Having lived in third world countries growing up, I rather naively thought that teaching in Ghana for 5 weeks would not present much of a challenge, as I was well acquainted with poverty and poor living standards. However, although I do think my prior experience helped to reduce the initial culture shock, living with a Ghanaian host family proved to be an experience that I found more difficult than I had anticipated.
As a big fan of all things food related, I was excited about the prospect of trying a cuisine which to me was completely foreign (Ghanaian restaurants being rather uncommon in Europe) but despite my open mindedness and attitude towards eating new foods, I found this aspect of my trip to be one of the hardest. There was great food to be had – the pineapples and mangos were phenomenal – and I didn’t shy away from trying whatever I was served, but in general Ghanaian cuisine consisted mostly of a heavy starchy component – usually yams or cassava in various guises – eaten with either red or brown sauce, protein was hard to come by and often of dubious origin. It’s uncanny how much food can make you long for home.
Concerning teaching in local schools, the student’s enthusiasm was unbounded. Limited funds translate to limited interactivity in classes so needless to say the arrival of the white people and their practical, interactive teaching methods proved to be a big hit. On the downside, Ghanaian culture meant the kids were rather afraid of giving the wrong answer, or of admitting they did not understand. As my guidebook put it; Ghanaian people would rather give you incorrect directions to your destination than tell you they don’t know where it is. This hesitance was unfortunate; despite continued encouragement to engage and ask questions hands were rarely raised. The issue was especially significant owing to the varying levels of English the students spoke, within one class some were fluent and others barely understood more than a few words. Unfortunately, those who didn’t understand us quietly nodded along. It was quite evident from the class test conducted at the end of lessons that some kids had understood our lessons perfectly well, whereas other students had barely understood the concepts. I am under no illusion that I helped to change the community’s attitude towards “failure”, but hopefully some aspects of this more open and less intimidating manner of teaching will stick with the students.
I had doubts before, during, and after my trip concerning the extent to which my teaching in Ghana would affect the local community in which I was situated. Having reflected on the experience, I like to believe that although I may not have made the greatest impact directly, exposure to an alien culture, and more significantly close contact with poverty is an invaluable experience andhas genuinely changed my outlook on life. The excesses and comforts of our western lives are truly put in perspective when you are forced to shower using buckets of water gathered from a less than hygienic well. For that reason alone I would advocate such an experience, it’s not something I am likely to forget anytime soon.