Studying abroad: Embracing new cultures and communities

September 4, 2017
Every semester, Ashesi students take advantage of a variety opportunities to enrich their academic experience outside of Ashesi. Through exchange programs, internships and workshops, students explore opportunities across the country and all over the world.

In the past 2017 semester, some students participated in exchange programs at some of our partnering institutions.

Here, they share the highs and lows of their experiences studying abroad for a semester.

Samuel Gu, Macalester College, Saint Paul, MN, USA

It all starts somewhere. You make the decision to travel out of the country for the first time to study abroad. You pack your suitcase, say final goodbyes to friends and family, literally cross the Atlantic Ocean to Minnesota, a place with temperatures dropping as low as 18 Fahrenheit and foods that initially make you miss some everyday Ghanaian dishes like Gari and Shito, that you take for granted.

In a whirlwind, you are swept into a new world!

When you get picked up from the airport on time, you suddenly realize there’s no unpunctuality, or ‘Ghana Man Time’ anymore. You’re fascinated by anything and almost everything, and SnapChat quickly becomes your go-to application. The change of environment seems to have given you fresh perspectives: almost suddenly you have grown an appreciation for nature and become adventurous, making daily hikes to the Mississippi River and visiting the Minnehaha Falls, all in cold temperatures, dressed head to toe, in several layers of warm clothing.

You try lawn tennis and then sign up for rugby only to realize some sports need more than just speed. So, you join the gym, working out every single day to build some more weight. You soon realize photography has caught your fancy, so why not. You borrow a Canon camera from the library, join the photography club and go on road trips for photoshoots. Then take swimming lessons from your new-found American friend. And your Ghanaian friends convince you to model at an Afrika Showcase event, which you end up trying, and enjoying. You soon realize some of the new friends you have made identify as LGBT and your open-mindedness and your ability to co-exist with diversity is put to test. In no time, you’re ‘woke’. You come to respect and empathize with people irrespective of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

In the classrooms, you soon find out most of your classes are extremely demanding. You chose three economics courses and a creative writing class that taught you to never write in second person. But here you are doing exactly the opposite because you want everyone who reads this convinced that your time abroad was worthwhile. Primarily because this study abroad allowed you to learn a great deal about who you are: focused, smart but lacking commitment. So you get a remote internship with a professor in the Political Science department in Macalester College to evaluate how much you were able to work on fixing your commitment issues; an internship which was possible in the first place because you learnt econometrics on this same exchange program.

All too soon, you’re back to Ghana, reminiscing all the good fun you had while away in the free world.

By you, I mean me, Samuel Gu, if I wasn’t clear.

They say, “Opportunity knocks but once.”

In retrospect, I’m glad I responded to the singular opportunity to embark on an exchange program to Macalester College in the United States of America. It simply was an unforgettable experience; both as a learning process and an adventurous ‘semi-vacation’.

Denzel Omari, Wheaton College

During my time in Ashesi, I have realized that there is a lot an individual can offer to a community, given their own individual differences. With that said, the chance to study abroad at Wheaton College was both challenging and exciting. It opened up the opportunity for me to interact with people from much larger and more diverse cultural backgrounds, and I built the ability to adapt and work with people in a completely foreign setting.

However, my primary reason for deciding to take up this study abroad journey was in order to experience life on a different campus, on a different continent.

Life in Wheaton on a daily basis is structured such that each student has enough freedom and time to do things apart from school work. There are on-campus clubs, events and programs that are put in place to allow each student to fully explore their interests. Taking full advantage of the this, I took time to reflect on myself, explore my interests and take more definitive steps towards what I want to do in future.

As an introvert, in going to Wheaton College I knew I expected I would have to put in a lot of effort to make friends. However, I was surprised to find out that this was not the case. I made a lot of friends, and for the most part I hung out with people who were seniors. This was a very profitable take-away from my study abroad journey because the friends I made helped me to think about what I want to do after college, since I was coming back to my Ashesi as a senior myself.

