1. Introductions, 2. Going places, 3. Wayfinding, 4. Communicating, 5. Quotidian life, 6. Books (1), 7. Authenticity, 8. The "art" of travel, 9. Great good places, 10. Books (2), 11. Genius loci, 12. The comfort of strangers, 13. Epiphanies, 14. Tips, 15. Farewells
Yes I was scared, but very, very excited. To visit a country that had once been part of the Soviet Union had always been a dream of mine, but to be given the opportunity to actually live in one made me ecstatic.
I didn’t really know what to expect from Prague. I heard that it was one of the most beautiful European cities because its original architecture had been preserved during the various wars. But that was a lie, Prague is not just beautiful, it was like living in a fairytale land, as I soon learnt.
Given that Prague is a hilly city, from various areas you can look down on the city and all you see are these small red roofed houses and lots of gothic architecture. The castle could be seen from pretty much everywhere. This was something I learnt as we drove from the airport in to the city.
The shuttle that NYU picked us up with was supposed to drop us off to our various dorms. Mine was the third stop. And as we drove by the various neighborhoods, I was suddenly really scared. All the streets were tiny, the apartments pretty but crammed together. WHERE WAS I?! I was use to NYC and its crammed spaces, but there was something very eerie about this place. However, when we turned on to the street I was suppose to live on, I fell in love. There was a spacious park with tall, blooming trees. I could most definitely live here.
I walked around the neighborhood a bit before the sun set. And suddenly I felt right at home. Almost all the buildings had windows with various flowers flowing out of them. The sun was bright and made all the colorful buildings look even more inviting. I realized that the fact that our shuttle was really big, it made everything else look crammed. But once I was on foot, everything looked just perfect.
I also think the fact that I had landed in the middle of a beautiful summer made my welcome exceptionally warm. Like Botton describes in his story, winter is such a bleak season, and to come into a new place when everything is gloomy must make it harder to adjust. I think I wouldn’t have instantaneously fallen in love with my new home had I come in the dead of winter. I picture the city to be just the way Botton opens his book, which would have been very uninviting.
(The pictue is of this church I fell in love with, representative of all the gothic architecure in the city)
I had completely forgotten about the two minute long opening montage of various locations in Paris played to some perfectly stereotypically French sound music. I wish I remembered my initial reaction to the montage because it was most definitely not the same as my reaction this time. This time around, the opening images were my favorite part of the whole movie. I knew every place they showed! Okay maybe I could not name every single place, but pretty close. And it felt really good. I couldn’t believe it—they haad put together a two minute montage of the most beautiful and iconic places in the city of Paris and the images were so familiar to me this time. I felt a sense of pride.
A few days later I was hanging out at a friends apartment and when I walked in the door Big Daddy was on the TV. I hadn’t watched that movie in years, such a classic Adam Sandler film. I sat down on the couch and watched Adam Sandler with NYU’s own Disney twins hanging out in Washington Square Park. I realized I hadn’t watched Big Daddy since moving to New York and as I put together a mental map all the side streets around Washington Square Park and remembered having class around the fountain in the background I felt the same pride I’d felt watching Midnight in Paris. I loved that I knew exactly where they were sitting and where it was in relation to the rest of the neighborhood and the rest of the city.
Having this feeling about Paris was an epiphany for me. I’ve be so consumed in my own issues that I had no idea how much Paris had really become a home. I knew that when my parents had come to visit I loved being able to tell them about various monuments and buildings, mostly verbatim from my lectures, but it had felt so good to talk about Paris knowledgably and comfortably. But despite this, I still found myself missing the U.S. and unsure that my feelings for Paris would ever align with me feelings for New York. Midnight in Paris made me realize how much the image of place changes, not just when you can identify it, but when there are emotions associated with the place.
