Kelsey Uselton: Student Report from 2019 Alternative Winter Break to Ghana
When I was younger, I fantasized, as a normal kid would do, about the places I would explore and the people I would meet along the way. The experiences I conjured up were as mundane as you can imagine, considering I had no concept of what possibilities the real world held. I had ridden across the country when I was five years old, but as a college sophomore had never set foot outside of the US. My life had become repetitive and school had become simultaneously dull and stressful. I realized that unless I gained some perspective of the world that I so badly wanted to impact one day, I was never going to become as passionate as I wanted to be about my dreams as an engineer. So, by some miracle, I obtained the courage to commit to one of the most incredible trips I think I will ever experience. It blew away every expectation I had ever held of travel and cultural immersion. So, whether you are here as a newbie or as an experienced traveler looking into exploring the continent of Africa, I hope I can convey how happy I am that I chose to visit Ghana.
First off, airplane food is really good, and I don’t know why everyone says it isn’t because all the food I ate only brightened the long and turbulent flight. Anyway, first time flying set aside, I did not think the flight was all bad. As we got closer to Ghana, I got to see its landscape appear with the rising sun which was a very accurate indication of the trip to come. My curiosity rose along with my excitement as I experienced the most interesting parts of the Ghanaian coast and culture in just one week. As we landed, we met our guides Patrick, Amos, and John, who were arguably the most amazing part of this trip. Their charisma and passion for their country and charitable organization, ProAid, was astounding and they truly made the experience enlightening and much more fun for sure. They taught us cultural tips such as how to haggle over the price of items at the market, say important phrases in their local language, make authentic crafts and jewelry, and how to make an impression on the dance floor!
As an avid bread connoisseur, I religiously consume bread at home in the states. However, I have never come across better bread than what I was served in Ghana. It was soft, sweet, and NEVER dry. Along with the bread made by the sweet owner of the guest house, Ann, we had lots of authentic Ghanaian dishes: Banku and Tilapia, Red Red, and peanut butter soup – YUM. They did not allow us to be hungry for one second, and I can confidently say that was the most food I have ever eaten in one week.
Apart from the food, one of the best aspects of the trip was meeting and working with the locals during our service projects. The high schoolers we worked with were witty and helpful, the elementary schoolers were adorable and curious, and all the ProAid workers were steadfast and enviously admirable.
The workers on every site had the most incredible work ethic, and that is mirrored in the Ghanaian culture. Everyone seems to persevere, no matter the heat, which nearly killed us on the first day. They completed the task at hand, no matter the lack of technology that might have made things easier, but takes away from the actual experience. The locals on the work sites seemed to possess a sense of teamwork that I can only attribute to the fact that they were actually using their hands for intense manual labor. That kind of work done so efficiently demands a certain amount of respect in any culture. They also recognized exactly where they needed to be at any given moment to get the work done. It was very humbling to be a part of that for sure. It also made me realize I need to work out and exercise more… a lot more.
One crazy adventure that I enjoyed immensely was exploring the Kakum National Park where we participated in a canopy walk that definitely beats the bridge I walked at Ijams Nature Center. I thought I might die but didn’t, and it was one of the most exciting experiences in Ghana, in my opinion. I am an environmental nerd, however, so it might have been just me. We got to participate in many more activities like touring the UNESCO world heritage site of two of the castles important in the transatlantic slave trade. We got to observe native birds and crocodiles, each of which were enriching in their own way. I wish I could talk about every occasion, but I don’t think there is enough time in the world to encompass the entirety of our cultural excursion.
Overall, the most special part of this trip was my travel companions. I was lucky enough to have my twin brother, Kaden, a fellow UT student, come along with me which made my first time out of the country much more bearable. But, even without my brother, the students and leaders in our group would have been more than enough. They were fun, kind, and we all got along great, which allowed us to enjoy the experience fully. This experience has pushed me to strive for a better understanding of the world. It has allowed me to rekindle my passion for engineering, knowing that my work may someday have an impact on people all over the world, no matter the societal differences.