I have always had a passion for mentoring and I got the opportunity to live out this passion through a mentorship program in Wheaton. Through this initiative, I mentored some students in the Norton public high school in order to help them graduate in a timely manner. The planning sessions organized by the Office of Service, Spirituality and Social Responsibility occupied me for most of the week and I was able to learn a lot about planning events from this role and also how to interact kids in high school.

Apart from my role as a mentor while at Wheaton, I took full advantage of the on-campus musical performances since I was doing a music related course. These events led me to explore musical culture all the way from Brazil to Trinidad and Tobago. The music department also gave me the opportunity to re-learn how to play the piano in their numerous soundproof piano rooms.

My study abroad journey has taught me that confidence and open-mindednessare some extremely important traits of any leader. One must be able and willing to see things from numerous perspectives and push themselves out of their comfort zones in order to achieve success. And to all those who are interested, this is just a tiny piece of what your potential study abroad journey has to offer.

Charis Laryea ’18, Goucher College

Studying abroad at Goucher College last semester was undeniably an experience worth every bit of. I had read about some students’ experiences abroad and spoken to others, and I knew it was something I would want to try out as well. From the spring semester of my sophomore year, I started working on my academic planning to help me study abroad in my junior year and still graduate within four years.

Being the very first time I would be away from my family for almost half a year, I was quite uncertain what to expect but I survived nonetheless! Sadly, when I finally seemed to be settling in, the semester had ended.

Adjusting academically in Goucher College was pretty simple because of similar course structures at Ashesi. I loved every single class I signed up for particularly African Cultures and Societies. It was in that class that I learned that even today, people of other continents still perceive Africa as a jungle. Other misconceptions were revealed and that was a good chance to discuss the real Africa. Smaller class sizes there also made lessons even more interactive.

I was fortunate to have a very hospitable American-born Hispanic roommate who would readily offer assistance whenever it was needed. It was great going places with her that she hadn’t visited herself although she has lived there all her life. The only negative social experience I had was when in trying to locate a particular building with a friend, we got lost and decided to ask a white native who was passing by. We had hardly said hi when she literally ran away from us. That was my first real encounter with racism.

I loved that there was a mall within walking distance and the hourly shuttle to key areas of the county. This meant convenience for the most part. I loved the tours to some beautiful places in the country — some at odd times like Niagara Falls on a snowy day, the journey to New York City at 2am on a rainy day and the visit to the famous Baltimore Inner Harbor which is much more than a place for just ships. These are but a few good ones.

There was one experience that really amazed me — moving three buildings with foundations from one location on campus to another. I had not believed it when I first heard of it but I followed the project through the summer and saw it happen practically. Unfortunately, however, one of the buildings came apart in the process.

In all, studying abroad was beautiful! I would call it an opportunity — an opportunity to learn, to grow, to interact with various nationalities, cultures and economic conditions and definitely an opportunity to have fun. It would be great if every student could experience it and for this I commend Goucher College.

Nana Adwoa Owusu Darko ‘18: Goucher College

On the airplane bound for Ghana, there were only two things I could think of; how the clouds looked like huge balls of white cotton candy, or what I would do if I had one extra day to be at Goucher College. Honestly, I did not have much of a choice because regardless of how hard I tried, I kept having flashbacks of the beautiful experiences I had at Goucher.

The first day I got to Goucher College, my entire family helped me settle into my room. There was so much excitement as we toured the school and spoke about the experience I was about to have. I thought of all the new friends I would make, the new cuisines I would try, and the many places I would visit. I had an entire mental model of my study abroad experience mapped out.

The experience officially began with the orientation session where we talked about our cultures and expectations, over an assortment of delicious Indian cuisine. There were other exchange students from Japan and London, and students from India, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Jamaica. I found the diversity of cultures exciting, as I thought of what I could learn from each of the cultures represented there.

