Shatesha Morris' Study Abroad Journal

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Social work and criminal justice major Shatesha Morris is spending the academic year studying in Ghana. She shared excerpts from her study-abroad journal with Torchlight. 

Pre-Arrival

pre-arrival

I caught my flight from SFO International Airport at 4:30pm on August 8th, 2016. The previous night I said my last good-byes, finalized all of my packing, completely moved out of my apartment, and tried to prepare myself to embark on a life-changing journey. It all felt surreal, despite the extensive preparation. Everyone kept asking me how I felt, and truthfully, I was numb. I just knew that I was eager to grow, and experience life in an entirely different country. I wanted my comfort zone to be completely obliterated without knowing any idea what it would feel like, or require. I felt like I had everything I needed. I held my ticket, passport, luggage, plus a few other things that I also viewed as “essentials,” as if they were the only items I’d always have. It wasn't until I arrived at the SFO airport that studying abroad felt like much more than a distant dream. When I saw the departures sign along with “British Airways” listed I realized that this trip would not only be an unforgettable experience, but it would cause me to leave behind all of the things that once made me who I was. It hit me all at once, I would be away for ten months, and return a changed person.

Arrival

arrival

Prior to departure from the States, CSU students were separated into two groups. Some, including myself, flew out of San Francisco, and others flew out of Los Angeles. Fortunately, we all arrived in Heathrow, London around the same time and were able to catch the same flight to Accra, the capitol of Ghana. After two long flights, we officially landed in Ghana! Upon arrival, we were welcomed by three student assistants from the University of Ghana. They helped with our luggage and took us to our temporary campus dorm to meet the University of California students.

We learned a traditional song on the way to campus, and were welcomed to our new life for the next year! All CSU students will be here for an entire year, while only one will be staying the entire year from the UC system. In total, there are 23 students from California being represented at the University of Ghana for this academic year.

Yum

yum

The food in Ghana is amazing. It isn't hard to believe that everything is made through hard-work and love. Most of the dishes are quite spicy, so it took my body some time to adjust. The first week that I arrived I ate any and everything, until I figured out that it was best for me to slow down and take my time for the sake of my health. After the second week, I was missing the junk food of the U.S. I wanted a bag of Hot Cheetos, a few Watermelon Sour Patch, and a Take 5 candy bar. I missed being able to go to the nearest 24 hour Taco Shop to order Carne Asada Nachos at midnight, or a grocery store for Pecan Pie. Needless to say, most of those cravings have vanished. I’ve gotten accustomed to shopping at markets rather than big grocery stores, and found that I am very fond of the organic fruits and vegetables. Most importantly, I have learned to embrace and enjoy the spiciness of the traditional dishes. My favorite dish so far is Waakye, as pictured above. I usually mix the noodles with the beans and eat it the traditional way—using my hands. The beans are a bit spicy, but the egg helps me balance the spice. The plantains are another favorite of mine. They are cut, seasoned, and fried, which make them the perfect amount of crispy and sweet. If I do not have time to head to a restaurant for a meal, I can grab a quick snack before class from the “Night Market.” I usually purchase a bag of fresh pineapple along with ground nuts all for 1.50GH (1 Cedi, 50 Pesewas). The Night Market is walking distance from the International Student Hostel (where most international students reside), and is usually open until about 11pm. You can purchase anything from household items to fresh fruit and vegetables, or a to-go box of tasty ramen noodles with chicken and egg (which is a favorite among the international students). After 5 weeks, I have finally adjusted to the food of the beautiful Ghana! Honestly, I am not sure that I will be able to go back to the States and still be satisfied with Sour Patch, Hot Cheetos and a Take 5 bar. I may prefer a bag of freshly cut pineapple with a side of groundnuts!

