The GoGlobal Blog


Highs and Lows

Highs and Lows

It’s hitting me that I’ve been in Ireland for almost two months, and before I know it I’ll already be home. I know, I know – it’s still October, how can I be freaking out about leaving in December? But how can I be okay with leaving a country I’ve never felt more at home in? How can I relax when every second flies by and before I know it I’ll only be left with memories? I want to hold onto this feeling for the rest of my life, I’m not ready to go. When you study abroad, you have to accept that there will be highs and lows. The highs are very high and the lows are, well, extremely low. For most people, including many of my friends, the lows are homesickness and missing family and friends. For me, it’s homesickness for a country that I have not even left yet. It’s homesickness for a country that has only been my home for such a short amount of time.

My imminent fate of returning to Chicago hangs over me like the clouds that are all too prevalent in the Irish sky, but the highs outweigh the lows. I can’t be sad for too long because I’m too busy having the time of my life exploring the pubs of Dublin or green hills of Kerry. I can’t linger on the idea of leaving when I’m learning how to Irish dance with locals. And I definitely can’t get distracted while I’m in my classes at University College Cork, because – let’s face it – school is the only thing I don’t love about Ireland. Everything is different but, for the most part, everything is good (besides the exam I have coming up this week).

Over the past month, I have spent every weekend taking trips all over the country, which is something I had not intended to do before I came. Ireland is a fairly small country so I assumed once you see part of it, you see it all. I could not have been more wrong and I’m so grateful to have dedicated my first half of the semester solely to Ireland. From Northern Ireland’s Belfast to the “South City” Cork, I have traveled far and wide to see as much of it as I can. I might be biased, but Cork is my favorite out of all of the cities I’ve visited, which is funny because Cork was not my first option to study at. Fate works in really weird ways, and I was really bummed when I realized I couldn’t afford Dublin, and now I could not be happier. I loved every second of my trip to Dublin but Cork is farther outside of my urban comfort zone which has really changed the way I view the world. Everything here is so much simpler and I want to live this lifestyle forever.

As some of my bigger trips to other countries in Europe are approaching, I hope that I still have plenty of time to find the hidden gems around Ireland. One semester is not nearly enough time but I think I am making the most out of it. I’m really excited to leave the country and go visit some other countries, starting with Switzerland this weekend! I know I’m going to have so much fun but deep down, I also know that nowhere will feel like home just like Cork.

Falling in Love with the Many Faces of Ireland

Falling in Love with the Many Faces of Ireland

I absolutely love Cork City. To me, it feels very small and quaint, but to the people in surrounding areas it is a huge urban center. To put things into perspective: you can drive out of the heart of the city and within 10 minutes you’re going through rolling green hills with cows and horses. It feels like a huge escape from the hustle and bustle of Chicago, a breath of fresh air. But after exploring the Irish countryside last week, I realized that my little town was only the beginning.

We took a trip out to Mizen Head, the most southwestern point of Ireland. Although it’s still in County Cork, it feels like a completely different world. After driving through the never ending greenery for 3 hours, we reached one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever laid my eyes on. I am undoubtedly a city girl, but when I walked out along the cliffs with the wind in my hair and the waves crashing down on the rocks far below me, I felt a certain kind of exhilaration that only nature can provide. In this moment I knew that I was truly meant to come here. Despite all of the stress of school, travel, money, and so much more, it all felt worth it. This was the picturesque Ireland I had always imagined it would look like: tall grass blowing in the breeze on top of cliffs with no sign of civilization in sight.

Then there’s the other side of Ireland. The historical, yet mythical side of the island, where you can stand in a stone box that was once a bedroom 600 years ago inside of a castle and climb up flights and flights of stairs to kiss a stone because it is supposedly magical. Sometimes I feel like I’m walking through the set of a Disney movie, because in our very “new” America we aren’t used to bumping into history everywhere you look.

But I think my favorite part of all is getting to each destination. We’ve been taking buses everywhere from Mizen Head all the way to Giant’s Causeway on the coast in Northern Ireland, and it really gives you an amazing look into what most of the country looks like. On the days that we travel, I probably see more sheep than I do humans. I had this picture of Ireland in my head but I didn’t expect it to be so breathtaking in person. There are many moments where I look out at the beautiful scenery and everything just feels so right, and although locals make fun of me every time I talk I kind of feel like I belong here. My cheeks are in a constant state of pain because I can’t stop smiling, which, besides my aching legs from climbing up cliffs, is the best pain you could ever have.


