The Global Scholars program at Florida State University helps students secure summer internships at nonprofit organizations in the Global South (Asia, Africa, Latin America). Currently in its seventh year, this program was developed by the Center for Undergraduate Research and Academic Engagement and provides students with a challenging academic and personal student development experience that is both low-cost and high-impact. Global Scholars receive training before departure, complete a class-based research project during their internships, and connect their experience abroad back to the Tallahassee community in the form of a capstone project upon their return. The Global Scholars program was designed to cultivate active citizens of the world who can utilize research and critical thinking skills to engage with different cultural perspectives and make a positive impact in the global community.
Global Scholars are required to maintain a blog throughout the duration of their time abroad. Read along to get a glimpse into the experience of a Global Scholar before returning home at the end of the summer!
Wow! Nine weeks are done in Ghana and it is finally hitting me that this amazing experience has come to an end. I am currently writing this blog in the Brussels Airport and trying to think of ways to capture all of my emotions on my way back to America. Even though I have plenty of thoughts swirling through my head, one common theme that is present (and the main tone of this blog) is how humbled I am to have been given this unique opportunity.
I still remember riding to the Orlando Airport June 1 with full luggage and a litany of questions on my mind. Would I be able to handle being 5,000+ miles away from home for two months? Will I feel alone? Will the clinic that I work at even want me there? What if I get sick? “What if” after “what if” scenario played in my head on repeat. Then when I got on my first flight, I stopped and told myself that I would never be alone during this experience and that whatever is ahead of me for these two months was meant to happen. I flew into Ghana with an open mind, open heart, and a willing spirit to serve. After my stay in Kasoa, I can say that all my expectations were surpassed and every experience was a wonderful contribution to my journey abroad. Even through the highs and lows of the trip, I learned so much while in Ghana and matured into a more well-rounded global citizen. I would like to especially thank my clinic which I was stationed at for the extent of my journey (Kasoa Polyclinic) and Lamp For Future Life for hosting my stay in Ghana. Trying to conceptualize all of my takeaways from my two months abroad in one blog is nearly impossible, but I will stress some of the major things that I learned while away from home.
I have learned that my world view was much smaller than I thought it was. Even though my only other international excursion had been to the Dominican Republic (for a much shorter amount of time) before this trip, I thought that I did a pretty good job of understanding issues outside of the US. I have learned, however, that there is a huge difference between simply understanding the issues and actually immersing yourself in different communities from your own to gain outside perspectives from the American lens. I did not realize how important it was for me to step outside of American life and to not do it as a tourist being sheltered within a fancy hotel or resort. Living in America had involuntarily conditioned me to expect a certain treatment while in a foreign country and, in some spaces, I received this “special treatment” like I was royalty. It was shocking how many people wanted to be my “friend” and connect with me so that I could bring them back to America with me. When this happened, I had to step out of myself and think of why I deserved to be looked at as such a precious gem, or a ticket to a better life, just because I happened to be born in the United States. It was a perplexing experience because I had never had to face my American privilege in the states, but immediately saw it in Ghana. I have learned that I need to travel more and gain more perspectives out of the United States to better understand why this power dynamic exists between developing and developed countries. If I want to truly pursue my career in public health on an international scale, I have to better understand the people that I desire to serve. Expanding my horizons and breaking more boundaries of my comfort zone are imperative in understanding the world that I wish to explore.
I have also learned that there is so much beauty on the African continent and I have only scratched the surface of it. Although I was fully aware that Africa was not just safari animals and slums before I left, I fell in love with so many aspects of daily life in Ghana and the rich culture that flourishes throughout the entire country. There are so many hard working people in Ghana who have such big hearts and are willing to do so much for people they barely know. That innate selflessness is something that I know I can personally learn from and continuously work towards in my daily life. There is also so much untapped potential in Ghana, and many other African countries, for amazing things; there must, however, be more positive images of Africa painted in other parts of the world in order to bolster support behind African innovation. It was saddening how many times people brought up President Trump’s “sh*t-hole countries” remark with me and had to validate that I did not also feel that way about them. This should not be the message that Americans should want other countries (especially in Africa) to associate with them and I feel like there needs to be so many more positive narratives about all of the good that Africa can produce to drown out the negatives (even if they are coming from our “leader”).
Even though this was a regular issue that I had to face, being the sole American representative in many instances, I feel much more confident in being able to explain the good aspects of America. By better understanding my place in the world and realizing that the US truly is just another country in the world, I am able to be more proud of my country while making sure not to do so in a braggadocious way. I was a proud American who was also proud of being able to experience Ghanaian culture. This duality made my trip much easier to digest because I didn’t feel as bad about the American image that Ghanaians took as truth and that I personally had no control over. I was more understanding and was willing to learn and share my own life experiences to show that I was not just another rich tourist who came from an American utopia, but a human being with struggles and worries just like them.
I have also become much more comfortable with entering a new space and just observing and learning. In past experiences I have always desired to share my beliefs and be vocal about my take on things. I am also somewhat of a control freak so I am always used to trying to have my hand in directing whatever is happening around me. Since in Ghana, however, I am much more willing to be the one who is listening and understanding versus telling and explaining. Before we finished the spring semester Global Scholars course, we watched a TED Talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on the dangers of proliferating a single story about a person or community. This video really resonated with me before and while in Ghana because of how easy it is to simplify a person or group of people to a single story. Whether it be a single story about Americans, Africans, Black Americans and race relations, or even medical students, the single story can stifle potential connections and stop possible opportunities from coming about. I know that many people in Ghana had many single stories about me (that I had no financial issues, that I was afraid of the police because I was black, or that I saw Africans as inferior because I was American); even though I am guilty of doing the same in some situations, the best way that I tried to combat making the same mistake with Ghanaians was to give people the benefit of the doubt. I was always cautious with my interactions and who I surrounded myself with, but I made sure that that did not translate to fear or undeserved mistreatment before even giving a person a chance. Being open with people and not giving off a ‘scared foreigner’ vibe made it much easier to make connections with people and understand them past their single stories.
Overall, my biggest take away from my time in Ghana is that every person, no matter their color, nationality, or religion, should be willing to see the humanity in the people around them, no matter where in the world they may be. The more time we spend connecting based off our similarities and the less time we spend separating based off our differences, the better off we as a human race will be. At our core we are all created by the same God and all bleed the same red blood; no one person should in any way feel subservient to another just because they are different. I personally pledge to work harder at promoting this mindset when I get back and hope that everyone can choose to learn and love before they judge and hate. Ghana has taught me SO much and I know that I will be back very soon to my new second home and many other African countries to spread the same love that I felt in Kasoa. Until then, I am very excited to be back in the US very soon and the first thing on my agenda is to find the biggest cheeseburger and eat it unapologetically! It has been great sharing my life in Ghana in these blogs and I hope that you enjoyed reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them! Nyame Boa Ochina (God Willing, Tomorrow)!
Read more of Myles’ blog posts on his Omprakash blog site here!