Olisa Okoh '13

Why did you decide to study abroad?

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 Olisa with a young girl from the New Seed International Orphanage where she volunteered.
My decision to study abroad was a very progressive process. As an African-American Studies and Psychology double major, a number of my courses reveled in the history and displacement of persons from various geographical locations, and their eventual settlement in the United States. The interplay between human behavior, thought processes, and historic life conditions continues to fascinate me, so I decided studying abroad would help to contextualize everything I’ve learned in my education thus far.

How did you choose where to go?

Studying abroad in Africa was pretty much a no brainer for me. Based on the requirements of my major, I could travel anywhere on the continent that I pleased. My top three considerations were South Africa, Senegal, and Ghana. I opted against South Africa because its colonial history is still ever so present, and Cape Town (in my opinion) was highly influenced by Europeans. I have had friends who studied in SA, and they all ended up saying that it felt like a huge European-international tourist city, as opposed to a city highly populated my native South Africans.  I ended up choosing Ghana because of its pertinent influence on Blacks in America. My family is also West African (Nigerian), so I was very invested in experiencing the similarities and differences between the countries of West Africa.  

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Hand woven Kente cloth from the Bonwire Kente Village--historical practice of royal cloth.
Can you briefly describe your program while abroad?

My program consisted of 40 American students who would directly enroll at The University of Ghana-East Legon Campus. East Legon is situated approximately 8 miles away from the capital city of Accra. It is a huge campus with over 40,000 undergraduate students. I went through CIEE—they had their own office located in the University of Ghana’s International Programmes Office. Within my program, we also had the option of living in one of the campus hostels or with a homestay family. I lived on campus with hundreds of thousands of African students, and took classes.

What were some highlights or memorable moments of the experience for you?

The most memorable moments of my study abroad semester occurred whilst I was traveling throughout Ghana, and experiencing both village and city life. Accra is very densely populated and was a very big college environment. I loved visiting smaller towns and villages, and interacting with local Ghanaians. Ghana as a whole is an extremely stable country, and the people there are genuinely kind. Every single day was an adventure. I could simple leave my hostel, strike up conversation with locals, and they’d engage me in whatever I was interested in. Most of my friends while abroad were Africans, so I really got to immerse myself in the culture. My program was also wonderful because if I ever needed to have time with other American students whom could relate to me, I also had them. 

What was your greatest challenge?

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 A night out with a few Ghanaian friends in central Accra.
Coming from a first-world stand point, I would get extremely frustrated with the superficial ways of life when they were not available in Ghana. Like many other developing countries, Ghana did not have 100% stable running water, electricity, internet, cell service, etc. Even though Accra was the capital city, and very heavily populated, the life pace in Ghana is very slow. As a student from New York City, I would also get annoyed when things didn’t move “fast enough” for me. Person-to-person interactions, long conversations, slow paces were common, and that was something that took some getting used to. The educational system was also very different. It was very self-learning based, and so lectures and courses were not where the majority of learning took place. 

How have you and/or your perspective changed after returning from study abroad?

I’ve learned to value the very simple things in life. I can now take a deep breath, appreciate my surroundings, and invest more time into getting to know people of quality. After an amazing 4+ months, words cannot fully describe how much I’ve loved and cherished my experience this past semester! Being in Ghana taught me an incredible amount of lifelong lessons—laughed (a lot), cried, yelled, danced, listened, and most importantly, stopped and embraced Ghana and all of its beauty. I can honestly say that I had never so genuinely happy and at peace! Ghana has changed me by embracing me, challenging me, my thoughts, my beliefs, and my ways of life. I am more patient, understanding, and flexible. 

What advice would you give to prospective study abroad students?

Take charge of your study abroad experience. Do not depend on your program, American friends, embassies, etc. to dictate what you’re “supposed” to do. ALWAYS step outside of your comfort zone. Forget what your parents taught you and talk to strangers. They’ll teach you the most. 

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 Labadi Beach in Accra  Cape Coast Ghana