A Day Trip to Cobh, Ireland

A Day Trip to Cobh, Ireland

Last weekend we took a little trip to a nearby town called Cobh. I don’t really know why we went, because when we looked up the town there didn’t seem to be much to do. The internet actually told us that one of the most popular things to do in Cobh was to go visit Cork, where we live. Needless to say, we didn’t have extremely high expectations.

We decided to just go for it and made the trek to the train station, where we got on the cleanest train I’ve ever seen in my life and looked out at the Irish landscape roll by for a half hour. It dropped us off at a beautiful coastal town where the sun peeked through the clouds to shine on a cathedral on the top of the hill. We didn’t have a plan or know what to do, so we just set out and walked down the colorful streets with cafes and shops without a care in the world. We stopped to smell the roses, literally, because there were flowers outside of every shop and on every corner. After drinking lattes and eating bagels on the street, we ventured up the hill to the cathedral as the bells chimed and took in the view of Cobh from above. The view looked over the multi-colored town and the water that was sprinkled with sailboats. The smell of the ocean was my favorite part – there was something so comforting in the fact that I could be thousands of miles away and it still has that same smell.

After taking in all of the intricate details on the inside of the cathedral and posing for way too many pictures in front of blue houses on hilly streets, we ended our day sitting at the end of a pier with our legs hanging off, listening to crashing waves, and soaking up the bits of sun that we could. Cobh has quite a few sites and museums aimed at tourists and although I probably would have loved them, it was nice to show up with no itinerary and just walk around and get a little lost. I am a sucker for the little things; my favorite way to spend an afternoon is to find a corner in a cozy coffee shop and people watch. I have a hefty list of attractions and sights that I need to see before I leave Ireland but more than anything I want to take in every bit of this easygoing lifestyle. I am not usually one to travel without a plan but I learned that sometimes you need to escape to a small town you know nothing about and just go.

Changing Perspectives

Changing Perspectives

I started my senior year of college today and I have never felt more like a freshman. Attending a new school is intimidating enough, let alone when it’s in a foreign country. As an American, I know people are going to make certain assumptions about me (and I don’t blame them), so I’m trying my hardest to blend in and defy the obnoxious American stereotype. I’m a bit clueless about everything but I’m figuring it out with the help the friends I’ve made so far.

A lot has happened this week, but rather than dive into all of the big details about my new apartment, friends, and school, there’s a lot of little things I want to write about that have already made me fall in love with Cork. Like the way you walk into a pub and instantly feel like you’re in somebody’s warm home. Or the way your heels click as you embrace the 20 minute walk down the cobblestone streets to get to the nearest grocery store. Or how a rainy day is really just a constant mist that’s not enough to make your hair wet, but enough to make the ground sparkle.

It didn’t sink in that I was actually in Ireland until I was sitting in a pub, drinking cider and listening to two old men playing the mandolin and singing traditional Irish music. Up until this point, I had been walking around the beautiful streets of Cork feeling like I was in a dream, but this was the moment when I thought, “wow, I’m really here.” I had a laundry list of cities and countries that I wanted to visit while I’m living in Europe, and I know I will check a few of them off this semester, but now that I’m here I realize that I truly want to take in every second of Ireland that I can. I haven’t ventured outside of Cork yet, but this city is so beautiful in ways that I can’t even describe, and I’m sure the rest of the country will continue to amaze me.

I had always been the type of girl who was happiest in a big city and could only fall in love with a place where the sun shines, but Ireland, you might be changing me.

The End

The End

The last time I lived in a building with communal bathrooms and kitchen was my first year at Loyola. I hated it then. I wanted my own space and privacy and I wanted to be able to hide from people I didn’t want to talk to. I knew I would never choose to live in a communal hall like that, but I also didn’t think I’d ever happen to live in one again.

Living communally, however, has been the backbone of my small time in Ghana. It’s made me question why Americans are so bent over backwards about maintaining their privacy, about keeping private spaces walled off from public spaces.

On my first night here, I spent about an hour playing games with the other USAC students who all gathered in the room that would become mine. From the very beginning, I realized that the spaces I occupy here would become shared spaces. Even the things I own here have been shared freely or borrowed indefinitely. I’m an introvert but I’ve become used to never being alone here in Ghana.

