Not long a ago if I had asked Karen if she had thought of going to Ghana before, her response would have been no. Like many of the students she imagined Ghana as a bit dangerous, with tribal cultures that she didn't understand. As soon as she arrived though, this pre-conception of Ghana disappeared. "Right from the big smile or hug of Prince at the arrival hall to the journey from Accra through the countryside to the Oil city, Takoradi, I was already thinking that I loved Ghana. Now that I have been lived here for a while and seen how lovely and hospitable the people are; every one saying good morning to you even when you have not met before; as well as done some amazing travelling, I want to come back to Ghana next year!"
It hasn't all been easy though. Adjusting to the food, language, weather, attitude and culture of the people takes getting used to and the students often tell me that it can really depend on an individual’s personality. Some fit in really easily, love the food and chat easily to locals. Others take a few days to settle in. Karen’s first meal, jollof rice- rice mixed with tomato sauce and spices - was her favourite within the three days of her stay in Ghana. On the other hand Evelyn, another of our students who has been in Ghana for over a month, still hasn't found a Ghanaian dish she particularly likes. And although Karen loves the food, she has found it harder to get used to the pace of life. Coming from New York-where everything is fast paced, busy and tough, she sometimes finds Ghana a bit slow. Everyone does things in their own way, own pace, with a more relaxed manner, which was hard for her to get used to.
When it comes to electives, personality wins through again. Language is a huge challenge - even though English is the official language, most people do not speak it or prefer to use Fante (local dialect). Many students find it difficult when the doctors switch between the two, and it's easy to feel like you are not involved, do not belong or are not welcome. This is of course not true, but students must continue to make an effort to get involved and participate with conversation to show the doctors they are keen to learn and get involved. As I can imagine in all destinations, the time at the hospital brings with it huge cultural changes too. The professional setup is very different to the UK. Sarah, another student, came back from the hospital one day and told me that she had experienced her first delivery, but found it hard to agree with what she saw "nursing sisters were slapping the buttocks of women in labour and shouting at them to deliver, then after the baby came it was turned upside down and also slapped". Sarah felt it was disrespectful to patients, but realises that she is just used to practices in the UK. Now that she has seen a few more deliveries she has become more used to the Ghanaian maternity wards.
Culturally, Ghana is full of dos and don’ts. You don’t call an elderly by the first name and you don’t receive or give with the left hand - there are many things a newcomer might not know. What amounts to an insult in Ghana might be lightly considered in the Western world, which becomes a challenge as "the more you are told the more convinced you are that you are committing a social wrong!". The best way to deal with this is to always ask and think before any public action. After living in Ghana a while you soon pick up what you should and shouldn't do!
To read more about our Ghana destination, follow this Ghana. To read more about what our other destinations consider to be the biggest cultural challenges, click on the blog link.