Echoing Hills, Ghana, Sept. 19, 2016

yum

Echoing Hills Ghana is a non-profit organization located in West Africa. It ministers to those who are blind, deaf, handicapped, disabled, or homeless within the local community. Echoing Hills was established in 1994 by Reverend Cordell Brown. He began advocating for the disabled in Ohio and other areas of the Unites States. He recognized the inadequate support for disabled persons in Ghana and established Echoing Hills Ghana located in Madina-Ogbojo, Accra. For many people with disabilities in Ghana, life is not only a struggle to succeed, but also an everyday struggle to survive. Echoing Hills provides long-term housing, support and love to those who need it most!

I will be completing an entire year of my fieldwork placement at Echoing Hills. I currently complete 8 hours each week, and plan to continue doing so until my departure in June of 2017. I work on a micro level individual basis, as well as in a mezzo group setting and macro setting with the entire organization. I teach Math and English in the classrooms for the younger children, and assist the organization with suggestions for improvement. This organization does not have adequate support, so being there is an amazing way to give back to the community! The students, and organization deserve it. I am looking forward to growing within this organization.

Wili Waterfall, Volta Region, Ghana

waterfall

We departed for the Volta Region Saturday, September 24th, 2016. It took us about 4 1/2 to 5 hours to arrive. Along the way it began to thunderstorm, so we were all on edge about not being able to hike to see the waterfall. Fortunately, we were able to! By the time we arrived at the reception office, we were all hungry and eager. We packed our sandwiches and bathing suits ready to enjoy the site.

I did not know what to expect, I just knew that the hike and waterfall would be beautiful. As I envisioned, it was beyond amazing. The hike was only about 45 minutes, accompanied by several rivers and beautiful scenery (which I particularly loved). The water was roaring and violent. The opposite of what I envisioned—calm and graceful.

Needless to say, it was huge! Within about 2 minutes, my entire body (and phone) were soaked. Thus, it was difficult to capture pictures once we arrived, but that made the experience all the more enjoyable. Our entire group jumped into the water and left with an unforgettable experience.

Afterwards, we topped it off with our packed lunches—a delicious chicken or veggie sandwich with a side of pringles and lemon or chocolate cookies.

Home

waterfall

I finally feel completely at home in Ghana. It took lots of time and reflection, but I have so much support it is amazing. The fact that I feel at home 7,000+ miles away from family and friends, is still unfathomable. I can finally laugh at the worries I initially wrote about in my journal. I was afraid of walking around in the mall alone (I know, sounds dumb), was anxious about catching the trotro alone (major form of transportation), did not want to leave the dorms, hated the language barrier (Mesua Twi Daa--I study Twi Everyday), and avoided spicy foods at all costs. Despite the bumps in the road, I am blessed to be here and am humbled that I am able to have and cherish this experience. I love it in Ghana (and the FOOD....omg! I eat everything now...spicy or not, it is delicious, and my stomach/intestines (lol) can finally tolerate it all). I have met great people here, and even better mentors.

UC and CSU program coordinators have done a tremendous job at making us feel comfortable here. If there is ever an issue, we can notify one of them and they will handle it immediately. In addition to my program coordinators, my Ghanaian family has been extremely hospitable and loving. I do not know what I would do without them (CSU should consider allowing host families). I would much rather live with them than at the International Student Hostel, which is a lot louder and less homely for an introvert like myself. I met Uncle William Pitt and his two sons—who happen to be studying abroad in Toronto, Canada—back at CSU, Sacramento, for the Annual African Peace Conference hosted by the Center for African Peace and Conflict Resolution. He and his wife, auntie Anielle, have welcomed me into their home as their own.

They have indirectly taught me about parenting, love, discipline, support and most importantly family. I am looking forward to evolving as an individual throughout the duration of my stay in Ghana. It has been exactly 86 days, and 14 hours since I arrived in Accra, and I couldn't feel any better about my experience here. I believe studying abroad is truly essential to personal growth. The surplus of skills I am learning here.... I may have never learned them!