On my last night here, I was alone in my room as I packed my things to return home. The rest of the students in my program had left. It struck me that I was the last of us to arrive here, and I was the last one to leave. Now, that loneliness is breaking my heart. I’ll never again walk some few doors down and ask Laura to use her electric kettle, or walk further down the hall and ask Sharne to file my nails; Gerry isn’t here to lend me money for water, Chase isn’t here to open her door for me when I ask her to make me dinner. This community of international students has, in my opinion, become the most essential part to my well-being in Ghana.

Some of the USAC students (not including me) at the wedding of our resident director.

Beyond the doors of the hostel, a similar sense of community is laced in the air that I breathe. Vendors at the Night Market cooperate with little competition. Students preparing for finals share notes and ideas that will help them write their exam. If I don’t know where I’m going or where to find something, I’ll receive help from the first person I ask. Friends are easily made and kept. Everyone is my sister and my brother. And I became a part of these communities from the moment I stepped off the plane in January.

I’m keeping this post short because writing it is making me tear up. I am and will always be infinitely grateful for those I’ve met here who made me see the value of a life lived communally. My heart aches at the distance that will soon separate us. I want Chicago to be closer to Reno and Columbia, Las Cruces and Boston, DC and wherever the hell Sharne lives just so I can get on a train and be at your door. You all helped me become part of a home here, a home in which I feel protected and uplifted and uninhibited – a home whose dynamic would have collapsed as soon as any of acted selfishly.

To my two aunties and the USAC student staff who helped me learn the ropes of life in Ghana, thank you for being patient and kind with a clueless international student like myself. To the countless University of Ghana students who I met and talked with, thank you for answering my questions and letting me enjoy your beautiful country. To my UG professors, some of whom frustrated me, thank you for teaching me about Africa from an African perspective.

Laken and me at our Aunty Abigail’s traditional wedding. Her dress for the ceremony is made of Ghanaian woven fabric called kente.

I will keep all of you in my heart always. You’ve made coming to Ghana the best decision I’ve ever made for myself.

May Their Souls Rest in Perfect Peace

May Their Souls Rest in Perfect Peace

Last weekend, I left Accra for the first time in a while to go to Cape Coast, a mid-size city some 150 kilometers west of the capital. Cape Coast is known to many Africans and oburonis alike for its role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, but aside from that I found it to be a bright, lively town of merchants and fisherfolk happy to see visitors.

On the rocky shore of the ocean is situated a massive castle, covered in white lime to reflect the hot sun, but weathered from years of salty spray. Hawkers, painters, vendors and their booths line the street leading up to the compound’s entrance. Akwaaba resounds from their mouths at the sight of foreigners. A tour of the property was 40 Ghana cedis for a non-Ghanaian student like myself. The price for a Ghana resident was significantly lower – around 15 cedis for an adult pass. Three of my friends and I joined a tour that had just gotten started. The group was 90% white people. It was the most white people I’ve seen here in one place outside of UG’s campus.

Our tour guide was a young man named Frances who studies at the University of Cape Coast, one of Ghana’s most highly ranked universities. We joined him and the group in the castle courtyard facing the ocean, the parapet lined with rusted black cannons and piles of mortar shells. I squinted as the sun bounced off the whitewashed walls and as mist from the waves blew into my eyes.

Courtyard of Cape Coast Castle. 

Frances spoke with an exacted rhythm and tone that told me he’s done this dozens, maybe hundreds of times before. I followed him practically on his heels as he led us through the courtyard and toward a dungeon entrance. He invited us to put our heads into a 3×3 hole in the wall with a crumbled staircase that led to a dark tunnel. It smelled like must and salt and faintly of ghosts.

If you, dear reader, know nothing of the slave castles that are littered across the “Slave Coast” of Africa, I beg that you soon learn.

Established by the British, the Dutch, the Portuguese, the French, these castles served many purposes for the growing imperial economies of the fifteenth through nineteenth centuries. They housed the European merchant leaders and, later, colonial administrators who supervised imports and exports from major towns along the Gulf of Guinea – Abidjan in Cote d’Ivoire; Lome in Togo; Lagos in Nigeria; Takoradi, Accra, and Cape Coast in the Gold Coast. In exchange for the promise of European trade, the land to build these structures was sold by the African leaders whose people had lived there for generations. They were designed as commercial hubs, defensible forts, and corrals for the human livestock around which trade boomed.

