– First study abroad trip to Ghana shatters myths, highlights triumphs in the West African country –
When Maia Williams ’16 told her family and friends she planned to study abroad in Ghana, she received an influx of support. But she also received another reaction—assumptions about the country.
“Before we went, a lot of people would say, ‘Yeah, they’re all so backward,’” Williams recalls.
Except Ghanaians are neither unsophisticated nor timid. While the country is plagued with electrical outages, miles of unpaved roads and poverty, Ghana is a cosmopolitan haven that, according to the BBC, “until recently was hailed as a model for African growth.”
When Williams set foot in the nation’s capital city, Accra, she found a modern metropolis with skyscrapers, banks, retail businesses, theaters, hotels and a vibrant restaurant scene.
“[Accra] is a very wealthy part of Ghana. Everybody is wearing suits on their way to work,” she explains. “It’s a very modern place.”
Debunking the “typical” view of African countries was one goal of Jameta Barlow, assistant professor of women’s and gender studies, who planned the trip—TU’s first to West Africa.
In January, 14 students travelled across Ghana, visiting Accra, Ho, Koforidua and Kumasi.
Each city offered a look at a different region of the country with its own distinct language. Many Ghanaians are multilingual, speaking English, the country’s official language, as well as many African languages.
While major cities such as Accra and Kumasi are much like those in America in terms of technology and business, 24 percent of the country’s inhabitants, especially those rural areas, were below the official poverty line in 2012, according to the World Bank.
The country also suffers from an energy crisis, with numerous power outages.
When the power died during an interview, Williams remembers a degree of panic—“The power’s out—what are we going to do?” But the Ghanaian just proceeded, saying, “Oh, this happens all the time.”
Despite lacking resources students take for granted, Barlow says Ghanaians are rich, hosting diverse cultures, traditions and even feminist ideals, she explains.
“It may seem like people are without, but they have so much more in ways that we don’t here,” says Barlow. The Akans, who reside in the southern region of the country, believe each person is given a purpose from the day they are born, she says.
Ghanaians are also much more in tune to their surroundings than Americans, according to Williams. “A lot of people were selling things on the street, whether it was fruits, products, clothing,” she says. “Being on your phone isn’t really conducive to that.”
The trip focused on gender, health and social justice. The students interviewed historians, women in the workforce and activists working to improve their communities.
Though some communities are struggling, Barlow says the Ghanaians don’t seek charity. What they want more than anything is information.
“Most people want to know how they can improve their situation in their neighborhoods and in their communities,” she says. Towson’s students understood that message. “It totally transformed their view of Africa,” Barlow says. The trip also prepared students to interact with those who are much different. “They’ve connected with other people here in a way that I don’t think they would have before,” she adds.
The positive reactions to the trip inspired Barlow to offer another Ghana excursion during the 2017 minimester.
Williams is encouraging her friends, fellow Black Student Union members or everyone at the Center for Student Diversity to sign up.
“Going to Ghana is just a completely different experience,” Williams says. “Not many people can say ‘I’ve studied abroad in Ghana.’”
– by Daryl Lee Hale ‘16, student editorial assistant in Marketing and Communications.