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Engineering students group photo.

Kaden Uselton: Student Report from 2019 Alternative Winter Break to Ghana

Growing up in Knoxville has provided me with countless happy memories of summers spent exploring my tree-shaded backyards, and winters sledding down surrounding rocky hills. Despite this comforting environment I grew up in, I always wondered what an environment outside of Tennessee would look and feel like. I was lucky enough to travel to the west of the US for a month at the age of five, with my family, but this did little to satisfy my growing interest in the rest of the world. With my interest in experiencing the rest of the world peaking and my need for a new environment at an all-time high, I was ecstatic to learn I was to participate in the week-long trip to Ghana.

What I was first and foremost looking forward to for this trip was the change of environment I was going to experience. I started asking myself, “What new kinds of plants am I going to see?” and “Is the climate going to differ much from the one at home, that I’m so used to?” As the first day of the trip approached, no amount of thought could have prepared me for when I first stepped off that plane.

Kaden with a large bowl on his head.
Kaden Uselton moves rocks at a worksite.

The first impression I had concerning the environment in Ghana, was that for a country in its dry season, it was extremely humid. In all my 19 years of living in East Tennessee, I had never experienced such oppressive humidity from my surroundings. However, despite this constant heat, a simple fan was enough to leave me sitting comfortably. Other than the extremely high humidity, however, the Ghanaian air felt no different than what one might feel in Knoxville during the height of summer.

Kaden Uselton wearing traditional clothing.The flora of Ghana was particularly interesting to experience as well. The various trees and shrubs of the land seemed to emulate the environment of East Tennessee with high trees towering over roads, while multiple fields provided many bushes and shrubs a place to grow. It was interesting to observe the environment to similar to that of East Tennessee, with the difference being there were simply different species of trees, bushes, and shrubs. I look back on my pictures and am still surprised how similar many can be to ones I have taken in the past of the Great Smoky Mountains.

One of my favorite moments during our trip was when our bus got a flat while driving back to our sleeping residence. Many people were asleep, but those of us who were awake were able to explore the area around the bus while the tire was changed. This provided a brief bit of time away from the hustle and bustle of our schedule, to better explore some of the local flora. Most notable of the flora was the plantain tree. As tall as any tree found in Knoxville, you would see the occasional bunch of under-ripe plantains followed by a huge, drooping maroon flower. I have never seen such a thing before in my life.

This trip to Ghana truly lent me some experiences I will not soon forget. I had the invaluable opportunity to meet and talk with people from elsewhere in the world, got to experience a culture previously unknown to me, and was able to broaden my understanding of the world and its environments. I can never thank the organizers in charge of this trip enough for providing me with these experiences, as well as never fully express the gratitude I feel for those in Ghana that made me feel welcome!