I learned about a culture, I learned about a people, I learned about types of food, I learned about the concept of siestas in Spain, that Czech drunk food is deep fried cheese on a bun with a creamy sauce, that Rome, even in the rain, is breathtaking, that the sky in Paris is like crystal when it’s not grey. And not only did I learn about these things (dramatic pause for cliché), I freaking lived them…I ate bizarre cuisine, I made social faux pas like touching things at vendor stands before asking permission, and hugging people when you first meet them instead of giving them bisous. And it’s all okay—because no matter how embarrassed I got, or how uncomfortable on the silent subways as I was sometimes—all of that lead to my realization that I have the capacity to be comfortable in a foreign place—and that it’s possible for a person to adjust, and become one with a culture.
At the beginning of the semester, a professor of mine asked “what does it mean to be francophone?" As a class we sort of concluded that it was a mixture of things: Speaking the language, observing the culture, and most importantly LIVING, at least a bit—in the style of this foreign French place. And without any other options (seeing as I found myself living in a foreign land for this number of months), I ended up living a lot—I became somewhat francophone (I think).
I don’t know what I will remember years from now, but I do know being in Paris has affected me and my outlook on things…I’m much more appreciative, for instance, of a beautiful setting and being in good company with people who you consider to be good friends. I think I’ll also take the sentiment I grasped from that essential part of being francophone--of living in a culture to make the idea of being francophone real...The idea of living to live is interesting. It was an excuse I made for myself in justifying some stuff I’ve done here…but rightfully so, I’ve realized.
We only freaking live once. Judge all you want, but in the end, life and notable points in our lives are made up of those particles of moments in which we’ve lived and have been really present. Though this outlook probably can’t justify all things, Paris made me realize we have to live while we can, stand up on the subway while our legs won’t give out on us years from now, read books while our eyes work, eat salty/creamy/heavy/fatty foods while they won't send us into heart failure, then walk off all of that food while we still can...go places, see things, dance, and enjoy.
Thanks Paris for making me realize I gotta keep living…you’ve truly filled me up, yet I still have a thirst for more, thanks to you. Through having really lived this study abroad expereince, I have realized that what I will be bringing back with me …Seeking to prolong my "luck time ."
Thanks everyone for a great semester- it was a pleasure to read all of your posts and see your time abroad through your eyes. It was also interesting to see how we all seemed to experience a lot of the same things, despite being literally on the other side of the globe in completely different situations. Best of luck, everyone....I leave you with this song by Carla Bruni, at our dernière minute at our foreign places.
Cheers, It's been a pleasure,
As far as the academics go, I wouldn’t recommend NYU in Paris. I was in program 2, and a lot of my classes were either not challenging at all and kind of a waste of time, or too challenging. I heard a mixed review from program one people. Some things I can recommend for you…1) take a course with Christina von Koehler in program I- everyone I know who took her class on monuments loved it (you go on walking tours once every other class around Paris, and she’s really, really cool). 2-Take advantage of the weekend trip you get to go on…I built barrels at a vineyard, drank copious amounts of wine at a wine tasting, and went on a bikeride through the countryside of Dijon. It was incredible. 3. NYU often has events at night (gallery openings, receptions, presentations)….There is always bottomless wine at these events. My recommendation is that you avoid it at all costs. The wine is cheap, and will leave you with regrets the next day.
On Europe in General. I’m going to give you a few tips I sent to my best friend who is going to study abroad next semester.
-Maybe take eurolines (buses)…it’s cheap, but the buses are often late. I took one from Paris to London overnight…you had to take a ferry in the middle, and it takes something awful like 9 hours. It was an experience…The cliffs of Dover are amazing, though…when you get the ferry from the English side of the English channel. Especially when they let you get off of the bus- you can smell the see, and turn around and see the white cliffs. Wow.