Yebehyiabio! (See you soon/We’ll meet again!)

Paris

paris

BONJOUR!!

To say the least, Paris was beyond beautiful. I can see why it has acquired the name “City of Love.” It was romantic in every way imaginable. Definitely a must-visit for couples. My best friend and I had the time of our lives. She flew out of CA and met me in Paris. We spent 5 days exploring the City of Love. We visited several well-known places such as the Louvre, Quartier Latin, Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, and Champs De Elysees just to name a few. Our stay wasn’t exactly perfect, but that’s what made the experience meaningful. We stayed in a flat that we discovered through Airbnb near Pere Lachaise. We bought tickets prior to arrival for a “Hop on/Hop off” bus tour, and Eiffel Tower Tour + Seine River Cruise. They were all fairly inexpensive, and well worth it. We also managed to obtain free tickets to a TEDx as well! We visited the Musee Du Louvre, and caught pics with the Mona Lisa (which is much smaller than I imagined)!

We bought one way metro tickets for 14 Euros 50 centime at a nearby store, and used google maps to guide us everywhere. We got lost several times trying to catch the metro, wore heels an entire day and complained the entire time, ordered food that we ended up not liking–but ate anyway—argued about absolutely nothing of substance, and struggled with our french pronunciation. By the time we left, we knew how to take the metro, where to eat the best food, what to do for fun and how to expertly communicate nonverbally. Truthfully, after we learned how to take the metro, everything else was a breeze! I realized that the joy of traveling is NOT getting everything perfect–knowing exactly what to do and how to do it–rather it is going with the flow and adjusting accordingly. We made the most of our experience, and left with unforgettable memories, and pictures of course! I officially have the travel bug… I can’t stop thinking about where I will visit next. Rome? Egypt? Spain? Who wants to come along?

Favorite Photo, November

paris

I was on my way back to the International Student Hostel, sitting in a car full of strangers. I couldn't help but wish I had the power to melt. I could not understand a word that was being said around me. I was forced to sit in humiliation, using my imagination to join the conversation. I couldn't shake the idea that there was a huge possibility they were all sharing laughter about me. Needless to say, I sat silently, finding comfort in the trees outside of the window. I couldn't shake the feeling of loneliness. I remember beating myself up for not being bilingual. After-all, in the moment all I wanted was to be visible. After what seemed like an eternity, their destination finally arrived. They scurried out of the car as I politely yelled, “Have a good night! Be safe!” They all quickly responded, “Thyou! You too!” I turned to nestle myself back into the comfort I found outside of the window, when I was abruptly interrupted by a woman who had been sitting next to me. She reached back into the car and said, “here, you can have this,” and placed this bracelet (pictured to the left) into my hand. I was confused at first, but then it dawned upon me. This was the same bracelet I complimented her on when she first jumped into the car. I smiled as big as I could, and sat there staring at it in disbelief. She had vanished before I could even say thank you. If she only understood what and how much this meant to me at the time. Thank you for making me feel visible!

(November)

The Art of it All

AnArt

You cannot understand Africa, or Ghana, through television, or even word of mouth. It takes experience and true humility. It takes a good pair of glasses that allows you too see everything as an art. When I first arrived, I couldn't hand wash my clothes without them holding a stench. My muscles ached from scrubbing my jeans and rinsing my towels. All because I made the mistake of complaining as I washed. "Ugh. I don't know how to do this. I've never hand washed ALL of my clothes before (because it's way different than washing a shirt or two)." I didn't master the technique until I realized that hand washing is an art, just like everything else here. It is something you must feel and appreciate. Something that will reveal your mistakes as the product is finished. You MUST find your own technique If you are like me, you must divide your clothes, soak them in a bucket, rub the laundry bar on each item, soak them again, scrub each item endlessly, rinse, ring out, and hang--or repeat and then hang.

