Truth be told, I have sat down about three or four times over the past couple weeks trying to write this blogpost. Summarizing my trip to Ghana feels like a daunting task, and truly words will never be able to properly convey what I experienced over the last four months. However, I do want to find some closure for this part of my life, as the new year quickly approaches, so I will do my best to put into words my thoughts and feelings about this chapter ending and the next one beginning.
Just two weeks ago I was downing ice-cold sachet water in the streets of Accra, doing anything I could to minimize the sweat pouring down my back, and today I sit inside my warm home in downtown Ithaca, sipping on a hot coffee as I try and escape the bitter cold outside. You could say I am experiencing culture shock… major culture shock. On December 15, I flew 5000 miles across the world to return home after a semester living in Ghana. It has now been 14 days since returning to the world of organized traffic patterns, frigid temperatures, and “small town” life, and I find myself easily settling into the routines I left behind a few months ago. Already my time in Ghana is beginning to feel like a dream. As I catch up with friends and spend time with family, I am trying to hold on to the parts of myself that changed and grew while abroad, while still staying true to who I have always been. Each time I return from traveling, I find myself feeling the same mix of joy at being back in a place I love so much and sadness at having to adjust back to my “normal” life after having lived so differently for an extended period of time. This time is proving to be no different.
Although I am overjoyed to be reunited with people who love and know me so well in my hometown, there is definitely a sense of loss after leaving a life that I was only just beginning to settle in to. My time in Accra was nothing like I could have ever imagined, but I would not have wanted my fall semester of senior year spent any other way. In many ways living and going to school in Ghana was not much different than college life in America. Sure the weather was warmer, the city bigger, and the people have different accents, but overall I went to classes (almost every time), spent time with friends in my dorm, and explored the surrounding areas on the weekends. Days were long and hot and usually filled with a lot of joy, a lot of food and a lot of sweat. I mean, seriously I did not know I could sweat so much until I arrived in Ghana. Although I did spend a good amount of my time there complaining about the dense heat and constant sun, I am missing it severely now that I am living in 20-degree weather.
My love for taking photos grew exponentially during my time in Ghana, as I found exciting new subject matter in the people I met, the places I traveled to, and the connections I made. Growing bolder each day with my photography and the way I view the world, I stepped further into who I want to be as a person and an artist, and I am humbled and grateful for the people I met and connected with simply because of the camera that so often hung around my neck. The art world in Accra is an extremely vibrant one- something that came as a beautiful shock to me- and I feel blessed to have been able to dip my toes into that sea of knowledge, talent, and vision. I had the privilege of being asked to shoot for a few of my friends’ clothing brands while in Accra, and new opportunities were just starting to present themselves as I prepared to leave the city and return home. From here on out, I can just hope that I will take what I have learned about myself and my style in Ghana and seek out new connections, experiences and subject matter here in the good ol’ US of A.
During my final few days in Ghana, I found myself reflecting a lot about the past few months, as I tend to do when an important sliver of my life comes to an end. I remember sitting for the last time on a crowded trotro, looking out the window as women sold fresh fruit, dried plantain and ice water out of baskets on their heads and Ghanaian pop music blasted in the streets, and I felt the weight of this experience sitting on my heart and mind. In many ways this time studying abroad was not about the academics. In fact, in all honesty, I often felt that my studies were on the back burner during my time at UG, simply because of the different school system, the lack of homework, and the unorganized nature of the university. However, this is not to say I did not learn a plethora of things during this journey. The things I learned could not have been taught in a classroom. My ability to adapt and live life stress-free increased significantly since stepping foot in Ghana. Although the first few days or so did prove to be a difficult transition for me, I settled in fairly quickly after the first week, and over the next 120 days I must say I did an excellent job of seizing every opportunity to meet new people, tread on new land, and do things I had never done before. Over the course of four months I made countless new friends from around the world, worked at a successful NGO, held monkeys and saw wild baboons, surfed and swam in a new part of the Atlantic Ocean, took thousands of photos, walked on rope bridges high in the jungle, got a new stamp in my passport, and, as cheesy as it sounds, made memories that really will “last a lifetime”. It was a semester of growth and change, of moments of humility and gratitude, and a time of true happiness.
There will never be a way to summarize my experience in Ghana in one word, one phrase, one sentence, or even one blogpost. As much as I want to convey to the world how special my time there was, above all I want to instill in others a similar desire to explore this big beautiful world we live in, and to never limit ourselves based on preconceived notions or expectations. I am not saying that everyone reading this should hop on a plane and fly to Ghana, or fly anywhere for that matter. I am simply encouraging you all, my dear friends, to never say no to an opportunity that could give you a new perspective- a new way of looking at the lives of others and, in turn, your own life. If I had let any hesitation or doubt rule my decision to study abroad in Ghana this past fall, I may have stayed at home in my comfortable house, surrounded by the people I have known all my life. But because I said yes to this opportunity, I have now grown in ways that I could have never imagined. And for that I am endlessly grateful.
Now go adventure xx