Don't fly ryanair cause their airports are far away...and the shuttles cost a lot to take you into town. The tickets are cheap, but unless you get a really good steal...like 2 euro tickets, it’snot worth it with shuttle cost/time lost in the 3 hours each way it takes to get to the airports. Also, book in advance. Use bravofly.fr or Easyjet. They’re great websites for cheap flights. Obviously: EAT EVERYTHING. And drink everything (except for shitty NYU wine). And drink by the seine in Paris. Stay at hostels. and couchsurf, but don’t get raped or anything-some of those people are sketchy. Go to the clubs at the beach in Barcelona. Wear something moderately nice. Sign up online/put your name on the list so you can get in for free for the night. Or, just, like- be a girl. Rage for a long time at le clubs...go walk on the beach/drink a beer from the sketchy men selling them for 1 euro while you're chillen. Then go back in till the sun rises. Go to berlin, and rage until noon. Maybe go to sensation if it's happening (mixed revies). In Barça- go to park guel, and everything gaudi ever made ever in barcelona. Go to the top of Notre Dame, to the Canal Saint Martin in paris for the best brunch place sésame. Go to the bar the 29- you wouldn't know it was a bar unless you knew it was a bar. It's near trocadero and open every night until 4AM. Tell the bartender Greg, who speaks 5 languages hi for me, and have him make you hatever you fancy in th way of bespoke cocktails. Go up in the eiffel tower all the way to the top. Drink in Prague because it's dirt cheap and decent- specifically Becherovka. It tastes like Christmas. And speaking of Christmas, Paris is gorgeous….All of the buildings and monuments dress up…the Galleries Lafayette also have christmas windows, the trees twinkle and make a cold night beautiful....and there are Christmas markets. Go to them...but not the one on the Champs-Elysées...it's overwhelming and kind of generic.
Also. Go to a concert and go out dancing in Paris...And listen to the radio, becuase often you get gems like this video posted below:
Have an amazing time anyone who is planning on going here. Let me know if you need recommendations for things!
Though I’m not living in Paris with a group of expatriate writers and traveling Europe as an apprentice, the fact that Hemingway incorporates a lot of specific addresses, places, cafes, and bars makes it a much more relatable experience. By the time I read this book, I had been to some of the places he talks about and had my own experience and it was interesting to compare these experiences with the ones that he had. It’s interesting to see how an American living in Paris years ago had some overlapping experiences and overlapping themes when discussing Paris. I think Hemmingway experienced Paris more like my friends and I did because he really had to live in Paris, unlike Gershman who kind of just seemed to vacation here for a long time.
Part of what makes this book rally interesting and relatable is that it is based on notebooks he had kept while he lived in Paris and wasn’t written as a book. In that respect, the stories and memories are more real. This book made me realize that Americans have been coming to Paris and living here, having somewhat similar experiences, for years. And it’s comforting to know that while living here. The “Lost Generation” is often interesting to read about and although this book could be seen as a self-justification for Hemmingway, the Paris aspect of it is very relatable.
The biggest problems I faced were just because of language. I think if you do come to Paris, you should come with some basic skills in the language, especially if you only come for a semester. If you’re only here for four months, and come speaking not a single word in French, you’ll only really be able to somewhat converse with people after two months, and you’ll still be pretty bad.
When I go home, I hope have embraced some of the more relaxed attitude in France. Maybe I’ll start forcing myself to enjoy my evenings more on weekdays and have more relaxed, in the French way, Sundays. On the other hand, I think being in France will and have already opened my eyes to how convenient everything in New York is. Did you know that French cabs don’t take cards? Did you know that there are no standalone ATMs in Paris, only in banks? Did you know there are no bodegas? These are just some of the things that I assume as givens, and that in France suddenly seem like such a luxury.
I think NYU needs to do a lot to make this program the best it could be. For starters, I would make the program bigger. More people in the program would probably make it more enjoyable. There are weirdly a lot of freshman in Paris. I would also offer more classes, or at least more cultural classes or a film class in English. Also, I know other programs have dorms, and I think if NYU had some sort of dorm in Paris, a lot of people might benefit from it. I know some people who didn’t come to Paris because they would have needed to be in dorms.