I used to miss being able to throw my clothes in the washer/dryer. Now, I am able to understand the art of the sun. I put my clothes out to dry before its 12, because that's the hottest time of the day, and they’re dry by 6pm when the sun goes down. I must make sure that they do not sit too long, because that's how they obtain a stench, even if they're dry. I feel close to my clothing, because I understand how each article should be washed, and how it dries best. They depend on me, and I depend on the sun, and the sun depends on the hand that wrote it all.

I constantly ask myself, “Why do we need so much artificial when necessities are right at our disposal? Like bare hands, and a sun that always rises.” In Ghana, people d not depend on systems, machines, or factories, people depend on people. That is why everything is an Art. You are forced to learn.

Weather in Ghana, Nov. 13, 2016

AnArt

Back in the states, winter is approaching. People are bringing out their peacoats and scarves. In Ghana, we aren't packing up our "summer" attire. In fact, we won't need any of the long sleeve shirts we packed. Yes, you heard me...It is only BEGINNING to become warmer here! In Ghana there are only two seasons. (Hence how school semesters here aren't referred to as "Fall" or “Spring"). These two seasons are known as the "rainy season" and the "dry season." The rainy season usually begins in April and persists all the way through Mid- November. Thus, the commencement of the dry season follows. Today, it was 90 degrees Fahrenheit, with a humidity of 81%. I was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, so it isn't necessarily the heat that is hard to handle, rather it is the heat coupled with HUMIDITY. Luckily, the dry season reduces humidity a bit. All-in-all, I'm HOT!! Literally...I miss the cold weather intimately. I want to bundle up next to a fireplace and drink a cup of hot chocolate. Even though I probably wouldn't have done that back home anyway, it sounds nice in theory. It is difficult to picture Christmas in the heat. Nonetheless, I am excited to see what it entails! Will I be able to find fuzzy santa hats? Should be very interesting!

Mt. Afadjato, Nov. 21

afadjato

Who else can can say they hiked the highest peak in Ghana?

The trip took an arm and a leg, maybe even more, but I wouldn't trade the experience for anything that wouldn’t have tested me the same. In just 48 hours, I learned an abundance of lessons regarding life. Initially, myself and three other California students committed to make the trek to Mt. Afadjato; however, hours before our set departure time, two students bailed. Through this, I learned my first lesson. Lesson #1. ‘Things happen, so we must go with the flow, no expectations.’ Not-so-surprisingly, it tied in well with the rest of the day. Luckily, my travel partner, Emily Hernandez, was just as committed to maintaining a positive attitude throughout the trip as I was After what seemed like a scattered morning full of failed plans, my travel partner and I, hurried to Madina station and caught a trotro to Hohoe. By the time we arrived in Hohoe, 6 hours away from Accra, it was around 8pm and most public transportation had stopped running. As a result, we were forced to pay 50cedis for a cab to Wli where Mt. Afadjato is. Definitely had not budgeted for that. This is when I learned lesson #2, still keeping lesson #1 in mind.

Lesson #2: ‘Everything will work out. Just maintain a positive attitude.’ Despite spending more than we expected, the cab driver reassured us that he knew where our selected lodge was located. Well, we stayed in a lodge overnight, just not the one we planned to stay in. We were safe, which is ultimately all that mattered. We woke at 6 am the next morning to beat the heat for the hike. We had planned on eating a nice breakfast, but dreams were crushed when we were told that the Mountain was actually another 70km away. We were told that the taxi driver would take us to the mountain and back to the lodge for 50cedis. Again, we had not budgeted to pay another 50cedis for a taxi ride. Plus, we still had to find our way back to Hohoe then Accra. Through this, I learned Lesson #3, this lesson is: ‘Use expert bargaining skills at all times. Make “Menni Sika. Meye Osuani Wo Legon (I don't have money. I am a student at Legon)” your favorite phrase. It’ll get you far, (even though Twi is not the main language in the Volta Region, it is still understood). Long story short, we skipped breakfast in order to preserve funds for the taxi ride. We successfully bargained to pay the taxi driver 90cedis to take us to the mountain, wait for us, and take us back to Hohoe so we could catch the Accra trotro.