Scale model of Cape Coast Castle.

This legacy was in the air that I breathed as I stepped under an arch leading to the female slave dungeons. Like before, I was met with the smell of old dirt, wet rock, and thousands of ghosts spread out across two small chambers. Our wise guide explained how young adult women were kept in these rooms for weeks or months at a time, in total darkness with no air, surrounded by hundreds of their sisters.

Across the castle were the male dungeons, made up of three chambers, deeper underground. Frances bent over and placed his hand against the wall about a foot off the ground where there was a deep stain in the rock. Here, he said, was how deep in shit and vomit hundreds of men had to stand and sleep and eat.

On the south side of the chamber were about a hundred small sculptures of men’s faces carved into stone. Many of them were grimacing, or had their mouths open in shock, or simply looked broken – literally and metaphorically. Frances suddenly asked us to look at the faces. Did they look familiar? Whose faces did we see?

A sculpture similar to those found in the male dungeons.

“You might see my face,” he said, as he looked up from the sculptures directly into my eyes.

Whose ghosts were down there? Was it his family? Was it the father of any of the Black Americans I knew back home? People I graduated high school with? These ghosts came from Ghana, sure, but also from Nigeria, and from Benin, and Burkina Faso – maybe even further inland from Mali, or Sudan, or the Congo.

I blinked tears away as I broke eye contact with Frances and with the hundreds of men who stared at me from the dark floor of the chamber.

Upstairs, we faced a huge wooden door painted black with a plaque above reading “Door of No Return.” It was this door which led to the water, where small boats would shuttle captives out to the ships anchored offshore. Countless bodies passed through this door, never to step foot on their mother soil again. Of the twenty million who were led through this door and doors like it across the Slave Coast, only fifteen million survived to see the New World where they would be enslaved (N.B. below).

Five million ghosts, not counting those who died on the march from the inland to the coast, those who died in these dungeons, or those who died on plantations in the Americas. Five million dead not counting their descendants who didn’t survive convict leasing in the coal mines, or the Jim Crow South, or the prison-industrial system of today.

I felt all these souls as I left the castle. My skin, white as the walls that were beaten by the waves, crawled.

View of the coast and the Gulf of Guinea from the Door of No Return.

Examining my position as an American who has inadvertently benefited from the stolen labor of these bodies, I am humbled, humiliated, and somber. I am privileged enough to know where my ancestors came from. I know the names given to them at birth by their people. My ancestors were not doomed to a fate such as this – snatched from their homes, forced to walk hundreds of kilometers to be shipped thousands more kilometers across the sea, and given names foreign to their tongues. Of all the benefits I reap from the color of my skin, this is perhaps the most heart-wrenching. To my Black American sisters and brothers back home, I weep with you at the number of souls lost to the slave trade.

But more importantly, I will fight with you to get back what was stolen, to hold accountable those who devalue your lives and your labor to this day. Africans and oburonis alike – we, the living – vow to uphold this.

The exterior of the Door of No Return, relabeled the Door of Return for those of the African Diaspora who return through the archway.

N.B. There is much disagreement on the exact number of people captured from Africa and brought to the Americas, due to inadequate primary materials from the slave traders. Twenty million captives is generally the lowest estimate. Most agree, however, that of the millions who embarked on the Middle Passage, anywhere from 10-20% of them died on the journey. For more information on the particular controversies surrounding the historiography of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, see Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (Panaf Publishing: Abuja) 2009 ed., especially pp. 108-120.

For further reading on the African Diaspora, especially from a Ghanaian-“American” perspective, I highly recommend Yaa Gyasi’s debut novel Homegoing (Knopf: New York, 2016).

Additionally, the literature of Ta Nehesi-Coates and James Baldwin provide insights on the contemporary experiences of Black men in America as they have been shaped by America’s legacy of institutionalized racism.

Bi Nka Bi – No One Should Bite the Other

Bi Nka Bi – No One Should Bite the Other

At the edge of campus on the Wednesday before Easter, Phil, Elly, and I climbed into an SUV in our Sunday best. We were on our way to the wedding of someone named Ethan from Florida – someone none of us knew.

