COLA Study Abroad Interview-Shannon McGrath-Ghana

Intro: (Tell us a bit about yourself)

I am a junior occupational therapy major pursuing minors in race and ethnic studies, women’s studies, and outdoor education. My career goal is to open an outdoor summer camp for children who have special needs. During my free time I try to travel as much as possible and spend time doing outdoor activities like hiking and snowboarding. I chose to study abroad at the University of Ghana in Legon, Ghana during my spring 2016 semester.

Why did you choose the Ghana semester program?

I honestly didn’t care where I went for my study abroad semester, I just knew I wanted to go somewhere unique and not commonly travelled by Americans. Having a race and ethnic studies minor and women’s studies minor, there were so many places I could go to meet my requirements. My sights were originally set on Nepal, Thailand, and South Africa, but then I came across the UNH-Managed Ghana Program and everything seemed to just fall into place. After some research, I realized Ghana would be a culturally rich place where I could learn a lot and push myself out of my comfort zone.

Did you find your course work pushed you to explore more of Ghana that you might not have otherwise? 

One class in particular that I took was Rural Development Experiences. During this class, we took a weekend trip to Upper East Region of Ghana to visit a community who was using a new irrigation system to help with their yearly harvest. This trip consisted of a 17 hour bus ride each way while only spending about 26 hours in the town of Navrongo. Although it was a short trip with grueling travel conditions, we were able to visit a town called Paga that worshipped crocodiles (we even touched one!), hopped the border into Burkina Faso, and visited a huge waterfall on our return home. If I hadn’t taken the course, chances are I wouldn’t have visited any of these amazing places! Other than that, my course work offered such a wide range of knowledge about Ghana as a whole, so many weekends were spent traveling around and visiting the different regions.

What will be your best memory of being abroad?

During one weekend, a group of girls and I traveled to the Volta Region to visit Wli Fall – the tallest waterfalls in West Africa – and hike Mt. Afadja, which is the tallest mountain in Ghana. On the first leg of our trip, we took moto-bike taxis to the Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary where we were able to feed bananas to the monkeys and allow them to jump on our arms and sit with us. This whole trip was an amazing memory, but traveling on moto-bikes and seeing the wildlife firsthand was an experience like no other.

Were you able to carve out opportunities to meet locals abroad? How was socializing in Ghana different from socializing back home?

I did have the opportunity to meet many locals while abroad, with one huge reason being that there are roughly 40,000 students who attend the University of Ghana. I had many school friends from my many group projects and they were all very helpful and concerned with my schoolwork and making sure I knew what was happening. Because I was pretty much gone every weekend traveling around Ghana, it was hard to become close with many locals, but I am happy that I had the opportunity to work with my classmates and find out more about their home life and life in Ghana.

What personal and professional changes have you seen in yourself since you began your study abroad program? Are they positive or negative? Why do you think these changes have occurred?

There have been a few changes since I began my study abroad program. I definitely see myself as a more independent person who is able to take on any challenge confidently and head on. On both a personal and professional level, I think have the ability to adapt to a variety of environments and situations and see the brightness when life gets difficult. There are a lot of bad things happening in the world and there is so much inequality with how people live their lives. I want to change this – I want to help make the world a happier, more peaceful place. Ghana is beautiful and showed me that all we need is kindness and community to be happy individuals. This is something that can be brought anywhere and I will try my best, in my personal and professional life, to bring this out.

How has it been readjusting to life in Durham?

Readjusting to life in Durham hasn’t been too terrible. Sometimes it is very overwhelming with the pace life goes at here. The Ghanaian way of life was much more laid back and relaxed. People do things when they want to and everyone is always so disconnected from social media that people enjoy being around others more it seems. Even for myself, in Ghana I had a small tracphone I hardly used and my Wi-Fi was so iffy that I rarely was on social media accounts. This allowed me to go through my days completely disconnected from society and what was happening in the outside world. Ghanaians have a huge sense of community value and are so welcoming. I would not go anywhere without getting multiple greetings and smiles. Now back here, I can’t go anywhere without people being glued to their phones with little social interaction. I think the lack of community and straight up kindness to strangers has made the readjustment aspect a bit more difficult than I expected.

Top 3:

Place to eat:

1 – Chez Afrique in East Legon offers great local food and live music on the weekend!

2 – Pinocchio’s has typical American-style food and yummy ice cream. There is one in Osu and East Legon

3 – Chez Clarisse in Osu offers delicious local dishes such as the popular tilapia and rice! Cozy, local atmosphere where we spent many birthday celebrations

Places to go:

1 – Cape Coast! So much history in a beautiful, friendly town just 3ish hours away from Accra.

2 – Cape Three Points. It is known for being the closest piece of land to the center of the world (0 degrees lat., 0 degrees long.). We stayed in an Ecolodge next to a small fishing town.

3 – Big Millie’s Backyard is a must go to beach spot! Layout on the beach with locals, eat great food, and enjoy live music!

Events to attend

1 – Asabaako Music Festival at Busua Beach for Independence Day

2 – Any showing or event at the Ghana National Theatre in Accra

3 – Local theatre productions put on at the University of Ghana

Stores/shops to go to

1 – Obroni Piles in Macola

2 – Fetish Market in Lomé, Togo

3 – Boabob House in Cape Coast

Transportation tips:

1 – Always barter with the taxi drivers.

2 – Be prepared for cars to break down/get to places later than expected

3 – Relax and ask around for help. Tro-Tros (main form of transportation) are cramped and hot with confusing stop names. Don’t be afraid to ask the Ghanaians around you for help!

Random things to know:

1 – Ghana is a conservative country and Ghanaian women typically wear pants or long skirts and dresses. You can wear shorts but you will stick out, and depending where you are, someone will say something to you about the length.

2 – The people are very friendly! There is a huge sense of community feel and you will feel welcome! The area is safe in regards to physical safety, but petty theft is very common – just be aware of your valuables at all times

3 – Most traditional foods are eaten with the right hand (the left hand is looked at as disgusting) and people drink water from little plastic bags called water sachets

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