Akwaaba! Ghana was immensely inviting when I arrived for my study abroad in Ghana. For the first two days, I was quiet and timid. But, that soon melted when I felt how warm Ghanaians were. When they said “Akwaaba”, they meant it. Every part of me is saying that I earned this euphoric and joyous feeling— to be here and have the privilege of studying abroad. Now, I sit back and I’m thankful for the hard work I put in to get here.
My decision to study abroad in Ghana was made in the spur of the moment. It’s the same as my decision to go to college. I heard other people were going, so there was no reason why I shouldn’t.
My study abroad advisor, Jennifer Chan, my friends, and professors successfully convinced me to go abroad. By talking through things with them, I discovered the cost of studying abroad would be cheaper than studying in the US. There was no program fee for going to Ghana and there are a good amount of scholarships for studying abroad. For example, I received the Gilman international Scholarship from the US Department of State and my study abroad program, USAC. Also, my school is on a quarter system instead of a semester system, so I would get more credits than in a typical Fall quarter.
To reap those benefits, I have to adjust to Ghana’s educational format. I heard that some schools, like University of Ghana, follow the British system where classes are usually once a week and revision week before finals. This actually excited me because I am not the type of person who enjoys lectures. I want to see how I adjust to this different learning culture.
Choosing the country I wanted to study took some thought, but, the some economic incentive was the deciding factor. Initially, I wanted to go to Ireland. Ireland! Ha! It seems almost silly. I’ve spent my whole life in the hub of Western society. Why should I spend so much effort to visit another western country? Not to say that Western countries can’t be new and different, but come on! How much exposure to Ghanaian culture, let alone West Africa, do Americans actually get?
Ireland’s expensive program fee pushed me to look at Ghana and the more I looked into it, it became more interesting and relevant to my identity. I am African-American with no specifics about my lineage other than I have family in the deep South and I am probably the descendant of slaves. Going to Africa would help deepen my understanding of the effects of diaspora through the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.
When I finally decided I’m not clout chasing anymore, it hit me. In August 2019, I will be studying at the University of Ghana, Legon Hill in Accra. I’m actually going to study abroad in Ghana!
I had one major problem though. I didn’t know the first thing about leaving the country—especially one two continents away. Nobody in my family has ever left the country. My friends couldn’t offer much advice either because their parents did most of the work. I knew that I would have to do a lot of research online, send millions of emails to my advisors, and prepare myself financially. I’m a housekeeper and a desk assistant, but I also did paid research studies for extra cash. A passport definitely took a chunk out of my pocket. I had to really step my money game up, because I especially wouldn’t be making money for four months.
I have to remind myself of the extrinsic value of my trip with appointment, desperate phone call to the USAC office, and last-minute form submissions. It’s an amalgam of tiny tasks that could make or break your experience studying abroad.
Making sure my healthcare was prepared for was the most tedious thing of all. I was calling my pharmacy in between class to make sure I’d get a full supply of malaria pills for the 17 weeks abroad. The vaccines were also expensive so I called around to see what was covered by my insurance, for prescription coupons, and which pharmacies offered the vaccines I needed. I swear Medicaid had me banging my head against the wall. I had to have “the talk” with my doctor to make sure I could manage my depression and anxiety while away. Exercise is key to my mental health, so I began looking into gym memberships and luckily there’s one on campus near my hall. See. Research.
Although I don’t receive financial support from my mom, she gives me tons of emotional support and that’s enough. It certainly took time to gain that support though. With being the first in my family to do extended travel comes a lot of pressure of doing the unknown. My mom wanted me to “choose somewhere safe”. Then I told her I was going to study abroad in Ghana and immediately visuals of UNICEF’S portrayal of Africa popped into her mind. My brother and mom joked that I would have to write letters and do homework by candle light. They were joking, but I think they were 20 percent serious. It took time for her to realize that negative connotations and American perceptions of Africa are far from true and holistic. I’d be in the Ghana’s capital on a University Campus on campus with sufficient electricity.
When she warmed up to the idea of me traveling to Africa, she became my best resource. I’d call my mom in Sacramento from Seattle whenever I needed advice or to talk about my frustrations. I ranted into the phone about having to brave Seattle’s snowstorm twice to turn in my passport application only to find that they had a snow closure both days.
The extrinsic motivation behind of every obstacle and task I did is now intrinsic. I’m glad my preparation was effective and the outcome of being in Ghana was hard-earned. I can finally relax and focus on studying, exploring, and blogging!
Adilia Watson is currently studying abroad in Accra, Ghana. She attends Seattle University.