I will say though that the actual NYU program, aka the classes offered, is really horrible. So much so, that, if you’re worried about completing major requirements then don’t come to Paris. It’s not that the classes are horrible, but between French class, Paris monuments, and French artists, the classes become a little mundane and a little too much. I wish there were more classes that didn’t have to do with France or maybe dealt with Europe as a whole. I mean I get it, we’re abroad in France, but we’re still in school and not all majoring in French. This is what I wish someone would have told me.
If you had to live anywhere in Paris, I would either say the Marais, St. Germaine, or Bastille. These are all really fun, cool places to live and are, more or less, always lively with good food and bars. I would say definitely not the 16th 17th or anything above that. The first two are really ritzy areas that are dead even during the day except for loud school children running to McDonalds for a little lunch.
The best the best tip I could offer about coming to Paris, or going anywhere really, is to not think about it too much. Avoid thinking too much about what it’s going to be like, the kinds of people you’ll meet, and the things you’ll do because, to be honest, you most likely won’t do them. Everyone I speak to who had these visions of what their experience abroad would be like, turned out to be disappointed and leaving on a kind of sour note. I remember not really thinking about the fact that I was going to Paris until, literally, on the flight over. And it freaked me out, but at that point it was too late. And by not over thinking it, I think I was able to enjoy it much more because I had no expectations so everything seemed really fun and new, even now.
This isn’t really a discovery, but Monoprix (French Wal-Mart) is the best place in the world. I go there every day to pick up a few things without fail. And, they have these amazing crackers, which are unreal and go great with Hummus.
I’m used to being able to go to Duane Reade and buy everything I need in one place. Here, this isn’t an option. Still, I guess my realization is that slowing down a bit isn’t that bad, and, in fact, is probably a really good thing. It’s kind of nice to be kind of forced to relax since so much stuff is closed. It would be nice if more things were open, like supermarkets, but it also more about the mentality. I think there’s a general mentality that I have really learned to appreciate and admire in Paris.
It’s not that Paris is empty or dead after 8pm and that every street is deserted on Sundays. In fact, it’s the opposite. On almost any given day, even on weekdays, people are out doing stuff all hours of the day. So, I guess, its really more about the “stuff” that Parisians have taken the time to appreciate that related directly to the fact that businesses are closed quite early and that Sunday is basically a mandatory rest day. I’ve noticed, and been told, that Parisians enjoy downtime, but also have a more relaxed general mentality overall. Parisians have much longer lunch breaks, yet shorter hours. Dinners are more common as is sitting out for hours at restaurants.
The Parisians idea of the “weekend” is different than that of most Americans. For us, the weekend is like a shining beacon of hope at the end of a long stressful week when we can finally get good nights sleep and go out. Not so much here in Paris, because Parisians don’t need the weekend to enjoy themselves and go out, which is also why the weekend isn’t an excuse to get blackout. I’m never going to be as relaxed as some Parisians I’ve met, but I hope some of it has worn off on me. I think its really beneficial to do “stuff” all the time.
I did not feel like this after Ghana and I did not feel like this after Israel, but I am ready to go home. Whereas I could have stayed months – years, perhaps – more in West Africa and the Middle East, I feel that m time on the Iberian Peninsula is coming to a timely close. Maybe it is because of jumping around all over the world this semester – from the US to twelve countries in Europe to the US to Haiti to the US to Europe to the US to Europe and on and on. Maybe it is because of my recent surgery in California or a brief hospital stay in Spain. Maybe it is because of the stresses associated with trying to squeeze in too many extracurriculars (about which I care tremendously) alongside academic responsibilities. But my body and mind are physically exhausted, absolutely wiped.
Watching movies on the couch while my Grandma cooks up a Christmas feast sounds nothing short of ideal right now, which is a rare (if not unprecedented) statement coming from a girl who never stops to let herself breathe. I need it.