The driver of the SUV was a young woman named Selly. She wore her natural hair and was dressed in a white lace dress that starkly contrasted her smooth, dark skin. Her mother was in the passenger seat, also dressed in white. She plugged her iPhone into the center console and played Ghanaian pop music as we drove off campus. As we introduced ourselves from the backseat, I was struck by her sudden comfort with us, three young white people whom she’d never met. I grew to be equally comfortable with her on the short ride to the venue.

The event was a traditional Ghanaian engagement and marriage ceremony. It involves the groom-to-be and his family presenting gifts of food, drink, and cash to the family of the bride-to-be. Today, the groom was not Ghanaian, and neither was his family, but he still was presenting gifts in exchange for the bride’s hand. But his family remained in Florida – so who would be able to participate in the wedding?

TL;DR, it was his sisters Elly and Anna, and his brother Phil.

Family pic. LtR: Elly, George, Georgina, Ethan, me, Phil.

The long version is that the bride, Georgina, was friends with Selly, the woman who picked us up at campus, and Selly used to work in UG’s International Programming Offices, where USAC’s current resident director Abigail is stationed. Selly petitioned Abigail on behalf of Georgina for Abigail to send some American students to act as a surrogate family for the groom. Otherwise, Ethan would have no family who could present the wedding gifts. Got it? Ethan -> Georgina -> Selly -> Abigail -> Anna -> Elly, Phil.

Doesn’t matter. On the Wednesday before Easter, Anna, Elly, and Phil were adopted family members for Ethan from Florida.

Technicalities of the ceremony requirements aside, I ask you, dear reader, to imagine being in Ethan’s position. How would you feel coming to Ghana for the first time to get married? Would you invite strangers to be in your wedding party? Would you ask a stranger to become your sister, knowing that you might never meet again?

Akosua, sister of the bride, and her partner at the drinks table.

The ceremony was lively and loud and beautiful. The bride, Georgina, was dressed in a two-piece dress woven of multicolored kente, with jewelry around her neck and adorning her hair, and she was holding a fan made of white feathers. She took my breath away, and I bet Ethan felt similarly. We were invited to sing, dance, shake the hands of Georgina’s family, take photos with cousins and sisters, invited to a feast fit for royalty. And the event wasn’t in a banquet center or a huge garden – it was in Georgina’s family home.

Now, can you put yourself in this position? Your daughter is getting married to an American man whose ways of life are vastly different from your own. He isn’t familiar in the Akan marriage tradition, and yet he still wants to participate in one. What does it take for you to open your home to him and his (albeit, fake) family? To offer them food, welcome them into your home, dance and sing with them, add photos with them to the wedding album that you will show your future grandchildren?

Tables set up under a marquee in the yard of the family house.

Phil, Elly, and I decided to leave the festivities just as the heat of the sun was becoming weak, around 4pm. I was full of fufu and jollof and sobolo with a huge smile on my face, and the three of us joked about the more bizarre aspects of the day as we waited by the house gate for Selly to come out.

She drove us to ISH and the drive back felt a lot longer than the drive there. As we left the car, I said yɛbɛhyia – see you later. Literally, it means “we will meet again.”


Alone in my room, I sat in thought and wonder at the hospitality of everyone I’d encountered that day. The whole day had felt surreal, but comfortable. As Selly got to know me in her car, I felt appreciated. When Ethan asked me to fill the role of his sister, I felt honored. When Georgina’s family opened their doors to me, I felt accepted. I’d suddenly felt at home with this family I didn’t know and the family I’d just become a part of. What new kind of hospitality was this? There were no presuppositions, no judgments, no uncomfortable gazes – they welcomed me as if they had always known me as an intimate friend. Even the language of the Akan is welcoming: everyone greets you with akwaaba – you are welcome here; saying thank you, medaase, literally means “I lay at your feet;” yɛbɛhyia – we will meet again.

Can you put yourself in my position?

I navigate my small part of Accra with the language of laying yourself at a stranger’s feet, ensuring them you will always meet again. I cram myself in the back of a trotro with a stranger pressing their arm up against me. Strangers ask me where I’m from, asking me for my phone number so they can get to know me. Sometimes, men ask if I will marry them as I’m waiting in line to get lunch.

What do you do when socialization requires a level of intimacy with strangers that you’re not familiar with? When the friend of a friend of a friend asks you to pretend to be someone’s sister? When suddenly your understanding of personal space is inconsequential?

I am endlessly grateful that I am able to be here in Accra, but I think I am more grateful to those I’ve met along the way, whose attitudes of intimacy and hospitality have sometimes been challenging. I didn’t come here to be comfortable, so I don’t resist these challenges. Was Selly comfortable putting three American kids in her car to take them across town? Did Ethan get married in Ghana without his family present because it was more comfortable? Was it comfortable for Georgina and her family to open their home to American strangers? Maybe, maybe not. But what rises above insistence on personal boundaries and comfort is extending welcoming to strangers.

It might be hard for you to put yourself in my position. If it is, I challenge you to look more closely at Africans, at Ghanaians, at the city of Accra. They might be strangers to you, but they don’t bite. You are welcome here.

The newlyweds dancing after the ceremony.



Comprehensive and Universal

Comprehensive and Universal

cath·o·lic \ˈkath-lik , ˈka-thə-lik\ adj 2: comprehensive, universal; especially: broad in sympathies, tastes, or interests

Homesickness is much different than I anticipated. I’ve experienced longing, obviously, whether for a place or a person, and I know what that feels like. But being in Accra for four months is a little different than spending a couple weeks away from family in the states. Vast space and time are between me and the rest of my familiar world, and sometimes it hurts my heart. These are manageable feelings, and I know they are neither unique to me nor profound. They are just things people feel when they study abroad, and they are things that come and go.

What helps, though, is to catch glimpses of the universality of life on this huge planet.

Sunday the 25th of February, I went to Catholic mass for what was the first time in a month. Circumstances and laziness had kept me from going during my first four weeks in Accra, but that Sunday was a fortuitous one.

I’ve got fourteen and a half good good years of Catholic education under my belt, and I know what a Catholic mass feels like. It’s catholic – universal. It’s said in the vernacular (which, here, is fortunately my first language), all the prayers are the same, and it follows a playbook that saves me from having to really make any decisions during the service. During mass, whether or not I’m feeling particularly faithful that day, I feel comfortable. I feel connected to myself and those around me. And then after the hour, I feel peaceful and calm.

At home, I go to mass because it’s part of my routine and part of my extracurricular commitment. I participate in the ritual because it brings me these feelings of peace that, I believe, bring me closer to God. I also know that I have friends, even a second family, in my faith-based communities in Chicago and Ohio.

But here, I went to mass on Sunday the 25th because I needed something that felt familiar.

I have weird moments here where I feel turbulent, unsettled, and alien, when I know that I should instead be feeling like I belong. The week before the 25th was peppered with many of these moments, and I was desparately in need of an anchor. I knew there was a St. Thomas Aquinas Church on campus, a forty-minute walk from my hostel. I knew they had two mass times on Sunday mornings, so I decided to go to the second one at 9am.

The worship space was semi-circular, with rows of pews surrounding the altar on three sides. One side was occupied by the choir and a small podium for the choir director to stand on. Facing the altar, there were two projection screens displaying the lyrics to the hymns for the service, as there were no missals provided for the congregation in the pews.

A badly taken photo of the worship space from the choir loft.

Genuflecting, I took a seat in the center section near the back as the procession was beginning. All at once, with the incense to my left, the choir to my right, and the altar displaying a Chi Rho before me, I felt exactly as peaceful as I needed to be. I don’t think it was my faith which brought me to this calmness, because I can practice my faith anywhere. And it wasn’t necessarily the environment of the relatively humble worship space that impacted me.

Instead, I think I experienced contentment because I was experiencing something familiar. Something universal. Something catholic.

Since Sunday the 25th, I’ve been searching for these universal experiences from which to draw serenity. I’ve found them in teenagers who walk home from school in groups of two and three, gossiping among themselves; in street vendors and bartenders who get my attention when I forget my change; in the way the earth smells after a light rain. This week I ended up in the hospital with a fever, and the nurse taking a blood sample from me asked how school was going so I wouldn’t feel nervous. The other day I tripped over the sidewalk in a place where the cobblestones had been upset by a growing tree root. Once I saw a toddler take a faceplant in the dirt before promptly getting up and continuing to run along with her older siblings.

When I take a beat to slow down and reflect on what I’m feeling, I recognize these catholic moments. A moment that doesn’t necessarily remind me of anything or anywhere, because I don’t think that would help my homesickness. Rather I cherish moments that could happen anywhere, and in these I feel peace.

I really am trying to make myself feel like I can be a part of this place, to truly be where my feet are. Sometimes it feels hard when I know I’m not staying for a very long time, but I’m trying nonetheless. How do I balance a mindful effort to be present at this university with genuine feelings of longing for the family, friends, and places that are familiar?

Truthfully, I’m unsure. And I’d love for any tips and tricks.

But I bet if I spend enough time pursuing these moments of universality, seeking the catholic facets of my world, and leaning in to my Catholic faith, I just might find some answers.

Ad majorem dei gloriam,


Getting Scammed: A Personal Adventure in Microeconomics

Getting Scammed: A Personal Adventure in Microeconomics

“No, no, its eleven cedis.”


On the counter in a campus café was a can of Coke and a peach Snapple, but I only had offered a five cedi note to the man behind the counter. He told me the Snapple was 6 and the Coke was 5. I was incredulous.

“Five cedis for the Coke?”

The attendant clicked his tongue at me in affirmation.

I reluctantly fished more cash out of my small wallet and handed it over. I left the building with my lunch and drinks and walked back to the International House where I was waiting in between classes, all the while thinking that I had just bought a Coke from the same gentleman last week for 2gh, 50p.

One New Ghanaian Cedi is worth just less than a US quarter. Change is in pesewa values, and logically 100p is equal to 1gh. I’ve heard the government mints a 1p coin, but it’s of such little value that I’ve never seen it in circulation (Take a hint @US).

Usually, I spend around 100gh per week on meals. I can get a full meal and drink for around 2-5gh and I typically only eat 2 full meals a day. I do a lot of snacking.

By now I’ve become familiar with the places where I can get the most for my money. There’s a, for lack of a better term, food court called Bush Kanteen between ISH (where I live) and the main classroom buildings where I can get a full plate of rice for 2gh and a soda for 1. The night market just outside ISH has meals around 5gh, and at JQB, the lecture building with the café in question, I get a serving of rice and a Coke for 4gh.

A plate of fried rice and an egg, a meal that kept me full for most of the afternoon and only set me back 2gh.

I’ve been to JQB more than a few times for snacks and water and food, and they’ve pretty much remained consistent with their prices, until yesterday. I racked my brains to figure out why the man charged me double for a soda; the only difference I could ascertain was that I asked for a Coke in a can instead of a plastic bottle – but aren’t cans always cheaper than bottles? I already knew that the cheapest way to get soda is in a glass bottle, since the glass is sent back to the manufacturer and reused, but I’ve never paid more for aluminum than for plastic.

I didn’t want to consider that this nice guy, who’s got to recognize me by now, scammed me.

Scammed! In my fourth week here! Frankly I’m embarrassed.

In our first week here we were lectured on the local cash economies that allow Accra to function. Unless at a supermarket or shop in the mall, the price for an item is negotiable with the seller, and most sellers immediately double or triple their selling price at the sight of my skin. I’ve become decent at these interactions, resisting any seller who I know won’t budge on their prices, and returning to sellers who keep their prices consistently low. Sometimes I walk away knowing I was probably overcharged, but the exchange rate of the cedi is such that I’m rarely concerned.

I thought I was getting the hang of it, but if the same guy doubled his price for me and I paid without resisting, maybe I’m not.

I know I’m allowed to make mistakes, both here and at home. And I know that a mistake that cost me less than a dollar isn’t a lot to get worked up about. But shouldn’t I be able to tell when I’m being taken advantage of? I find myself unable to stand up for myself and insist that I’m being overcharged, or insist that I’m being treated poorly in other situations. Sometimes this is as simple as 2gh, and sometimes it’s a lot more harmful (I’m still working on how to talk about an example of this that happened last weekend, so be patient with me). And I know I’ll never blend in here, but every time I let someone take advantage of me because I’m American, I feel less confident about my presence here.

This is me holding myself accountable in writing – next time I go to JQB for a pop, I’m only going to give him what I think is appropriate. Next time I get a plate of rice, I’ll insist to only pay what it’s worth. Ghanaians are all more outgoing and confident than I am, so I think it’s time I meet them where they’re at. I’ll save that 2gh 50p if my life depends on it, dammit.


