After a whirlwind of anticipation – wrapping up a summer internship on Monday, going home to Boston on Tuesday, and running errands and packing on Wednesday – I finally found myself standing in Terminal E of Logan International Airport. My passports and carry-on in hand, I waved goodbye to my family numerous times until I finally passed through security. Ahead of me was an almost 12-hour flight to Paris and subsequent layover before my second flight to Ghana. Behind me were loved ones curious and nervous about how my semester in West Africa would take shape.
There I was in the middle of thousands of travelers. There I was crossing oceans. There I was, #GoingGoingGhana…
My name is Oluwayemisi Olorunwunmi or ‘Yemi’ for short. I’m a senior double majoring in Political Science and African Studies at Columbia University in New York City with a minor in Creative Writing. I’m originally from Brockton, Massachusetts. However, this fall, I’ll be studying at the University of Ghana in the Ghanese capital of Accra.
It is my honor to have been offered one of Black Entrepreneurs’ See the World, BE the Future scholarships as well as an opportunity to be profiled by their #StudyABlog series for the semester. It is my hope that all enjoy reading about my experiences as much as I enjoy writing about them.
When I finally touched down in Kotoka International Airport in Accra, Ghana, I was surprised by how cool the night air was and how vast the indigo sky stretched.There were a few hiccups with my flight, so I arrived almost two hours behind schedule. Regardless, something was in the air; not dust, nor mosquitoes, but a canopy of hospitality. Over and over again, people repeated “Akwaaba”, which means “Welcome” in Tiwi, Ghana’s preeminent dialect. Without asking the program personnel or airport staff, I was assisted with locating customs, securing a trolley, and handling my luggage. By the time I reached the University of Ghana (UG) campus in the Legon area of Accra 15 minutes away, it was almost midnight.
I was no longer #GoingGoingGhana, but front and center in the middle of the oldest and largest university in Ghana with nearly 40,000 students. A sense of awe hit me as I realized that in a little over a week I would be attending classes at a University which produced three of Ghana’s Presidents, quite a few Vice presidents, numerous Chief Justice’s, government ministers, journalists, and individuals committed to civil service. As a Political Science and African Studies double-major, I was now positioned well to leverage the University of Ghana’s historical and present resources.
The first day of orientation was full of sessions on “adjusting to new culture, Ghanaian customs and etiquette, transportations, housing, race, sexuality and gender issues” as well as communication. One of the key takeaways I garnered from this session was actually a side comment made by Ms. Janet, the internship and housing coordinator, “Acknowledge the person next to you. This is because you do not know what can happen in the next minute or two.” She mentioned this during the communication session where tips and tricks for greeting people were shared. In Ghana, it is in one’s best interest to break the barrier with a smile, perhaps a nod, and most assuredly a verbal hello, which is “Ete sen” in Twi language.
The two items on the itinerary that resonated the most with me were the meals and the surprise performance at the day’s end. Regarding the first: breakfast, lunch, and dinner were all delicious buffets which contained Ghana’s finest spreads – seasoned spaghetti, jollof rice, stewed chicken, yam balls, fried plantains, garden salad with a kick of vinegar, and so much more. Even more pleasurable was the entertainment the CIEE Legon program staff provided during dinner: The Legon Palmwine Band. Palmwine music is a genre that combines the strumming’s of guitar, vocals of a talented individual, and Highlife and Juju music. One would typically hear this music at a local pub, house party, or special event. The session was a true treat. As the food flowed freely, the music cascaded through the air over the swinging arms and dancing feet of myself and other international students, freshly spoiled by the warmness of Ghana.
Until next time…