My experience in Spain has not matched the majestic ones of Ghana or Israel, which surprised me. I always said that Spain was a place where I could picture myself living down the road. It is a cosmopolitan, metropolitan center where I speak the language – yet just foreign enough to make it seem exotic and fascinating. But no, I don’t think that will be the case. There is not one point that I can single out as the sole reason, but it’s simply not a place where I would want to live again. Visit? Yes, absolutely! I will certainly be back to Madrid, many more times, as I have over the course of the past number of years. And I will come back with a new appreciation, a new understanding, which only someone who lived there could have. And I am thankful for this experience for a great number of reasons.
I have loved my internship and long luxurious solo lunches at dozens (yes, dozens) of the greatest vegetarian cafés in Madrid. The three huge courses (one of which is pictured above; a Greek salad and then some from a favorite lunch spot of mine) + drink + bread + tea + you name it midday meals are something that everyone needs to experience – and do so more than once, for sure. I may have to incorporate that into an occasional weekday back home, or at least find the time to sit and eat and enjoy, rather than grabbing a bite on the go between meetings or class. There is a certain sense of relaxation that Spaniards seem to maintain for those couple of sacred hours, regardless of the stresses or situation at work or home, or even the economic or political setting of the country, which have been bleak of late, to put it lightly. Peace and food, yes, that sounds mighty fine to me!
But I never made it to Hong Kong (I guess we ran out of weekends and I only had one entry added to my visa) or experienced acupuncture (though I did look up and find a reputable, expat-y place near my apartment. What I realize now is that plans change. When I was packing I didn’t know that there would be an NYU sponsored trip that would send 60 NYU students into the dunes of the Gobi desert (or that I would be unlucky and not get one of these coveted spots). Or that my other roommate Clarissa and I would decide, screw it, we’re going to play with camels and sleep under the stars whether NYU arranges it or not.
Instead of acupuncture I got an amazing (and really cheap!) Thai massage in Phuket and instead of visiting Hong Kong I was able to visit Tokyo, somewhere I have always wanted to go but never got the chance, and eat some of the freshest sushi in the world at 5 am at the Tsujiki fish market. I met some amazing people and did amazing things. This semester wasn’t what I expected (or packed for…).
It was so much better.
Thanks for a great class everyone – your comments always made writing these posts just a little more entertaining :) Have a great winter break.
Photo: "View from atop a camel" - I took this on my film camera (hence the light streaks, it's really old ;) during the first break when my roommate and I decided to trek into the Gobi desert on camels (the best $50 I have ever spent :) The whole experience was surreal and beautiful and cold.
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!
Homosexuality was once condemned as heresy, punishable by law in Spain’s Roman Age, mainly castration for men. The allegedly ‘pure’ scripture-based forms of Christianity do not tolerate deviation from the traditional and sacred union of man and woman to procreate. Despite extreme repression and strong homophobia during the dictatorship of Franco, stigmas and taboos toward openly gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals have changed dramatically in recent decades. In twenty-first century practice, followers of Christianity – particularly the dominant Catholicism – identify with a full spectrum of sexual orientations.
Growing up in the very liberal, open-minded San Francisco, I never thought twice about a person’s sexual orientation, especially in relation to religious beliefs. Surrounded by followers of many faiths and raised in predominantly, though not devout whatsoever, Christian area, religious law never seemed to dictate action. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, straight, you name it – all were together, integrated, accepted. Perhaps it is because of the city I come from, frequently referred to as the gay and lesbian capital of the world, but churches and other places of worship and religious gathering welcomed individuals without consideration of sexual orientation – and I see that to be the case more and more here in Spain.
