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*A version of this post originally appeared on the CIEE Study Abroad, Legon, Ghana, Arts & Sciences program blog
by Kaylee Haskell, a Junior at University of Tampa who is studying this Fall '17 semester on the CIEE Ghana Arts and Science program. She is also an Alum of the CIEE Global Navigator High School Study Abroad program in Ghana in 2013.
Small towns produce two kinds of people- those who sit comfortably in their familiar, safe environments and those who crave to find what’s beyond, following their curiosity and need for something new and different. I will always be grateful for growing up in Vermont, but it was definitely beneficial and necessary to explore new, different cultures.
When I decided to go to Ghana in 2013, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I was finishing my junior year in high school and I had never left my mother, aside from 3-day field hockey camp, but I felt like I needed a change of scenery.
CIEE made the planning and traveling process as easy as possible for my family and I. The Leadership Academy prepared me more for what was to come in my life than anything in my prior 17 years. I had little knowledge about Ghana before I stepped off the plane and onto the tarmac, but I could tell instantly that this place would have an impact on me.
I was very homesick for the first week that I was in Accra. I had convinced myself before I left that I would be fine and not miss home, but it seems somewhat inevitable when you’ve never left home before, and now you’re 5,000 miles away. However, the homesickness didn’t prevail and I quickly settled into this new culture and let it open my eyes to people, places and things unknown.
Our small group of 6 high schoolers spent our weekdays volunteering at Future Leaders UCC, and then returning back to the University of Ghana campus to take Twi language classes and group leadership lessons. On weekends we would participate in excursions and escape the city life of Accra to more rural places that took us deeper into the roots of the culture.
My four weeks in Ghana felt more like a taste of the culture than an actual immersion. The days flew by and when it was time to leave, I wanted more. Despite taking language classes, I could only comfortably say '3te s3n', '3y3' and 'medaase', which was sufficient for the 30 days I was there, but I found myself wanting more, and I knew I would eventually return.
My experience in Ghana shifted my college and career path. I chose to move from Vermont to Florida to be around more, diverse people. I also started my college career as a journalism major, but quickly added an international and cultural studies major to that to allow myself to dive into different people, where they come from and the roots of their cultures.
I decided that I would return to Ghana for the fall semester in 2017. Because CIEE has helped me so greatly before, I didn’t look to any other program because I knew they would ensure that I had the greatest abroad experience.
I arrived on the Legon campus on August 10th, and have now been here for 36 days, a little over the time that I spent here before, and it has flown by. My experience from the Leadership Academy prepared me greatly for the semester ahead. I feel as though I am more comfortable with intercultural communications and am more accustomed to the everyday norms that differ from those in the US. I have been able to make friends with locals, travel comfortably outside of the capital, confidently board and trotro and make connections throughout the country that I never could have done otherwise.
I decided to focus my studies for this semester on gender and culture within Ghana and the issues that surround it. I am enrolled in 5 classes, including another Twi language course, I’m determined to carry a conversation, an intercultural communication course and 3 classes surrounding issues within gender roles, religion and Ghanaian culture. Even with some prior knowledge, it is interesting to indulge in conversations with locals and see what norms are still prevalent in everyday life today.
The most interesting lesson that has been the topic of discussion in more than one of my classes is the role of women in Ghanaian society and how it is calculated, or not calculated, into the Gross Domestic Product of the country. The GDP is measured in the public space, which doesn’t account for any services that are provided in the private space. This leads to a high rate of unemployment within the female population of Ghana, because a majority of the country promotes strict gender roles, keeping the women’s work in the household. These women are considered “not working” while they are the first to rise, maintain the household, prepare her husband for work, her children for school, clean while they are all gone, run errands, cook and clean when everyone returns home, wash and maintain the house while they are asleep and repeat these steps every day. Women’s roles in Ghanaian culture are crucial to the function of the society, but never measured on the big scale.
This has stood out to me the most so far, but we are only 5 weeks in. I am forever grateful for the opportunities CIEE and Ghana have provided me with and am looking forward to the next 3 months in this vibrant, evolving country.
The Alum of the Month for October is CIEE Teach Abroad alumna Alyssa O’Connor. After graduating from Cornell University, Alyssa taught English in Thailand in 2013 to first, second, and third grade children in Chanthaburi. She now looks back on her experience as a time of growth and cultural immersion as she is about to embark on her next adventure abroad.
“Looking back, teaching English was the best decision I could have made for myself and I am so grateful for this organization. I enjoyed the chance to live and work abroad, immersing myself in another culture versus just traveling through it. At the end of my program, I found myself asking, 'Did I come to teach? Or did I come to be taught?' I learned so much from my kids, as well as my fellow Thai teachers, that I knew working internationally was the direction in life I wished to proceed. Taking the confidence and skills I gained from CIEE, I started working on my next opportunity to go abroad and am so happy to share this project with you.
"In January, I will be going to Kenya for three months as a menstrual health management project leader with Cross World Africa, a non-profit dedicated to ending inequality in East Africa. All over the world, menstruation persists as a taboo subject that is not discussed within the home and is largely skipped over in school. When girls reach puberty, many are left confused and scared about what is happening in their body. To make matters worse, many girls can't afford sanitary products and resort to using improper materials, like mattress stuffing and old newspapers, which leads to infections and missed school. Lack of education on menstrual hygiene management, as well as lack of access to sanitary products, are just two parts of a vicious cycle that negatively affect girls who already face enough barriers to their education and empowerment. This summer, Cross World Africa secured a partnership with Ruby Life Ltd., a socially-minded, menstrual health company that makes a product called Ruby Cup. Working together, the goal of this project is provide educational workshops and a menstrual cup to empower girls to make healthy decisions for their bodies.”
In just a few short months, Alyssa will be traveling to Kenya to lead the three-month-long project - Ruby in the Rift - in the Rift Valley. Though it will be a challenging time for Alyssa with new language barriers and cultural barriers to overcome, she has already developed the skills to adjust through her CIEE Teach Abroad experience in Thailand. Alyssa is ready for her next teaching experience abroad on a new continent - a great new adventure. Learn more about the project and read the CIEE shout-out on her project leader page!