So, you’re not quite sure about where you want to study abroad, but you know you want to go somewhere different - perhaps Africa.
“AFRICA!?”, your friends and family may bark. Well, Africa is a huge continent with many different languages, cultures, and lifestyles depending on where you go. I studied abroad in Ghana, and it was by far the best decision I’ve ever made in my life. Are you thinking about studying in Ghana, too? If you’re on the fence or just gearing up for the semester of a lifetime, hopefully these 11 insights will help you make the right choice / get excited!
1. Things take time
In Ghana, time is not as linear as it is in the US. Some of the most basic tasks may take way too long, and for no reason. A simple task that only takes twenty minutes in your hometown could take an hour (or two). Some restaurants may take forty minutes to serve you your food. Some busses may come an hour late. Professors may show up twenty minutes late to a lecture. This is not necessarily a negative; it’s just the way of life there. Ghana is said to be on “GMT” - Ghana Man Time. A local may tell you it’s a twenty minute walk and it may be closer to an hour. “I’m on my way,” could actually mean “I’m leaving in thirty minutes.” It takes some getting used to, especially if you’re a punctual person.
2. Malaria is not the end of the world
Many people are scared of malaria. It is a scary disease, but, if treated, it’s not so bad. Hospitals in Ghana know how to treat malaria properly. A few of my friends got malaria while in Ghana, and they said it wasn’t as bad as people make it out to be. You feel weak for a day or two, but after that, you’re back to feeling much better. As long as you take your malaria medicine and wear bug spray, you should be fine.
3. Folks speak English
The British colonized Ghana. In big cities and on campus, most people speak English. Although there are several tribal languages, most people know English and can understand American accents. To make it easier on them, you may have to speak a little slower at times, or not pronounce your ‘r’s. That being said, I strongly recommend learning some phrases in the local language, Twi, because you will impress the locals a great deal if you can speak their language!
4. Ghana is safer than people think
Ghana is a very safe place. While I was there for 5 months, I never felt threatened. That being said, there are certain situations you should avoid: long walks at night by yourself, getting intoxicated to the point where people can take advantage of you, and foolishly flaunting money or expensive items. Ghana is a very religious country, so many people wouldn’t even consider stealing.
5. Water and electricity may come and go
Ghana as a whole is improving in this category, but running water and electricity may not always be available. If you stay on campus, your dorm or hostel will have consistent water and electricity. However, if you’re traveling around the country, depending on where you go, it may not be a guarantee. Restaurants may lose power while you’re eating, but don’t freak out, life goes on! If you’re doing a home stay, you may lose water for days at a time. However, bucket baths and power outages aren’t as bad as you think.
6. Foreigners are sometimes treated like celebrities
In Ghana, if you’re not African, most people consider you white. If you’re Mexican, Asian, American, or Brazilian, you’re an “Obruni”, which translates literally to a “person from over seas”. It’s not a derogatory word at all, and people use it all the time. Ghanaians are extremely welcoming to foreigners. In their eyes, travelers have the opportunity to go anywhere in the world, and they chose Ghana.
With that in mind, most locals want to make sure visitors enjoy their homeland and have good things to say about Ghana when they leave. Also, many Ghanaians will assume that if you are traveling there, you are rich and have a lot of money. Many kids may approach you and say, “Hello! How are you? Please, give me money!” They don’t mean to be rude; they just assume that all white people are rich enough to give out money like it is nothing. Vendors may also be pushy to get you to come to their store, since they know that Ghanaian prices are low relative to the prices in more developed countries.
The Ghana Cedi is getting stronger, but if you live like a local, your living expenses will be quite cheap. If you want to live a comfortable lifestyle eating pizza, hamburgers, and taking air conditioned busses everywhere, then you may end up spending just as much as if you were living in the States. However, if you learn to love the local food, meals are usually less than $3. Taxi fares are negotiable, so make sure you know what the typical price is before you commit, because everything is going to seem like a good deal. A twenty minute taxi ride may only cost $8, but if you’re with a local who knows how to bargain the price properly, you may only have to pay $5.
8. You can be picky about which program you do
It's important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all for study abroad programs. Do you want to have a more service-learning focused experience abroad, where you can combine volunteer work or an internship with your studies? Do you want to go to class at a university (the University of Ghana is a popular one!) or take classes with an American professor alongside other Americans? Do you want to live with a family or rock your own apartment?
No matter what you decide, do what is best for you - figure out what environment will best complement your studies. That could include studying somewhere further afield than Accra, even! Check out our guide to studying in Ghana, or read interviews with past students about their daily lives abroad.
9. It is hot
Accra is very hot and very humid. Some nights the temperature drops to only 80 degrees. The heat is something I never fully adjusted to, but I did learn to deal with it. A twenty minute walk to class means your morning shower was fairly useless. Sweating becomes a reoccurring activity during the day. Some classrooms have air-conditioning, but most don’t. Just prepared to drink a lot of water. Staying hydrated is very important!
10. Classes are long
At the University of Ghana, classes meet once a week for two hours. It’s quite a long time! Like many other things in Ghana, it takes some getting use to. Some classes are more boring than others, but hopefully you’ll sit next to someone who is friendly and you’ll be able to make the most out of the long lectures. Skipping class can be a bigger deal, as you will miss a lot more content. Final exams also take place in the span of four weeks, rather than one. However, the week before exams start is called “revision week” - there are no classes for an entire week in order to allow students to study for their exams.
11. It’s hard to blend in
If you’re the only white person in a lecture hall of two hundred students, no matter what you try to do, the professor is going to know when you skip class. Whether it is your skin color, the way you dress, how good your dance moves are, or your accent, you probably won’t be able to integrate into Ghanaian culture 100%. That being said, I still recommend trying as best as you can. While I was there, I learned a good amount of Twi (the most popular tribal language), picked up a few dance moves, ate the local food as much as possible, and tried to blend in as much as I could. Ghanaians will appreciate your effort, and you will impress many locals by simply learning a few phrases, or eating the local food. Ghana is an amazing place with so much culture to soak in.
Africa is a huge continent with many different languages, cultures, and lifestyles depending on where you go. I studied abroad in Ghana, and it was by far the best decision I’ve ever made in my life.
This is just the tip of the iceberg - some knowledge you should have before considering Ghana as a place to study abroad. I honestly believe Ghana is one of the greatest secrets of the world. Do yourself a favor by studying there, and you’ll live to share Ghana’s beauty with the rest of the world. Ghana treated me so well, I feel it is my duty to encourage others to visit and enjoy the amazing things Ghana has to offer.
Photo Credits: API Study Abroad and Jeremy Ginsburg.