Same-sex ‘sexual activity,’ as it has been officially deemed, has been legal here since 1979. Gay and lesbian people are allowed to serve openly in the military and transgender individuals can undergo legal gender changes. Same-sex marriage was legalized in 2005, making Spain one of only ten countries in the world that allows it, along with some of the most progressive set of related laws, including the adoption of children by homosexual couples. Although I have yet to attend one, gay pride parades are a part of the city’s culture. Machismo, is, however still a big part of the culture, especially in areas like soccer. But compared with much of the world - including neighboring countries in Europe and the USA - in a legal sense, Spain is leading the way for equality of all people without regard to sexual orientation. And that is a rather good epiphany that I have had while living here in Madrid!
The other day, I turned to my friend Olivia on the subway, could kind of understand the peripheral conversations going on around me, and proclaimed "I Feel Comfortable!"- except I didn't shout, or really say it much louder than a whisper, for the french don't speak very much on the metro. It was three and a half months in, and it finally hit me- I was beginning to get a good footing in the culture, in the way of life, and the french customs.
I was learning to do my grocery shopping on Saturdays becuase not a lot (literally no supermarkets at all) is open on Sundays. I was learning how to navigate the metro by heart, where I could get off and walk to other stops even though they looked dreadfully far from one another on a metro map. I had learned how to deal with rude waiters, and kind waiters, and how to ask for things. I learned the random connecting words that the french say, how to say "I don't know" formally and informally, what to say when you bump into people, and how to respond to creepy men- I realized that I was starting to function successfully in the french way of life, and that I was adjusting.
All of this hit me on the metro going to visit my friends Emily and Kate in their eclectic to say the least (a duplex with a massive living room, bizarre paintings, some stained glass windows, lots of nude sculptures and a sculpture of spiderman perched on the second floor overlooking the downstairs area) apartment at Place de Clichy. It also has massive bay windows and overlooks sacré coeur depending on what room you are in. Anyways, I digress...I was going over for dinner and to hang out and do homework (really watch 30 rock). When I got there Emily and Kate were talking about how we were only here for 15 more days. 15 more days?! There's no way! I grabbed the calendar, counted, and came to the shocking realization that it was true.
Just as i was beinning to feel really settled, had some routines, and make some good friends, it was time to leave. It's interesting to realize how much time flies (duh, alyssa- but, really.), and how it is possible for one to get settled in a culture they spent the first three months feeling completely not a part of...I just wonder now how re-adjusting to New York will feel, having just realized I was comfortable here.
(Photocred: Came across this album cover a while ago, likes it, and saved it- I don't know where the original file was from, but it is not my work).
As much as I love being in Ghana, what I love more is the people. The best part of this program is how close you become with the students here. I don’t think I would have meet many of them on my own in New York City. I do think though that you have to be a little off-kilter to choose Ghana as a study abroad site, and it’s in that weirdness that we’re similar.
We often talk about living in the city post-Ghana, meeting each others’ New York selves and all the things we have to do together. Being here feels so much like a dream—with time moving either too fast or too slow, never in between—that it’s a bit of a shock to think of going back to NYC and that, in 24 hours, some of my dream friends will be there.
If I’ve learned anything from this experience, it’s to be friendlier to people. Trite, I know, but it is because it’s true. Everyone greets everyone else in Ghana—hello, good morning, ete sen?—from close friends to complete strangers. It’s pretty hard to be anonymous, even more so because I’m clearly not Ghanaian. Yes, sometimes it sucks: the catcalls of obruni, the children in school uniforms demanding 10 pesewa for water, the absolute lack of thought behind parroting homophobic propaganda. The disorganization of development. The men who grab my wrist in the street. Yes, sometimes people suck, but I don’t have to be one of them. Eugene the guard still gets my name wrong but is always enthusiastic to see me. Mary the fruit lady dashes me food even when I haven’t bought anything. A Ghanaian acquaintance’s father passed away a month ago. A professor’s niece did as well. Bertha the seamstress laughs at my thorough descriptions of clothes I want made. The puppies on the street outside our dorm grew big and died. I think I’ll be friendlier to strangers in New York.
