This semester, literature major Jessica Berg is studying abroad in Ghana. Below, Jessica describes how her perceptions of West Africa changed drastically upon arriving in Ghana as well as how her many classes are helping her to develop a better sense of West African literature and culture. Continue reading to see Part One of Jessica’s ongoing experience in Ghana and be sure to check back soon for Part Two.
Even after two months, I still don’t know how to talk about living and studying in Ghana. There is nowhere in the world like West Africa, and it’s not at all how I expected it to be before I came. I did my research and talked to friends who studied here before me, but I still arrived with layers of misconceptions about all things West African. Unfortunately, these misconceptions run deep in most American minds, having been established by centuries’ worth of incorrect and biased depictions of West Africa, and I could spend as much time picking them apart as I could chatting about my personal experiences. Instead, I’m going to try to do both at once. I want my peers to understand the richness of Ghanaian and West African culture on both a personal and academic level, because being here has shown me that West Africa has a lot more to offer than most Americans think. This is especially true for those of us engaged in the literary or creative writing disciplines. Hopefully while I tell you about my experiences studying in Ghana, I can verbalize the imagination and creativity I’ve found here and inspire you to look at this country as a place to find a different outlook on the world, something that’s always useful for a reader or a writer. Ghana deserves it, and so do you.
I suppose I should start with the University of Ghana, since that’s where I live. It’s quite different from Ball State University both in physical appearance and in organization. Physically, it looks Ghanaian. By that, I mean that most of the buildings are airy, open structures made of concrete, and where there is not scruffy grass there are old trees and red clay. Campus is very large, two kilometers long or longer, and is made up of many different buildings. Each separate department has its own compound, which contains the department’s main office as well as offices for the professors, but classes are generally conducted outside of the departments in a few large lecture halls.
This semester, I am taking six classes: History of the English Language, African Prose, Ghanaian Literature, English Literature from Milton to Blake, Introduction to the Twi Language, and Introduction to African Dance. I do not have class on Wednesdays or Fridays, and I have only one class on Monday. Most international students here have similar schedules, and many of them moan and complain about the amount of free time they have. They’re bored, they say. Classes here are generally light on homework and heavy on examination, so before finals month, most students have little class work outside of class. Since many of the international students here are incurable workaholics, they consider the lack of daily work a curse. I, on the other hand, always have reading to do because that’s the nature of literature classes. I revel in my free time because I always have something to read. I love the readings we’re assigned, and my down time allows me to dive deep into my coursework undisturbed. I’m sure many of you reading this blog know how it feels to have three or four novels due to be read in one week and no time at all to read them. Here, that’s not a problem. And since the readings are generally more foreign to me than Western novels are, the extra time really helps me out.
Enrolling in the African Prose and Ghanaian Literature classes here was one of the best decisions I could have made. These two classes combined have taught me more about Ghanaian and West African culture than I ever hoped to learn. Many English students in America read at least one novel about Africa during their college years, Heart of Darkness if not Things Fall Apart. While those are both excellent novels, they construct a very fragmented picture of Africa. Are you surprised to hear that nothing about my experiences here so far resembles anything that happened in Heart of Darkness? Even when we plunged into the thick and unruly jungle to brave the canopy walk at Kakum National Park, we failed to penetrate our unconscious minds and fall into barbaric insanity. No, most American students get a very incomplete view of Africa through their literary study in the States. Here, I get a more complete picture, obviously through experience daily life but also through the literature we read and class discussions. Between the African Prose class, in which we discuss novels such as Casey-Hayford’s Ethiopia Unbound and Véronique Tadjo’s Queen Pokou, and the Ghanaian Literature class, which has us reading plays like “Through a Film Darkly” by J.C. de Graft, novels like Fragments by Ayi Kwei Armah, and a variety of poetry, I’ve learned so much more than I could have learned in America. African novels offer more than anyone ever told me, so now I’m taking it upon myself to spread the word…