I found myself giving my roommate an entire lecture on the history of Ghana because as it had turned out, she had found out through an online genealogy tool that she was part Ghanaian. In helping her connect better with Ghana, we bought a Ghanaian flag for our room and learnt a word of Ashanti Twi each day.

As the days went by, along with five other Ashesi exchange students, we made quite the impression about our heritage into Goucher culture. By wearing our African print clothes regularly, having dinner together and teaching some of our friends Afrobeats songs, we had slowly helped some of students at Goucher College connect to their African heritage. My Senegalese friend explained to me how easy it had become for her to embrace the African culture better since we got there, and this was the same for some of the Asian students as well.

The impact we had caused showed clearly when we celebrated Ghana’s 60th year of independence. With the help of our Designated School Official, we threw a party and invited the whole student body to experience Ghana’s culture. We enjoyed Ghanaian food, played Ghanaian songs and explained the culture of Ghana to them, from the day names, to playing Ludo and Oware. The turnout was amazing and it was an extremely fun event, as we learnt some Congolese and American dance moves as well.

The food was amazing. I tried insanely delicious food; Korean cuisine, seafood, juicy steaks, drive-thru burgers, and before I realised it I had already gained twenty pounds. The all-you-can-eat buffet at one of Goucher’s dining halls and the sinfully delightful desserts did little to help. The food was definitely one of the highlights of my time abroad, just as travelling was.

One of the benefits of studying abroad was getting to see other places. I had the opportunity to join the march for Science in Washington D.C and see the White House while I was there. I visited the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Central Park, and Niagara Falls in New York. I also had the chance to go on a road trip with students from Duke and Princeton University for spring break.

In line with my personal goal of improving my networking skills, and sightseeing as much as I could, during my time abroad I stretched the perks by visiting five other states, and networking with students from other schools.

An important part of studying abroad was the opportunity to impact the Goucher community. I had been granted an amazing opportunity to study there, and it was my place to give back to that community while showcasing the Ashesi spirit. To do this I volunteered for one of the school’s community based programs called Read-A-Story/Write-A-Story where we went to an elementary school to read storybooks to the students, and help them write their own stories. I was a part of the Goucher Women of Colour Club where we discussed femininity, colour, education and some of the difficulties girls could face in college, and how to deal with them. I also joined the Freedom School, a weekly meeting which was set up by one of the faculty at Goucher to discuss racism and rights. Volunteering and joining clubs not only helped me give back to the community, but it made me aware of my environment, my rights, and the need to respect others. It also gave me an avenue to share my experiences with children, colleagues, and faculty.

One of the culture shocks I experienced was how the students related to the Professors so leisurely while managing to maintain respect. Ranging from loud voices, to putting feet up on the table, the students could make the class as relaxed and as fun as they wanted to, but with so much respect. The students always showed up to class on time, and submitted their assignments on time. The Professors were also very considerate and would always explain class work to me again if I did not understand. They would even extend my time for submission in order for me to take my time to produce the best work. Even though this was not too different from Ashesi, it felt good knowing that I was in an environment that cared about my wellbeing and producing my best. With the relatively relaxed class schedule, I found a job on campus to keep me busy during my free time. It was one of the best things I did because apart from some money, I developed skills such as time management, logistics, and customer relation.

To say that was all I learnt would be an understatement because the entire study abroad experience impacted my life wholly. I learnt to live on my own in a new environment. I gradually evolved into a moderately extroverted person from being completely introverted. I learnt to respect the values and opinions of other people even if I did not agree with them, and most importantly, I learnt to respect the value of time and money. The benefits of this exchange program are countless to me. I find that I have become more stable emotionally, and mentally, with a clear path of what I want to accomplish. I have also learnt how to interact better with children. As I settle back into Ashesi, the one thing on my mind is to channel my growth and the skills I have acquired into helping the Ashesi community evolve into one where students can have fun while studying, just as I did while I was away. I would readily everyone to apply for international opportunities because they offer a unique, exciting, and worthwhile experience.

