Studying abroad in Ghana is a type of learning I’ve never experienced before. It’s hands-on, interactive, and experiential, and it takes place in a variety of settings with a variety of different teachers. Whether I am headed to KNUST, the Cultural Center, KATH, or just down the street to buy some snacks, I find myself immersed in classrooms like none I have ever been in before. Sometimes it is a literal classroom at KNUST, and sometimes it is the amphitheater or auditorium at the Cultural Center where we learn to dance, drum, and sing. Sometimes it’s the emergency room or microbiology lab at KATH. And sometimes, it’s the dinner table in the restaurant where our whole group eats together each night. Regardless of where I am, I never stop learning.
The learning environments I’ve had the privilege of being in here in Ghana are very different than any I’ve been in before. Even our classes at the university are a new experience, as the lecture style is so different from the discussion-based format of many Davidson classes. One part of me felt the urge to complain about the lack of discussion in our classes, but another side of me recognized that our Ghanaian professors should not be expected to accommodate us. And after I got over the initial shock of sitting through a two hour lecture, I came to appreciate how this setup gave me a unique window into Ghanaian culture. If the classes were discussion-based, they would likely become echo chambers in which we all reinforced our preexisting ideas, and we would miss the opportunity to consider things from a non-American perspective. But by listening to my professors discuss history or analyze literature, I have gained real insight into Ghanaian values and worldviews.
Contrastingly, the classes at the cultural center are the very definition of interactive. We beat out rhythms on our drums, attempt to copy the graceful dance moves demonstrated by our instructors, and sing lyrics we have learned by ear. The teaching style here is also different than what I am used to. Here we learn entirely by imitating the examples of our instructors, whereas many music students in the US rely on written music to learn new pieces. As a violinist, I know I felt nervous about learning rhythms without having them written out in front of me. The rhythmic patterns are totally different than any I have ever heard or played before, and sometimes they overlap in unexpected ways that I find difficult to understand. It takes a lot of practice to figure out the interlocking patterns, but it is incredibly rewarding when I finally get the hang of them! Another surprisingly aspect of the music class is that after we learn a new rhythm, dance move, or stanza to a song, our instructors have us go around in a circle and demonstrate it by ourselves. Being put on the spot like this was incredibly intimidating the first few times, but having to perform for my teachers and classmates during class has definitely helped me become a lot more confident!
You can read more about Ghanaian music and perspectives on teaching music here: https://etd.ohiolink.edu/rws_etd/document/get/kent1398073851/inline
The third classroom I’ve found myself in is KATH, the teaching hospital where I shadow doctors three times per week. I have rotated through the emergency room, pediatric ICU, and microbiology lab and am gaining both clinical and cultural knowledge through these experiences. The doctors, nurses, and technicians I have shadowed have taught me an incredible amount of information about the science of medicine, the task of providing healthcare, and the specific challenges faced in Ghanaian medical settings. At KATH, I am expected to be a very proactive student. My mentors don’t know what I don’t know, so I must ask questions about things I am interested in or things I do not understand. (I also end up doing a lot of Googling to supplement the very technical responses.)
Along with these formal educational settings, I have learned so much by walking down the street, talking with a vendor or cab driver, or discussing shared experiences with my classmates. It is instances like these that remind me that studying abroad is so much more than studying. It is putting yourself in a new environment and opening your eyes and mind to everything that is happening around you. That’s where a lot of the real learning takes place.