I have always dreamt of coming to Africa but did not think it was obtainable. How would I afford it? What country would I visit? How would I find my way around? I also wanted to participate in a travel abroad program, but thought it was out of reach. With the cost of a college education rising every year—where would I find the time and money to participate in such an experience? When I saw that West Chester University was offering a new study abroad opportunity to Ghana and started doing research about the country, I knew I had to find a way to make it a reality for myself. I had never taken any courses with Dr. Awuyah or Dr. Donkor, but once I introduced myself to them, I was accepted into the group and we kept in constant contact about the requirements and details of the trip.
I found the documentation process very easy. We had several meetings which allowed the group to meet one another and form a bond before our departure. I never felt nervous about the trip, but I was excited to participate in a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I came to Ghana with an open mind, but my goals in participating in the study abroad program were to learn about the Ghanaian culture beyond what I have read in books and seen on television, to push myself beyond my comfort zone, to refocus and do more self-discovery and to learn about African history, including slavery from the African perspective.
Once I stepped off the plane in Accra, I felt at home. The feeling is indescribable because I knew I was a stranger in a foreign land, but we were treated like family and greeted with acceptance and friendliness. One of our first trips was to Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum and the Du Bois Center. I will admit that both sounded too touristy for me but turned out to be great introductory activities into Ghanaian history and culture.
Our tour guides at both locations were very knowledgeable and inviting. They answered questions and engaged in discussions that provoked ideas for further exploration. We also stopped at the African American Association of Ghana and met with two African-American women who decided to move to Ghana permanently after visiting Ghana. It was interesting to get their perspectives on living abroad and hearing their reasons for staying. My first few days in Ghana I learned so much about Pan-Africanism, U.S. and Ghanaian relations, the importance of education, the impact of slavery, colonization and globalization in Ghana and relations between African-Americans and Africans. We also tried many Ghanaian foods. I tried Fufu, Jollof Rice and Red Red which has become one of my favorite dishes.
After being immersed in the hustle and bustle of Accra, we went to Cape Coast to tour the slave castles and Kakum Nature Reserve. Oddly, Cape Coast became one of my favorite places. I felt conflicted by the beauty and peacefulness of the beach contrasting the slave castles that lurked in the background, which reminded me of my ancestors’ Cape Coast experience. I have always wanted to explore the slave castles and to stand in the very place my ancestors stood as they faced the brutality of slavery was powerful. The fact that I can be at the slave castles not as a slave, but free as a visitor, I am able to do something that my ancestors never had the chance to do and me being here signifies my ancestors’ return home.
Being in the slave castles and going to the slave market of Assin Manso were emotionally tough days for me, but necessary to fully understand the black experience and slavery from the African and the American perspectives. I experienced many emotions going through the slave dungeons and learning the history of each of the castles and in the evening, I would sit at the beach and reflect on my day. Visiting Kakum Nature Reserve and participating in the canopy walk was refreshing. It allowed the group to bond and encourage one another while being surrounded by the sounds and smells of the rainforest.
We also had the opportunity to spend an afternoon with poet Kwadwo Opoku-Agyemang. We discussed his enlightening book “Cape Coast Castle” prior to visiting the castles. The experience was better than any book signing I have ever attended and provided so much food for thought; the discussion continued long after the lecture ended. Another highlight for me on the trip was volunteering at Cape Coast Primary School. Seeing young children so excited about learning was great. The students shared with us their favorite subjects and taught us how to say some words in the Fonte language. They were excited to meet us and were very smart and energetic. I learned a lot about the roles of men and women by touring the Manhyia Palace when I visited the Manhyia and Sogakope and the Ashanti people by speaking with the chiefs and queen-mothers of Sogakope.
The biggest highlight of the trip was being made an honorary citizen of Sogakope. I felt loved and welcomed by the people of Sogakope and it is truly an honor. Seeing and participating in the traditional dancing and singing was a true cultural experience. There is such a freedom to the experience and even though we did not know each other, we could share, learn and talk with one another. The atmosphere was happy and fun, and there was a positive surge of energy. I thought I might get bored or homesick during this trip, but instead I found myself recharged and excited for the next day. Every week was filled with great lectures and learning opportunities; each event and lecture was better than the previous one.
Upon our return to Accra, we met authors Amma Darko and Kofi Anyidoho. Both authors provided very different but interesting thoughts and aspects of the black experience from those who have been marginalized. Amma Darko spoke about her book “Faceless” and the experiences of the poor who live in the Agbogbloshie area, especially the women. Anyidoho spoke about slavery and the necessity for Pan-Africanism.
Speaking with Amma Darko and then actually visiting the Agbogbloshie Market was eye opening. It speaks to the types of images I have seen on television in the U.S. about Africa. While seeing the people living in such dire conditions surrounded by so much waste and pollution made me frustrated and depressed, I did not necessarily see those same sentiments reflected on the faces of the people. I saw hard-working and creative people making the best of their situation and repurposing the waste in their area to make a living. These people were hopeful.
While I do not want to diminish the harsh conditions in Agbogbloshie, I think it is necessary to see all aspects of a society if we are to really understand the culture and find solutions to these societal issues.
There are many takeaways from this experience. I am even more proud to be black, I am eager to learn more about African history and to explore other African countries, I am interested in tracing my lineage and doing the ancestry DNA test, I understand Pan-Africanism better and why it is so important. My views of failure have changed as I see it as growing pains and opportunities for improvement and I feel an even greater desire and responsibility to positively contribute and impact African and African-American culture.
I cannot express the importance of African-Americans coming home to Africa and having an opportunity to participate in study abroad programs. The learning experience here is greater than any information read in books or lessons taught in a classroom. The scholars, guides and everyday people I interacted with were just as excited to meet and speak with me as I was to meet and speak with them. We were graciously welcomed and accepted, which is not always what I receive in interactions in America. This experience has been therapeutic, and I have accomplished all my goals and more. The experience has been surreal, and I have memories and friends that will last a lifetime. I feel a sense of belonging and encouragement from the people of Ghana to be great and do great things. I am sad to leave Ghana and wish I could stay longer, but I know that I will come again to visit, and I hope others will have the opportunity too.
I cannot conclude this reflection without acknowledging and thanking the many people at West Chester University that have made this study abroad experience possible. I would like to acknowledge the unconditional support and contributions of Dr. Christopher Fiorentino, President of West Chester University, for the Global Rams Initiative; Dr. Peter Loedel, Director of CIP, for his leadership and making the program possible; Ms. Nora Maurer of CIP; Dr. Bacon, CAH Dean; Dr. Yoon, CAH Associate Dean; Dr. Francis Atuahene, Dr. Martha Donkor, Dr. Cecilia Chen; and Dr. Chris Awuyah.
Tiffany Robertson-Brown is a doctoral candidate working with public administration. TR805709@wcupa.edu.