be “doing without” as well. And I shouldn’t look at my way of life here as a bunch of empty facets or a giant lack of comfort and conveniences. Ghanaian culture bears so much fruit that U.S. culture lacks. And there are things gained from certain lacking of other things. The less control I have over my grades means the less I need to worry over it. Less WiFi means more paying attention to what is in front of me. When there are less conveniences and routine structure, completing a task becomes an adventure and creates more opportunities to see the lengths a stranger will go in order to help you.

This experience is truly giving me a new perspective on the true necessities of life. And as I am moving through the “humor phase” and into the “home phase” in Ghana, I am better adjusting to the resources I do have here and learning to depend less on amenities and more on God. And if I gain nothing else I will certainly have patience. 

Gold Coast Living

I am now nearing the end of my fourth week here in Ghana. I definitely wanted to have a couple blog posts done by now, but of course I have been slacking. Although I certainly still have a lot of adjusting to do here, I am surprised by how quickly I became comfortable living here. It probably helps that the culture here is so easy-going, community-based, and therefore relatively stress free. It is really quite amusing observing the different culture here. They live by what they call “Ghanaian time,” meaning that you shouldn’t ever expect anyone to be on time unless Joe the tour guide insists that the bus is leaving at 8am (which still really means 8:15 or 8:30). And in contrast to the speed walking Chicagoans, or really most Americans assume when going to work, Ghanaians stroll at a graceful snail’s pace and are quick to stop and chat with any person they must talk to no matter where it is they are headed. The best part about this is that they really live in the moment and seem to put the person that is right in front of them at the highest importance. However, on the other hand they have hardly any respect for the time of those they have agreed to meet with. In the end, I find myself thinking that there should be a happy medium. Time is certainly treated far too rigidly in America, yet hardly respected at all here. All in all, experiencing such a drastically different culture is proving to be difficult, eye-opening, and entirely beautiful.

                God’s presence is truly apparent in helping me adjust here. One of my biggest fears about coming here was not knowing anyone else who was going to be here. As a very relational person, it was so nice being able to get to know the other students in my program very quickly and easily. Everyone in my program is very laid-back, non-judgmental, and very compassionate. It is so refreshing to be here with people who are not only culturally sensitive and adventurous, but also eager to do something about the injustices in the world. And though I want to make a lot more Ghanaian friends, the ones I have met are thoroughly wonderful people. Some USAC members (my study abroad program) were having a discussion on one of our trips about “when to stop giving?”-basically asking how one can give and not run out of means to keep doing so. One of the University of Ghana students who works for USAC stated earnestly “I will never stop giving. When I give, I always give out of love.” I about melted.

                I guess I should probably share all the adventures I have partook in thus far. The first weekend we went to Cape Coast. It was so beautiful! We first went to the Elmina Slave Castle on the beach. It was very intense. Many of my classes are actually discussing the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade right now and it is really nice being able to understand all the different dimensions of slavery and colonialism in Africa. ~Back to the trip. Next we spent some time on the beach—which was amazing. We played in the waves and played football (soccer) on the beach. (By the way I joined the football team for my dorm). Then the next morning I woke up at 6am to see the sunrise on the beach—which didn’t actually happen because it was too cloudy but I got some good shots of the foggy palm trees along the coast and crabs crawling on the rocks. I did a little yoga with my friend Melissa and attempted slack-lining between two palm trees. Then we departed to the Kakum National Park in the rainforest. We did the canopy walk—which was scary for some, but plainly breath-taking and exhilarating for me. The vastness of life forms is so beautiful. Everything is so GREEN here. This past weekend we went to the Volta region where I got to go to a monkey sanctuary, climb the tallest mountain in Ghana, Mt. Afadjato. It wasn’t a very long hike, but it was the steepest, most treacherous hike I have ever done. Lastly, we swam in the Wli waterfalls. Besides laughing and playing with Ghanaian children, the waterfalls were my favorite part. The powerful falls, along with the hundreds of bats hanging and flying besides the cliff of the falls was extraordinary.

I am eager to see how this country further changes me and what God has in store for me here.

I am astonishingly thankful of all the encouragement and support I have gotten so far. Please keep in contact! Much love!!

Yes. I’m gonna go to Ghana.

west africa on globe

Second semester of freshman year I decided that I was going to pursue studying abroad in Accra, Ghana through the USAC program second semester of my sophomore year. Of course, I wasn’t for sure going at that point. I actually haven’t been completely sure about it until very recently; basically just a couple weeks ago when my Visa came in.

I get a lot of different responses when I tell people that I am studying abroad in Ghana. One of the most common responses runs along the lines of “Woah, that’s so cool!” But the most common response is “WHY?” Why Africa? Why not Europe? It’s a good question. At Loyola, the most common study abroad location is Rome, Italy where Loyola has a campus. I have wanted to go to Europe all my life. Paris, in particular is a destination I have dreamed about going to since forever. But I figure I can go to Europe later. Why not go to Africa now-when I have the opportunity to be guided by a study abroad program? This way I can be totally enriched in a culture so different from my own, while being guided by specialized staff.  Not to mention that I’ll be living amongst 17 American study abroad students and studying alongside native Ghanaian students at the University of Ghana.

But still, why Africa? There are other countries of equivalent contrast to American culture. It’s actually kind of a funny story. Freshman year I went to a presentation on studying abroad, conveniently held in the lounge on the very floor of the residence hall I lived in, just a few yards away from my room. The intimate presentation was more focused on USAC and SIT programs wherein 3 students who had studied abroad shared their experiences with slideshows. They focused on how in contrast to going to a Loyola campus abroad these programs may allow one to more easily enrich oneself in a culture. This really resonated with me and increased my interest to study abroad. A few days previous to this presentation I had also received an email about a study abroad scholarship that I was eligible for. After the presentation I inquired about the scholarship to one of the presenters and she mentioned that a friend of hers got the scholarship to study abroad in Ghana. Ghana. At that moment I knew absolutely nothing about the country except that it was Africa and it just sounded awesome. Ghana. I immediately took the whole 13 second journey back to my dorm room and through the magical wonders of Google I learned that Ghana is a cool place and I wanted to go there. (The fact that Ghana’s official language is English may or may not be a huge factor.) You can ask my roommate, Brianne, that I was pretty convinced from that moment on that I was going to go to Ghana. I think that in the back of my mind Africa has always been of interest to me. Maybe I have been called by the Spirit to go there for a long time. I don’t know, but I know the Spirit is calling me now.