Studying in Ghana Illuminates Life in US
Published: Friday, October 12, 2012
Updated: Friday, October 12, 2012 02:10
Sixty percent of Georgetown students will study abroad over the course of their Georgetown career. This statistic speaks toward the educational experience of our university as well as the mindset of our student body — we are a community that not only receives a globally conscious education, but also recognizes the immense privilege we have to complement our education with a study abroad experience. And as the numbers show, we don’t just recognize this opportunity, we seize and embrace it.
Sophomore year, I started to map out regions of the world that I believed would endow me with the most rewarding study abroad experience. Having traveled to the South Pacific, Western Europe and East Asia, I decided to consider a region that I had yet to encounter. My eventual choice — Ghana — seemed to have everything that I wanted to get out of a study abroad experience.
Ghana would contribute to my academics as an English major with a primary concentration in cultural studies. West African culture was something completely foreign to me. It’s a culture with rich traditional qualities juxtaposed against political and social issues — at least through the lens of Western media — and I was eager to immerse myself in this perplexing situation. On an experiential level, I wanted to know what it was like to live in the Third World and to get away from the many luxuries and privileges I enjoy in the United States. There was something transcendental about going to the motherland and “roughing it” to learn more about myself.
I was also drawn to West Africa because of my racial background. As an African American whose ancestors were slaves, I know that a core piece of my cultural identity derives from the continent of Africa. And even though time, the Atlantic slave trade and American slavery distorted and transmuted the traditional African culture into the culture I claim today, I hoped that, on some level, my West African cultural experience could help me understand myself as an American member of the African diaspora.
So, I’ve been here in Ghana for over two months. What have I done, and what have I learned? I usually respond with short and sweet answers: I caught malaria and was cured, I traveled to Kumasi and learned about the Asante Kingdom, I climbed a mountain in the Likpe area of the Volta Region and fell off of it and so on. But on a deeper note, it really isn’t these extraordinary circumstances that have taught me the greatest lessons.
Rather, it’s the ordinary day-to-day living that has influenced me the most. I’ve learned that going without luxuries such as clean water, electricity, stoves and microwaves doesn’t hinder one’s standard of living. I now understand that even though a person may live in poverty by Western standards, he or she may not live an impoverished life. I have learned that it makes absolutely no sense for it to cost a person hundreds of dollars for a doctor’s appointment in the United States when it costs under $20 U.S. dollars for an overnight stay in a hospital in Ghana to get treated for malaria.
I’ve learned that we live in a culture where the emphasis is placed on the development of the individual. Although we may belong to certain communities, we tend only to sacrifice for the sake of the community as long as it does not inconvenience us significantly. This sense of individualism causes us to constantly focus on personal progress, which takes away from the time we have to appreciate the lives we are living in the present while perpetuating an unhealthy and stressful lifestyle.
My time in Ghana has taught me many things, but these lessons have only more deeply reified a truth of my humanity: As a Georgetown student, I have been blessed with many privileges, luxuries and opportunities, but in order for me to truly claim the epithet of a man for others, I must also embrace the fact that these blessings are not solely an entitlement for me to enjoy. Rather, they are gifts that I should use to better the lives of others.
GEORGE SMITH is a junior in the College.