Tag Archives: Ghana

Abroad Blog of the Week: Suitcase on the Sidewalk

As someone who went on the same study abroad program three times, I always love to see students who just can’t study abroad enough. Haley from Suitcase on the Sidewalk fits that description perfectly. Now on her third of four overseas programs, I think Haley is the most “studied abroad” student I’ve come across. With a year in India, a semester in Ghana, currently in Buenos Aires, and now planning her semester in Prague, Haley is definitely experienced and adventurous in her travels. She has now been blogging for over a year and her posts cover everything from Argentine graffiti, to homesickness, to her series, Wanderlust Wednesdays. I was fortunate to catch up with Haley and ask her all about her study abroad adventures. Here’s what she had to say:

How did you choose your study abroad locations?

I can’t really take credit for choosing India; the Rotary program that I was selected for reserves the right to send you whenever they want or need to. They asked me where I wanted to go and I said, “Anywhere, as long as you send me!” My flexibility landed me a spot in the program, and was I eventually given a few choices off the beaten path. I picked India for the culture, for a taste of the exotic, but where I could still speak English.  (That part wasn’t so adventurous.)

As for my college study abroad locations, I still wanted to pick places that were less common, that I knew less about.  All the places I am studying have a campus for my college, so it feels a little like cheating. Language and classes have played a huge part in where I chose to go.  For Ghana, it had a lot of classes I wanted- a fine arts minor, some post-colonial studies classes, and it was a chance to see some of Africa. Argentina was a chance to explore South America, and to work on my Spanish.  I’ll be heading to Prague next semester, and I am actually following a specific teacher there, but there is some language flexibility and the chance of exploring Europe.  I have friends in Germany and Hungary I am hoping to visit!

Now that you’re in your third country, has the adjustment process gotten easier for you?

The adjustment is definitely less stressful, though it’s exhausting and scary every time I get on a place.  I’m luck that my friends and family are used to me traveling, and so I don’t need to email or skype all the time.

The best part of having some experience is knowing how to manage my time and my resources, so I don’t feel as overwhelmed my first few weeks. I have a more clear sense of my priorities- for me, going out to party is less important than traveling and exploring my new home.  I do some research and pre-plan some things I want to do, which I think isn’t as common but helps me feel grounded.

I’ve also seen my fair share of travel disasters- pick-pocketing and getting lost and being lost in translation- and I am still here to tell the tale.  That gives me a lot of confidence, even though sometimes I have no idea what I am doing!

From your post on 5 things to remember when studying abroad, what is the most difficult for you?

Never say no!  A dear friend from Rotary gave me that mantra and it has always served me well.  But I still sometimes find myself not buying a sandwich because I’m nervous to order in Spanish, or something equally squeamish.  The golden rule of study abroad is really “what you give is what you get,” and if all you give is “no,” you’ll find yourself only receiving “no” in return.  Saying ‘yes!” can be scary but I very rarely regret it- instead I end up with better experiences, better memories, and a better education in the cultural exchange.

How do you maintain relationships from home, India, and Ghana?

It’s not easy.  I had to make a resolution that I wouldn’t let the distance ruin my relationships with the people I care about.  My family is great, and at this point they treat my going away to study in another country the way other parents treat going to school a few hours away. I still miss them but the Internet is a life-saver, and now I can text my mom from Argentina with a smart phone.  How lucky am I? I also email my host families in India every few months.   It takes a long time for us to go back and forth, but we manage.

Friendships are harder, and take more work for me.  I have friends not just from my hometown, but from New York City (where I go to school), and also all the places I’ve lived.  Facebook is invaluable, as is email and skype, but what it really comes down to is putting in the work to maintain those relationships. I’ve learned I can’t expect people to chase me. I have to be the one to say, “I’m really interested in what you’ve been up to, can we catch up?”  I spend at a couple hours a week skyping and facebook-ing friends; for me it’s time well spent.

Looking back, what advice would you give yourself before all your adventures started?

Don’t be scared!  So many people allow fear to dictate their travel experiences- fear of being embarrassed, fear of failing, fear of the unknown.  I travel specifically because it scares me, and I think its important to face those fears and explore what the world has to offer.  My biggest fear when traveling is always looking stupid, which is the worse reason to not do something that I can think of- I’m still trying to outgrow it.  It would be much more reasonable to fear bodily harm or strangers, but India got rid of both of those fears.  I am constantly grateful that I took a gap year alone somewhere far away- I had so much time to mess up and recover and learn, and it was so different from everything I ever knew, that I can brush off a lot the fears that come with study abroad for the first time in college.   Aside from looking stupid, my greatest fear is not using my time abroad to my best advantage, and the two usually balance out well.

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DIY Adinkra Coasters

Living in corporate housing definitely lacks character. Everything is brown and bland so I decided I needed to spice things up a bit and turn the corporate coasters into cultural art.

Adinkra symbols come from West Africa and as far as we know, date back to the early 1800s to the Akan of Ghana. The symbols convey traditional wisdom and life and are frequently used to decorate fabrics, pottery, and architecture. They are beautiful yet easy to replicate.

Here are few symbols and more can be found at the Adinkra Symbol Index

Coaster Directions

1. Chose your symbol

I chose the commitment & perseverance symbol. Which is also called “I shall marry you.”

2. Gather your materials: a paper bag, a sheet of foam, scissors, packing tape, stamping ink, a small piece of cardboard, and your cardboard coasters.

Here is all you need!

3. Draw out your pattern on the foam sheet.

I used a variety of household items to draw my shape.

4. Cut out your shape and stick it to a piece of card board about the same size.

I had the self-adhesive foam which made it super easy.

5. Dip your homemade stamp in ink and place it on the piece of the cut-up paper bag.

I cut the paper bag to be about the size of the coaster.

6. Trace the coaster to the paper bag and cover enter front with packing tape to make a waterproof surface. And shazam! I’ve got coasters that I don’t loath.

These are so much better!

Unlocking the Greatness of Girls

Yesterday I was poking around TED Talks and ended up listening to a talk by Leymah Gbowee, a Nobel Laureate and peace advocate from Liberia, called “Unlock the intelligence, compassion, greatness of girls”. In her 14 minute talk, she shares personal experiences of seeing young girls in Liberia unable to afford education and many entering into prostitution due to their extreme poverty.  But she believes their is hope and speaks of multiple young women who have made a difference in Liberia when they are able to unlock their own greatness.

The talk reminded me of a conversation I had with a faculty member from my university a few months ago. From Ghana, this professor takes a group of students back to his home community every summer for them to learn about development planning by working in the academy he started, the Human Factor Leadership Academy. When speaking to me of his academy he said,

“If you educate a man [in Ghana], you educate an individual. But if you educate a woman, you educate a whole village.”

Through HFLA, he aims to impact the whole village and to unlock greatness as he teaches both children and adults throughout Africa. His hope is to build leaders who will spark change in his home country and beyond.

As I was pondering all of this yesterday, at first I confined these issues to Africa. However, currently I am in Las Vegas for the first time, and around me I feel that I see so much lost potential.  Escort cards line the streets offering women to your door in under 20 minutes. While my husband and I have had a great time viewing the lights, going to a show, and eating incredible food, I just can’t help but be sad. What if someone had helped unlock greatness in these women and the men they interact with? And, what I am doing to help unlock greatness in others?  It’s a question I feel I need to seriously consider.

Interested in learning more?  Check out these links: