Angela Santilli knew if she was going to study abroad, she wanted a challenge. Africa isn’t for everyone, so she knew that’s where she wanted to go!
This article was independently written and submitted to International Student Voice Magazine by Angela Santilli. Angela is a student at California State University Chico. For her study abroad experience, she chose the services provided by University Studies Abroad Consortium (USAC).
When choosing which USAC Study Abroad program to go on, I knew that I wanted to go somewhere that would be challenging. When I looked at the programs in developing countries, Ghana in West Africa really appealed to me. I distinctively remember being told in the Study Abroad office that Africa isn’t for everyone, at which point I knew was where I would go and be exactly what I wanted.
When the day came to leave, I was naturally nervous, but very excited for the unknown. During my first month in Accra, Ghana I learned to adapt to a slower pace and less developed environment. Inconsistent running water and electricity, food poisoning, and remembering to take my daily anti-malaria pill took some adjusting. I soon learned that my visa only enabled me to legally be in Ghana for the first sixty days I was there. In order to extend my visa I was required to leave the country to have my passport stamped again at the border upon returning. This was when I made the decision to travel east to Togo with my classmates.
When the weekend came that my friends and I would travel to Togo, we all piled into a tro-tro. This vehicle could be described as a janky van that would fit about twenty squished people. This may not have been the most ideal form of transportation, but it was certainly the cheapest.
After hours of traveling, we safely made it to our destination, Lome, Togo. Most of the group went to a voo-doo museum and did some shopping throughout the weekend. Museums don’t really appeal to me as much, so I decided to split off by myself to a nearby beach one morning. Being the only white female on the beach, I attracted a lot of attention to myself. A mother with several children approached me. At first they seemed shy, but very warm. All, except one young boy, spoke French so there was a language barrier, but that didn’t serve as a barrier for all of us to enjoy our time together. The children performed a few of their ritual songs and dances for me. To show them part of America’s culture, I shared some music on my iPod. My time spent with them was thoroughly humbling and enjoyable.
The one young boy traveling with the family spoke English and served as a translator between the mother and me. Through him, she told me the story of how they came to live in Togo. About two years previously to making the move, they lived in Ivory Coast with their father. A war broke out which forced the mother and her children to flee for safety. They left behind their father, home, and school that the children attended.
After a year of living in Togo, the war had ended and it was safe to return to Ivory Coast. Unfortunately they did not have the money to be able to return home. The two previous years had been spent living in poverty and they received barely enough food from other locals to survive. Our day at the beach was about to end when it started to get dark and they needed to find a safe location to sleep for the night. I gave them my Ghana phone number to keep in touch and what little money I had left in their currency to help them out. It wasn’t much, but they were very grateful.
About a month later I received many phone calls from an unfamiliar number and I could barely understand what was being said. Eventually a receptionist from my dormitory called me and told me that I had visitors waiting for me at the entrance. As I approached the front desk to my surprise I saw the mother with two of her daughters. They were so excited to see me, as if they had known me for years and we had just re-connected. What little money I had given them was just enough for the three of them to squish into a tro-tro to make their way across the country, into unfamiliar territory to the University of Ghana in hopes to meet me again. The risk that this family made to come see me again was immeasurable; they may not even have had enough money to return back to Togo safely. The oldest daughter stayed back with some of the children and the mother made the decision to travel with one daughter and her youngest baby. To this day I am still astonished when I think of her decision to leave part of her family behind, traveling where she knew she couldn’t speak the native language, and not even be sure if I would be there.
I am so happy that I was in town because I was able to give the mother enough money for her whole family to be able to pile into a tro-tro and return to her home and husband. To me it was a minimal amount of money, but for them it was enough to change their lives forever.
Studying abroad in Accra, Ghana gave me a chance to see the social realities for people in developing countries. USAC offers programs in countries all over the world that help students to live in a different culture and open their eyes to realities of countries outside of our own: usac.unr.edu.