We made it to Mt. Afadjato before 7am. After what seemed like an endless trail, accompanied by profuse perspiration, we made it to the top! The hike was extremely difficult, but the view was stunning. Lesson #3: ‘Don't stop when it gets difficult, the view is always amazing.’ Shortly after, we arrived in Hohoe and were able to climb straight onto the Accra trotro. We had to wait about 4 hours for the trotro to fill, but the wait taught us lesson #4, ‘Patience is golden.’ We were able to ride in the passenger seats the entire way home!

Around 8pm, we made it back safely, and, well, hungry! Emily, captioned her mountain picture on her Instagram page with, “That one time I made the 5hr+ trip to the Volta Region after successfully pulling an all-nighter…Even cedi after cedi that seemed to run through my hands like water…I am able to say that I climbed Mt. Afadjato, the highest peak of Ghana, and experience the most breathtaking view. I mean that both figuratively and literally. I would tell you about the drive to get home, but maybe I’ll just tell you that maintaining a sense of humor in the hottest parts of the day and holding onto patience when waiting in the heat for 4 hours just for the trotro to fill up was a challenge but kept me sane…But sparing any other details from this…is that its important to just go for the wildest adventures that will test you in the most difficult ways because they will teach you the most valuable lessons.” - Emily Hernandez. As Emily well articulated, the trip was a true test of commitment. Through the weekend adventure, we were taught lessons that will remain for the rest of our lives.

Basket Weaving, Nov. 23, 2016

basket

I never thought I would learn how to weave my own basket. But, I did and am very pleased with its appearance. In fact, I love it so much that I’ve even named it. I call it the “Basket of Hope.” When I arrive home, I immediately dump various pocket trinkets into it, to accompany a few important business cards that I've received from people. I am adamant about neatly wrapping my earphones and placing them in my basket. I guess one could say that each item reminds me of my aspirations.

Throughout the day, I periodically glance at the business cards and ask myself, “Who is someone that I should reach out to today?” My earphones remind me of “self-care” and the importance of always prioritizing activities that help one decompress from the day. The loose change reminds me that I need to save in order to reach my goal. Lastly, the note far in the back reminds me that I have a family that loves me very much. I did not think I would like my basket, but it surpassed my expectations and serves as a daily reminder of the things I embody in life. When I return, I plan to give it to my Grandma Lydell as a gift! I hope she will also find it useful.

Lord of the Wings, Dec. 2, 2016

LordoftheWings

"Gourmet" Meals If a friend invites you out for a free dinner, do NOT decline! Oftentimes, I still find it mind boggling that meals like this are not an everyday convenience anymore. I have decided to title them "Gourmet," because truthfully, eating out in Accra is definitely a luxury.

Non-traditional restaurants can be quite expensive, especially if you no longer convert GHC to USD. A few of my friends from Tufts University (Boston) invited me to eat with them at a popular restaurant in Accra called, "Lord of the Wings." I agreed; after-all, the entire meal would be their treat! Though the food looks similar to something found at Denny’s back home, it seemed like nothing short of a gourmet meal sent straight from the heavens. A total of 10 students ate for about 2300 cedis, or about 567.50 USD! Pictured to the right is the receipt of all the food we ordered, and the money that was used to pay for it all. I have truly learned to appreciate meals as such.

Sunrise & Sunset, Dec. 16th, 2016

LordoftheWings

I am extremely fond of the sunsets in Ghana, however, watching the sunrise each morning is equally as breathtaking. I cannot even begin to describe how beautiful they both truly are. I dedicate time to watch the sun rise, and set, everyday. Fortunately, catching either is not a difficult task. The sun rises and sets around the same, about 6am/6pm everyday.

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