Efua Enyimayew ’18, Goucher College

I was excited when I was selected for a study abroad program. I knew it was going to be a different experience where I would meet different people and learn new things. I was a bit hesitant about Goucher College because it was a new partnership. There was no one to talk about how going on an exchange program at Goucher felt. Regardless, I was still enthused by the fact that I would have the opportunity to interact with the American culture for 6 months. Goucher College was such an indescribable experience for me. Words cannot describe how the experience has shaped me to become a better person.

We also had mentors who made it easier to settle in, right from the beginning of the semester. Within the first week, they organized an event for all international students to help us meet and interact with people. Also, we had various activities to help us get comfortable in the school. One of the activities that stood out for me was when we had to set goals for the semester to help give us a focus for our experience. This helped me a lot because it really kept me on track and I could meet almost all the goals I set for myself.

My semester at Goucher College, however, started on a low note: I had some trouble adapting to the weather. I moved from living in an average of 80 Fahrenheit to 40 Fahrenheit. Although that was for the early part of the semester, it contributed in making my first weeks at Goucher tough. I spent most of the first few weeks in my room because I do not fancy the cold weather. Personality wise, I am a very shy person and I take time to settle in a new environment. However, this time it was different because I knew I had limited time in Goucher so I had to hit the ground running.

One very important lesson I took away from this exchange program was stepping out of my comfort zone. There were times when I surprised myself because of how sociable I had become. I found myself attending a lot of events and also contributing a lot in class. I would say I was lucky to have another exchange student from the United Kingdom as my roommate. Well it did have its downside because she could not really help me out with information about Goucher, on the other hand, she was very helpful as we easily related to each other. Our bond was solely built on the fact that we were both exchange students in Goucher who were ready to explore. My Goucher experience was divide into two categories; my academic life and social life.

Academic Life

One of my favorite experiences surprisingly was in class — my African Dance and Drum class. Not only was the class was very interactive, but also, it was interesting to see different races try our African dances (some even better than we do). Although I am African, I still learned a lot because we learned dances from Senegal, Kenya, South Africa and Ethiopia. I loved my Wednesdays at Goucher because African dance felt like a much need midweek break. We would do some yoga exercises and stretches at the beginning of class — this helped me relax a lot. The people in the class were very friendly was here I made my first friend, Isabella. After class Isabella, Owuraku, Nana Adwoa and I would go to the cafeteria and grab milkshakes and talk all night. At the end of the semester we each had to create a freestyle dance in addition to what was taught in class, a challenging, yet fun exploit for me.

I realized how interactive the lectures were in every course- each class came with activities concerning each course I took. An example was in my Human Resource class where we each had to conduct interviews like how real-life interviews are conducted and we had to come up with relevant questions to be graded on. I took that class with another student from Ashesi, Naa Dromo. On the bright side, at the start of the semester, our professor Nancy Hubbard told us before the start of exams if you are on an A you would not need to write the exams. She fulfilled her promise but an A in Goucher is a 92 for most courses and 94 for a few other courses. The flexible nature of classes helped me absorb a lot of class content.

Social Life

The first major event we did together as Ashesi Students was organizing an Independence Day event to celebrate Ghana’s independence. This was a major success and we got the opportunity to tell a lot people more about Ghana through games and other interactions.

I also had fun outside class because I used this study abroad opportunity to visit other states in America and experience a lot of tourist attractions. I extended my boundaries and visited Canada as well. My favorite day was my birthday. I had so much fun because this was the first time I was celebrating my birthday in another country

The fact that I shared this wonderful experience with four other friends from Ashesi elevated how amazing this whole experience was. I enjoyed interacting with the American culture both in and out of the classroom. I took away a lot of life lessons and experiences that will be with me forever. I would encourage everyone to apply for an exchange program because it is a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Owuraku Nyamekye Ampofo ’18, Goucher College

When I got admitted into Ashesi University College in 2014 I set some personal goals for myself — going on an exchange program was featured prominently. I planned to apply for the study abroad program in the spring semester of my Sophomore year, however, unfortunately, my application to Swarthmore College was unsuccessful. I was so sad because my whole family supported me through the process and at that moment I felt that I had let them down.

