By Corine Forward, '15
I recommend that any and everyone study abroad. If it is financially and academically feasible, do it. If you’re feeling burnt out from the same old thing at your home university, I say do it. If you don’t know what you’re going to be doing after college, do it! Take the chance and study abroad.
I decided to study abroad, despite my parents’ (initial) wishes, because I needed a break from the hustle and bustle of Georgetown, but still wanted to take on a challenge. Going out of the country for four months and living with a host family were things I never could have imagined doing, but seeing so many of my peers come back with positive experiences, I decided that no matter the ups and downs, going away would be a transformative experience that I can share with everyone.
And transformative it was. From learning (sort of) a new language, to adopting a local accent and bargaining skills, to learning how to take public transportation to and from school, making new friends, and building an everlasting relationship with my host family, I began to think about the culture I lived in and my own privilege being American, that I never considered before. I began to see the importance of compassion, traditions, and happiness. The way in which people treated each other, the way people established family and what was considered a life of happiness were all so simple, yet completely different from what I knew and grew up to adopt.
Growing up in Oakland, the idea of family was just those you were related to. In Ghana, family was established through pure love and care for one another. Often times, young boys and girls living in the village would come to the city and live with a family working for them, taking care of the elders, etc. Sometimes these young boys and girls are related to the family they come to live with, but more often, they are not. Perhaps the parents of these children know people in the city or have asked around for someone to take their children in. This may seem like the parents are abandoning their own, but rather, sending them to the city is a way to give their children a better opportunity. For example, in my host family, one of my brothers came to live with my host parents when he was 14. He is now 22. The agreement was that he cares for the house and my host dad who is ill, and in return, my host parents pay for his education and help him obtain a job and a living for himself when it is time for him to live on his own. Back in the villages, many jobs and opportunities are limited, so by coming to a city like Accra, the chances of having a successful job and stable life are much greater. My host brother still communicates and visits his mother, but he has become a part of the family in Accra. Another example is me. After living with my host family for only 4 months, they showed me how I was a part of the family by allowing me to do work around the house, prepare meals, and attend any family event. As I was preparing to come back to America, my host mother told me I could return as often as I wished for no charge, because I was considered her daughter. This meant the world to me, and I saw just what family meant. It wasn’t about blood, but how in treating one another with love, you were labeled family. While we have examples of this in America, I have yet to come across this degree of compassion from people I haven’t known that long. My host family and I still communicate at least once a week. This is also a bit different because, usually communication falls off, even with my friends in college when I come home for the summer. Yet, even with a 7 hour difference, we always find the time to check up on each other.
From this experience, I regained a sense of passion that I know will help me continue my education while simultaneously keeping me grounded in what is important and worth my time and energy.
I know studying abroad is a scary thing, especially financially and if you do not know much about the country you’re considering, but that’s why talking to others is so important. Help from my financial aid advisor and our study abroad office allowed me to learn about inexpensive countries to live in and the resources and scholarships available for those interested in going abroad to teach, learn, or just be.
I am forever indebted to those I’ve met while abroad and I hope that others will have the same, if not better, experiences. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, so if you have the chance to, I say do it!
You mentioned that studying abroad was against your parents initial wishes. How did you go about choosing to study abroad even when your parents had their reservations?
As far as going abroad against my parents wishes, they were among the many Americans who believed all of Africa was dangerous. They didn’t want anything bad to happen to me, and even I had these fears at one point. But after doing my research, seeing the kind of country and school I’d be in, I knew Ghana was a safe place to be. Once I told my parents I was going, yes they were upset, but in the end they trusted my judgement. My parents and I communicated almost every day, I sent them pictures, let them FaceTime my host family and told them I was safer here than in my own home in Oakland. They were shocked, yet relieved. This was a great decision because it allowed me to break down the stereotypical narratives about all of Africa being the same and finally give a perspective on Ghana that many did not know beforehand.