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Exchange Q & A with Jory Cadman
University of Ghana, Ghana (Spring 2017)
When and why did you decide to go abroad, and how did you figure out where to go?
I spent a semester abroad at the University of Ghana in Spring 2017. I knew I wanted to do a semester abroad after attending an info session at SFU. It was difficult for me to decide where I would like to study, as SFU offered many options. I looked closely at the courses offered by the different institutions, and found that the University of Ghana had a strong geography program (which is my major). I had also been interested in travelling to Africa, and had a few friends who had been to Ghana and came home with positive experiences.
What preparations did you have to make before you went abroad?
I obtained a visa from the Ghana consulate in Vancouver. I needed to book an appointment beforehand, but once I got there it only took an hour or so. I made a travel-health appointment at the SFU clinic and got the vaccinations that were required for Ghana as well as some malaria pills. I bought a Ghana guidebook and started trying to familiarize myself with the country - the culture, languages, political situation, food, history, etc. I also bought some loose, light clothing to take with me and unlocked my phone so I get a phone plan in Ghana.
Where did you stay while you were in Ghana?
International students stay in the International Students Hostel, which is a dorm located on campus at the University of Ghana. The campus is just outside of the capital city of Accra. The two International Students Hostels house both international and Ghanaian students. Unless you ask specifically for a single room, you will be paired with a roommate (my roommate was from Winnipeg). The hostels are quite basic. Students are provided with a bed, desk and dresser. There are shared kitchens with fridges and a few hotplates. Students who wish to cook for themselves need to bring or buy their own kitchen supplies. There is an outdoor market right next to the hostel to buy cheap food, fresh fruits and other essential items.
What were some of your most memorable experiences from studying in Ghana?
I had many memorable experiences during my time in Ghana, both on campus and off campus. One of the highlights of the trip for me was a traditional dance class I decided to take, offered by the performing arts department. The class was a combination of international and Ghanaian students, and we were accompanied by live drummers instead of recorded music. Being in the class also allowed me to discover several drama, music and dance performances that went on during the semester. Many of my most memorable experiences involved travelling to other parts of the country on the weekends. It is quite easy to get around Ghana on the bus or minibuses called ‘tro-tros.’ Ghana offers many attractions including beautiful beaches, castles, small villages, and a mountainous region with hikes and waterfalls. I took a weekend trip with some other international students to a region of Ghana called ‘Volta’ and spend a few days enjoying hiking in the lush rainforest. We also briefly went to Togo (the neighboring country to the East) which had some beautiful beaches.
How did your time abroad enrich or add to your knowledge of Geography? Were you able to apply things you learned at SFU while abroad?
Many of the courses I took abroad were focused specifically on Ghana. It was interesting to apply concepts and terms I had learnt back home to a country that I was unfamiliar with. It gave me a wider perspective not just on geography but on culture, politics, as well as environmental and social issues. Many of the various geography courses I had taken at SFU were applicable abroad. Since geography is often concerned with development, it was very interesting to learn how Ghana is developing.
What were the biggest differences that you noticed between Ghana and Canada?
There were many differences between Ghana and Canada. The most obvious is the climate! It is very hot and humid in Ghana, usually around 30 degrees. It may rain depending on the time of the year, and rain is often intense and unpredictable. Food was another big difference for me. I am used to eating lots of fresh vegetables at home, but they were hard to come by in Ghana. Ghanaian food usually includes a spicy soup and some sort of starch like plantain or cassava flour mashed into a dough. Tropical fruits, however, were easy to come by and quite cheap. Many social differences exist between Canada and Ghana. Ghanaians have stronger gender roles than in Canada. They also tend to treat parents and teachers with more formality than we do. Cultural differences in Ghana are vast and complex, given that there are different tribes in Ghana each with their own culture and customs.
On an academic note, courses are structured a little differently than in Canada. There is not as much structure in terms of readings and assignments, and the final exam is usually worth 70%. It helps to make friends with someone in your class so they can keep you apprised or answer any questions you might have. Teachers are usually quite helpful as well if you can see them during their office hours.
What advice do you have for other students who are considering studying abroad?
Before you go, spend lots of time looking into the different Universities that are offered by SFU for semester abroad. Be sure to look into what courses they offer and if these correspond to your degree.
During your semester abroad, make as many friends as possible and try to say yes to new experiences. At the same time, use your judgment and don’t do anything that makes you uncomfortable. Staying in touch with family and friends can help when you are feeling far away from home.
If you choose to study abroad, you learn everything as you go along. It takes a few weeks to adjust to the way of life, and to find out how the school systems works. Be patient with yourself and keep a positive attitude!