Ghana International Study Centre – what I learnt

Hi, I’m Lottie, a 2nd Year biology student at York. I’ve just come back from the Ghana International Study Centre and here’s what I learnt.

About the Ghana International Study Centre

About a year ago, I read a wonderful quote: ‘Grab every opportunity that comes your way, because you never know whether it may come around again’. As I applied for the International Study Centre (ISC), I reminded myself of those words.

The ISC was based in Ghana’s capital, Accra, at the University of Ghana. Over the two weeks, we were taught about Ghana’s history, culture and politics. To accompany this, we went on excursions around Ghana. This included the Kakum National Park, Cape Coast Castle (slave forts) and Lake Volta (the largest man-made lake).

Infrastructure of Ghana

Across Ghana, the architecture is thought-provoking. Opposite the largest mosque in Accra, there were shanti towns bustling with people. Some buildings on the outskirts of Accra were partially completed: fully functional on the first floor, but the two floors above remained a bare skeleton of concrete and metal wires. In the rainforest surrounding Lake Volta, pylons were scattered amongst the canopy so that wires could form a connection between one area of Ghana with another.

View from the Lake Volta boat trip

Cape Coast Castle

One of my most memorable moments on the ISC was the tour of Cape Coast Castle. At the university, we were taught about how the castle was built by the Portuguese and later owned by the British. Initially, it was used to store spices and gold before they were distributed to other parts of the British Empire. Unfortunately, the castle soon became a slave fort – an integral part of Britain’s slave trade.

As part of the tour of the castle, we were taken around the dungeons at the castle. There were three dungeons for male slaves and one dungeon for the female slaves. The tour guide explained that 200 slaves would be in this dungeon for 3 months, a space that was no larger than a classroom. High up on the walls were 3 small windows, that allowed a little light into the dark dungeon that had a pungent smell.

As I pictured what happened hundreds of years ago, in the place that I stood, I could feel sorrow reaching deep inside of me; twisting my stomach and squeezing my heart. At that moment, I thought about how we can pride ourselves in how far we have come, in terms of human rights, but there is still a way to go. There are many people on this Earth who are not fortunate to have a good quality of life – access to clean water, live in safe conditions or freedom of choice.

Western fast-food chains

In a mall in Accra, there was Burger King and a KFC. In all honesty, I wasn’t surprised that these large corporations had reached Ghana and put their stamp on it; where no other fast-food chain had been before.

Although this can be considered a business investment, from a public health perspective, it is worrying. In one of our lectures, we discussed how these chains help fuel the rise in obesity and cardiovascular diseases that we see in developing countries., such as Ghana. We also spoke about how KFC and Burger King are a consequence of globalisation, introducing westernised foods into Ghana.

Religious and spiritual beliefs in Ghana

In Ghana, people follow different religions. This includes Christianity, Islam and traditional African religions. When visiting Wiz Kudower’s studio, a famous Ghanaian artist, he explained that his artwork and life was interlinked with his spiritual beliefs. During a talk on religion in Ghana, we were told how, in rural areas, spiritual beliefs play an integral role in day to day life. This includes shrine painting, maturation ceremonies and getting married.

Something unique about Ghana is that there is no conflict between the different religions. Many lecturers explained that a person’s belief system mattered little to another person, if at all. One lecturer explained how he and his wife are happily married, despite having different religious beliefs. This harmony is something precious, and I think we can learn a lot from it. It is one of mutual respect and understanding; something that is ironically a key theme in many belief systems.

The beauty of Ghanaians

The spirit of Ghanaians is something that touched many of us on the ISC. Many people dress so beautifully; women wearing wonderful, Ghanaian dresses and men wearing shirts with traditional Ghanaian prints. On the way back to the university, sometimes there were people dancing to music in the villages on the outside of cities. The atmosphere felt like a true community. There was always so many people smiling, too. I remember thinking about this on the plane home, reminding myself of the beauty in dressing colourfully and smiling often.

Ghana Time

Ghana is more relaxed in terms of time. In fact, when you visit Ghana, it is important to be aware of the concept of ‘Ghana Time’. Rather than a bus arriving at the time scheduled or your meal arriving along with everyone else’s at your dinner table, often you wait a little while longer than what feels comfortable. This is a little frustrating initially but after a while, I took pleasure in waiting. Instead of doing everything so seamlessly like in the UK, you learn to cherish each moment in time. For me, this meant appreciating where I was in the world and getting to know everyone on the ISC.

Meeting people

Above all, the friendships I made on the trip is what I will treasure the most. Talking about the experiences we were having was particularly insightful because each of our perspectives were slightly different. The memories we made together often involve laughter, too.

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Hola, I'm Lottie, and I am in my second year of studying biology at York. I particularly like molecular, cellular and developmental biology. When I'm not studying, I love spending time with my friends and family. I also enjoy running, reading and practising henna.