Wish me well,



P.S. The USAC group took a crazy trip this weekend to a monkey sanctuary, the highest mountain in Ghana, and a waterfall. Here’s some pics:

View from the top of Mt. Afadjato. Only half of the mountains in this photo are in Ghana – the rest are on the Togo side of the border.
Me, about to die climbing up this mountain.
Nicole, Kayla, Clarissa, and myself, after having died climbing up the mountain.
A monkey eating a stolen banana at Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary in Hohoe, a city in the Volta Region.
Mundane and Sweaty: A Day at UG Legon

Mundane and Sweaty: A Day at UG Legon

My first week at the University of Ghana has been surreal, and I’ve found it hard to put my thoughts into writing. I want to be able to share my deep thoughts and reflections with you, dear reader, but the words won’t come. I am experiencing both elation and disappointment, successes and failures, wellness and illness.

Instead of attempting to interpret these reactions so soon into my time here, I’ve thought it might be interesting to share what a normal day at the University of Ghana looks like.


My earliest class is at 7:30. The walk from the International Student Hostel (ISH) to the International House is just over a mile, and it takes around 30 minutes to make the trip. My alarm goes off at 6 and I sleep through it until like 6:30 because I’m a lazy American. I bring my roll of toilet paper, toothpaste, toothbrush, and face wash to the communal bathroom across the hall.

My roommate Emma and I live on the third level of the hostel. We leave our room and attempt to lock our door (it locks about 45% of the time) and head downstairs.

The hostel looks like a huge structure from the outside, but is built in a style fit for the hot climate with all rooms facing an open courtyard on the inside and a patio on the outside. My patio faces south, away from the rest of UG’s campus.

We head north, passing a market that doesn’t open until mid-morning, a convenient store, a few ATMs, and eventually campus buildings. Sometimes we walk on sidewalks, sometimes on the road, sometimes along red paths in the earth. The sun rises as we approach the International House.

Inside the International House.

We walk into our (air conditioned!) classroom for Twi, a language in the Akan family commonly spoken in Greater Accra. After two hours of “Mepaakyɛw, wo ho te sɛn?” I have a history class in the main lecture hall on campus. By the time the lecturer finishes, it’s almost noon.

The sun hits its peak at around 11:30am and doesn’t quit until after 4pm. The temperature often reaches over 34°C, around 100°F. It’s around this time that I usually get sunburn because I forgot to put sunscreen in my backpack. Sometimes I don’t even carry my backpack because it just makes my back sweat uncontrollably. Midday is obviously when y’all can catch me at my most glamorous.

If I don’t have a particularly busy day, I usually stop by Bush Kanteen to get jollof or waakye with roasted plantains for 3 Ghanaian cedi (less than 1 USD) before going back to ISH. If I really don’t have a busy day, I do my favorite thing and take a nap while it’s hottest outside.

Before dinner, I bring my laptop or a book down to a long table in ISH where there are usually half a dozen people to hang out and chat with. If I’m hungry there’s a kitchen on the ground floor staffed by three Ghanaian women where they make anything from instant coffee to fried rice to tuna sandwiches and french fries. I might follow a group of folks to the night market nearby for dinner, or maybe just for a fresh mango or pineapple cut up by a vendor.

By that point in the evening, it’s “cool” by Ghanaian standards. It usually dips to 23-25°C (73-77°F) and a light breeze moves through the open air hostel. After a cold shower I spend time in my room, reading or journaling or chatting with Emma. I tuck my blue mosquito net under the sides of my mattress and fall asleep to the rhythm of the creaky ceiling fan above me.


I don’t know if I expected every day here to be a thrill of adventure, new sights and sounds, and amazing new people. It’s true that I think it’s beautiful here, and I’m enjoying myself, and those I’ve met have been lovely, but at the end of the day things feel normal. A normal day in Accra is not much different from a normal day in Chicago – one is just a little bit colder than the other.

I like being a student here. I love that I’ve had the opportunity to take the trips that I’ve taken so far (I think I’ll go into those in a forthcoming post), but I like that things otherwise feel mundane. I think these are the baby steps toward making this new place feel like home.

Thanks for listening.

Me, proud that the person who took this photo didn’t catch me off guard.

Until next time,