So Ghana. I feel like whatever farewell I try to articulate won’t do you justice. What I do know is that it’s strange to think of life before you, that I didn’t know these wonderful people four months ago. That Africa is now a place where I have lived and will go back to. So thank you.
(Photo is my own. We had a sleepover in our living room the night before since it was most people's last night in Accra)
That being said, Ghana is not for everyone. If you’re someone who needs a shower everyday, fast internet, and electricity all the time, Ghana is not for you. If you can’t stand sweat drenched clothes or un-straightened hair, you probably shouldn’t come. If you hate being known as a foreigner and called at everywhere you go, you might want to reconsider. If all these are not your preference but you can handle them, when else are you going to live in West Africa?
Academics will not be your focus. Not at all. Most of the professors are Ghanaian and teach through constant repetition and by defining terms. Some of them talk so slow that it’s agonizing. Others will have a slideshow and read off it, word-for-word, for hours every single class. There is a lot of observation and very little analysis or stimulating discussion. With one exception, I learned nothing productive. Classes are more of another point of cultural immersion and learning about how the Ghanaian education system works. If I could redo my schedule, I would take Global Connections: Accra, Globalization and the Developing World, African Popular Music, and African Dance Performance at Legon University.
Go on all the organized events. I’m sure other students have blogged about this already, but, seriously, go on all of them. Travelling on your own is not impossible but much more difficult because of the terrible roads and unreliable public transport system. When you do have the time though, try to do some travelling on your own. Find someone who speaks French and go to Togo if you want to relax and eat real cheese, Benin if you’re really daring and want an adventure of the questionable sorts. Possibly the most beautiful place I’ve gone is Keta in Eastern Region. Some places I want to go but haven’t had the time to are Axim, Nzuelezo, Biapka, and the Bole Mud Mosques. Mole I’ve heard is mostly waiting to see animals but exciting when those moments happen. Remember to explore Accra too; you might just stumble upon something unexpected but incredible, like a free concert blasting music in the middle of a crowded street in Osu.
Research as much as you can before you come. There are tons of blogs out there written by people currently living in Ghana, and they’ve been a great wealth of information. I wish I had access to or knew about this site beforehand since I was trying to research about the NYU Accra program and of course could find barely any information and no pictures. Being able to read about past students' experiences and advice would have been incredibly useful.
Hang out in the IPO building/try to find someone in the CIEE program at Legon and become friends with them. I got lucky because I knew someone from home on that program, and it was through her that I got to experience a Ghanaian home stay and college life at Legon University on a fairly regular basis. It was also hard to meet Ghanaians my own age since the going out culture isn’t especially popular, and it was through my friend that I became friends with Ghanaian college students. It will show you another side of the study abroad experience and how some communities, the ones that see NYU students come and go each semester, perceive the NYU program. However, don’t forget about the CRAs. They were selected for a reason, usually pretty incredible ones, so talk to them too!
Bring a flashlight. Lots of snacks or staple foods you like. Tupperware. Measuring cups. Hand sanitizer and pocket Kleenex are a MUST. Definitely Tums too. A water bottle. If you wear them, plenty of contacts and CONTACT SOLUTION. USB DRIVE(S). Hair accessories like hankerchiefs or hair ties. Books, movies, games. Wet naps. Scotch tape. Travel sized toiletries. OFF bugspray; deet isn’t really necessary. Sunscreen. Pictures of clothes you want made. Heels or nice sandals you can walk easily in if you’re a girl.
Be prepared to make really close friends. It will be strange at first that you share such emotion experiences when you don't even know they're favorite color, but that will change. Just wait and see. And come fall semester.
And finally: Always ask questions. This was the last piece of advice my mom gave me before I left. It's been perhaps the most invaluable for anywhere I've travelled. The unknown can be confusing, scary, and overwhelming, but people in general are willing to lend a hand and direct you tp where you need to be.
(Photo is my own of Keta)