… Is that Allowed? I say yes!
I started writing about Spain, but after a few sentences, I found myself flashing back to long-lost notions I had of Spain as a little girl. Having spent an entire summer living here with a family, as well as numerous other vacations, I arrived knowing well what to expect. Thus, I cannot provide the insight, the advice around expectations for Study Abroad and realizations that I would like… so instead, I will go back to more recent history, to when I arrived at the NYU study abroad campus in Ghana (which I LOVED!) last year and share some thoughts about that in retrospect.
I did not realize the extent to which I was entirely unfamiliar with the country I was to call home until a friend asked me, only days before I departed from California, “What is the weather there like this time of year?” I could not give an honest response, for I hadn’t the slightest knowledge on the subject. Thankfully, he sent me a link to the current daily temperatures, highs, lows, and average rainfalls. But that was it: I familiarized myself with the weather, the most superficial information available, and probed no deeper. I am not proud of the fact that I carried out no research beforehand, but it was the truth. I enthusiastically entered the absolute unknown.
For some indescribable reason, I had long felt a connection to West Africa, a desire to visit that part of the world and experience the rich culture about which I heard so much from a close family friend, who is Togolese. Ghana, as one of the early democracies on the continent and an English-speaking nation (surrounded by Francophone countries; I speak Spanish, not French!), fascinated me above all other nations.
The English in Ghana fascinated me, for it is entirely distinct from the American English to which I was accustomed, or even the Australian or British dialects that I hear often from friends. I am not referring to the Ghanaian accent or local additions to the vocabulary, but rather the actual syntax of the language, common phrases, and unique structuring of words. The first example of this that became obvious to me early on in my stay was “You are welcome,” a warm greeting when entering the country, a room, anywhere. At first, it came across as quite patronizing, as if we were already indebted to those who welcomed us before we even had the chance to meet them; I soon realized, however, that it was merely the Ghanaian take on “Welcome!” I also found that plural and singular noun are used in unexpected contexts. “Slangs,” for example was a foreign word to me, but seemed to replace the singular “slang” across the board. While “and so on and so forth” is used
in the US, I cannot remember the last time I heard that utterance, whereas in Ghana, particularly among elders, it is a frequent close to phrases, often incorporated multiple times in one
conversation. I desperately wanted to take a course entitled “English in Ghana,” designed around these specifics issues, at the University of Ghana: Legón, but was unfortunately unable to enroll, so I continued to explore the lingual nuances on my own throughout my stay.
I had to abandon many of my New Yorker tendencies while in Ghana, particularly my customary beeline approach to walking from point A to point B, barely acknowledging the street signs or traffic patterns, let alone others walking down the street or passersby. The first time I attempted to walk past a person on the residential street where we lived without
smiling, waving, saying hello, and asking how they were, I was met with a determined “Hello, how are you?” before I was able to leave ear shot. Although it was not an intentional slight on my part, it clearly came across as such, and I then vowed to not let a friendly Ghanaian pass by me again without acknowledgement. I learned to walk with my head up, eyes ever in search of a new face to greet, and came to love all of the newfound joyous, albeit brief, human interactions with my Ghanaian brothers and sisters (terms of endearment which Ghanaians use – and I grew to love over my time there). What a kind kind people who possessed a genuine desire to welcome myself, as a foreigner, into their country and culture.
The use of vibrant colors (on clothing, buildings, signs, and more) is something that I had long associated with Ghana, a notion which came from photographs I saw of events, football games, structures, and group gatherings, as well as the bright color-block flag and the patterns on the traditional Kente cloth (in my photo). I also expected Ghanaians to love football – and after attending a Hearts of Oak soccer match, I can say with all certainty, that those expectations were correct!