Tulsa2Ghana: How Studying Abroad Changed My Life

IMG_4496Today’s blog is from Haley Anderson, a senior Communication and Psychology major from Sand Springs, OK. Haley recently returned from a summer study abroad trip to Ghana.

Six months ago I didn’t own a passport, I was terrified of plane rides, and the closest I had ever come to exotic world travel was Epcot. I was a little sheltered to say the least. Then, six months ago, my advisor presented me with an unexpected opportunity: a study abroad trip to Africa. I was a little shocked to say the least… I mean… me? I had lived a perfectly comfortable sheltered life in Tulsa and hadn’t left Tulsa County for more than two weeks in my entire life. Now, I was potentially traveling across the country, across an ocean, to Africa of all places for almost a month? There was no way. Surprisingly, this past June, I found myself with my passport in hand, bags packed, and ready for the unexpected adventure that was before me.

When we arrived in Ghana I was caught in between a state of jet lag and excitement. Our first stop for the day was at our home-stays. My roommate and I were greeted at our home by one of the most wonderful people I have ever met—Maame, our host mother. She greeted us with a big hug and welcomed us into what would become our home away from home for the next three weeks.

Our family also included Evans, who is 20-years-old, and Kwzi, 11. Both of the boys were not related to our host mother but she took them in and made them part of her family. A family of five rented a room on our property, and we became very close with them, as well. The children were 2, 4, and 9, and they kept us incredibly busy. Every day when we came home from classes, Ewuradwoa and her brother Paiyaw would run up to greet us. We played card games, read books, listened to music, played soccer with the older boys, and more.

It was incredible to be so far away from home but to have a family and a place that meant just as much to me. My Ghanaian family means the world to me. Although we only had three weeks together, I’ll never forget the memories I made with them and how they made Ghana my home away from home.

My time abroad was spent conducting an independent study for my Communication major. Prior to our journey, I partnered with a few local school districts and conducted a book drive to collect donated books and supplies for schools in Ghana. We filled 13 suitcases to the brim with our donations, and there were even more that couldn’t make the trip. In addition to the book donations, I collected bookmarks from Tulsa students with a little message for the students in Ghana. My objective for the trip was not only to deliver the books that I had collected this year, but to also collect video footage, pictures, and interview content to put together a PR campaign for a bigger and better drive for the next year.

IMG_4568Before our trip, I anticipated that our donation would make a small but meaningful difference. I didn’t really know what to expect when we arrived at the schools. I knew that the schools were desperately lacking in resources, but the reality was far more heartbreaking than I had imagined. The school was comprised of small classrooms that lacked walls and floors. The roof was made of tin and was barely supported. There were a few chalkboards and desks arranged in each room. No bathrooms. No running water. No sound structure. This was a place of learning, but it wasn’t a school.

During my interviews I asked the teachers what single most important change they would like to see for their school and its students. Every single one of them voiced the same wish—a structure. A school building with actual rooms, painted walls, and a real floor. I know that the supplies we brought made a small difference, but you can’t build a school with a few suitcases full of books.

The thing about making a global impact is that sometimes you need to understand a culture before you try to fix it. I thought that sending books would change their world, when really it wouldn’t even make a dent in the problems they are facing. What good are books when there is no school to house them? Perspective is quite humbling. The goal of my project shifted that day. Our group spoke with the headmaster of the school and learned that it would take 50,000 American dollars to build a school for them. That night at dinner we began the discussion about how to make that happen. So my book drive campaign has become a fundraising campaign in the hopes that we can raise the funds to build a real school and make a real difference.

In between classes and the school visits, our group made a few sightseeing trips. We traveled to Kumasi where we visited the Manyhia Palace, cloth and bead-making shops and the central market. We spent a few days on the coast where we spent our mornings swimming in the ocean, and our afternoons in the treetops of the jungle on our canopy walk through the Kakum National Park. We had the incredibly powerful experience of touring a slave castle in Elmina. We swam through the largest waterfall in Western Africa and crossed over the border to Togo just so we could say we were in two countries at once. Finally, we made friends with some monkeys on our walk through the Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary. In just a few short weeks I had seen and experienced more than ever before. Taking risks and opening myself up to adventure was one of the best parts about study abroad.

Although I missed the comforts of home, I was not ready to leave Ghana when our journey came to a close. Ewuradowa, my precious little Ghanaian sister was probably the most difficult goodbye. She spent 30 minutes before our buses’ arrival in my arms, and we both dissolved into tears when it finally arrived. Leaving her and the rest of our family was tough, but I know that we’ll stay in touch. As we pulled off of our street and made our way to the airport, it hit me that I may never come back to this incredible place again. This once in a lifetime experience that I had anticipated for six months had come and gone far too quickly.

IMG_4528Three weeks is a blink of an eye when it comes to your time at TU. You’ll spend three weeks studying and three weeks procrastinating. You’ll spend three months in your dorm room watching Netflix. There will be several days worth of football, basketball and soccer games. Hours and hours and hours of classes. A week of  Homecoming activities and a week of Springfest fun. There will be weeks in the Caf or hanging out on Chapman Commons. Four years of friendships, memories, and incredible experiences. There is so much crammed into that short four-year timespan; some things you’ll remember and some you’ll forget. Those three weeks in Ghana will not only be remembered, but they will carry forward for years to come.

In just three weeks my TU experience expanded beyond our campus borders. I experienced more of the world than I ever had before. I learned so much about other cultures, ways of life, and myself. Three weeks changed my life. Wherever you spend your four years, consider studying abroad. Trust me—it’s time well spent.