My study abroad ambition started to fade away because the next time applications would be open, I will be approaching my final year. On the 7th September 2016, a miracle came my way. Ashesi announced a new exchange partnership with Goucher College. I was extremely excited because this time 5 students will be accepted. I wasted no time in applying and by God’s grace I made it this time.

I came into Goucher with my uncle on the day of arrival. Finding my hall, was however, very frustrating because we went around the school over and over, and couldn’t get anyone to give us correct directions. It was however, through this experience that I made my first friend, Wonde, an Ethiopian, who had tried to help us find my hall.

I remember my first encounter with my Residential Assistant (RA), who was supposed to help me settle. In his effort to be sociable, he asked me “Where do you come from?” and I said Ghana. To which he replied, “That’s in North America, right?”. While I helped clarify where Ghana was, the interaction helped me take up a role as part of my exchange experience. I knew from that point I wasn’t just representing Ashesi and Ghana but Africa.

I set a goal at that moment to always wear African print on Fridays. I enjoyed achieving that goal because I would receive compliments from professors, students and school workers about how much they loved my outfit.

My first weeks in Goucher were amazing because I hit the ground running. Right from orientation, I would get out of my comfort zone and purposely network (I think that is the most sociable I have been all my life). Karen Sykes, who oversaw the international students programs was my best resource especially in the first few weeks. She had this mini bus that we would all go out in and have so much fun. During orientation, I set some goals for myself — all of which I achieved, including becoming a better dancer. Setting goals did help me a lot because I knew what to do at every point in time.

I did have other goals but I did not write them down because they are too general. A typical example will be to get a high GPA.

Over the course of the semester, I enjoyed each passing day as I got more accustomed to the culture and the people. Unfortunately, I never got used to Goucher food. I enjoyed any opportunity to eat spicy food such as Indian food or African food. I remember when Lindsay took us out to an African restaurant called Pejus. I tried egusi soup for the first time and I loved it. I still enjoyed the variety in the foods that Goucher offered. I liked the idea of a brunch where you choose what you want to eat. One of my favorite days was when the five exchange students at Goucher decided to cook some jollof and chicken. We set off to the grocery store and came back to cook our jollof in the evening. The rest was history.

My dad told me that the best way to easily make friends is to go with your interests first. Approximately 80% of the friends I made at Goucher had some interest in soccer. It was a struggle at first because I will always say football instead of soccer but with time I got used to it. I joined Goucher Pumas for the intramural league

and they treated me as family. We would have lunch together and always hang out. I enjoyed playing FIFA and going out with all my friends who I hope still stay connected even though we are miles apart. My friends also convinced me to try out a fashion show and I did, I wouldn’t say I nailed but I didn’t do so badly. There were 2 Ghanaian students in Goucher before we went. Both of them (Sam and Edem) were very friendly and helped us out a lot.

This exchange program also gave me the chance to tour around Baltimore, Washington, Pennsylvania and New York — it was a life changing experience for me.

It was an honor to represent Ashesi, Ghana and Africa at Goucher. I have learned so much about the American culture. January to May were the best 5 months of my life and I would encourage everyone to apply for this wonderful opportunity. Winning the intramural league was not the main highlight of my study abroad. The final words of Jose Bowen when I told him I was leaving (President of Goucher) will always be with me. He said “I am going to miss you and your soccer skills. Make sure you show the world what Goucher taught you and tell your friends about Goucher. You will always be welcome here at Goucher.”

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