Graphic by Diana Gluck/The Gazelle

A Voice from Accra

Minutes before I caught my flight from New York to Accra, a family member asked me, “What is the name of the town you are staying in again?” This ...

Mar 1, 2014

Graphic by Diana Gluck/The Gazelle
Minutes before I caught my flight from New York to Accra, a family member asked me, “What is the name of the town you are staying in again?” This question conveyed two prejudices that offended me: firstly, that because I was going to Africa, I would be staying in a “town”; secondly, that Accra is not a memorable name or city in itself. Accra has a population of over two million and is the vibrant capital city of one of the fastest developing African nations.
Even if our biases against Accra as a study abroad site are subconscious or benevolently forgetful, we as students can combat them by giving greater consideration to taking part in the program.
Though five weeks in Accra grant inchoate impressions of the city and site, my experiences thus far have been overwhelmingly positive.
The high quality of teaching at NYU in Accra can be attributed to the fact that most of the professors are leaders in their departments at the University of Ghana, Legon. Furthermore, prominent intellectual and political figures like Kenyan author and activist Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Nat Amarteifio, Mayor of Accra from 1994-1998, design or teach classes.
Other students have had similarly positive experiences in their classes.
“I learn more in class than I do at NYU on the Square,” said Gallatin senior Allie Williams. “The work is less but you get more out of it: It’s more about reflection and … integration of what you’re learning with what you’re experiencing.”
 Students have mixed feelings about navigating the city. Some have raved about the tro-tro system, a framework of public transit in Accra, while others have expressed frustration with its complexity. Like in Abu Dhabi, one travels Accra by landmarks rather than street names. Learning how to get around the city “definitely teaches you patience,” says Williams.
Land travel within the country and to neighboring countries is similarly fast and cheap. Six students took a three-hour bus to Togo last weekend, for instance, a ride that cost about 20 USD round trip.
Internship opportunities range from business development to community service. Most companies are small and understaffed, so students feel their contributions are needed. Taylor Edelhart, a junior from Tisch, works at Accra[dot]Alt. She said her internship provides opportunities to meet locals: “If you really want to get involved in a community [while studying abroad], Accra is a great place to do that.”
A few students have expressed hope that the connections they build in Accra will translate into future jobs.
Emily Barnard, a junior at CAS, initially feared losing networking opportunities. However, since arriving in Accra, she said she has made as many connections as she could have in New York.
“I met a Ghanaian woman the other day who has a company in Brooklyn. It would be cool to work with her at home,” she said.
Though students in Accra grouse that there are not enough boys in the program — there are 3 boys to 27 girls — other complaints appear to be standard across GNU sites: The majority of students agree that the for-credit internship seminar is ineffective, and some feel that the school could do more to help NYU students meet others in the city.
No NYU students are enrolled at the University of Ghana, Legon, this semester.
Recently, an ambassador at a West African embassy questioned my motives for studying in Accra. After I told her I was an American studying literature, she stared in disbelief and jibed, “You’re telling me you’re from America and came to Accra … to study books … in English?”
Her question was rhetorical, but I have two serious answers. The first is that coming to study here was not all about academics but also experiencing and traveling within a foreign culture. Secondly, my education in Accra is valuable because it relates Ghanaian and West African viewpoints. The ambassador still associates African education, in world topics and in English, as secondary to or deviant from the “standard” Western curriculum.
Everything we study — our histories, economies, identities — are stories. As Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says, the single-sided story is dangerous; “Queen Pokou” by Ivorian Veronique Tadjo warns that the single narrative is nonexistent.
Consider the stories you have learned in classrooms at NYU and the story that your travels and experiences tell about you. Perhaps you hunger for voices that cannot be found in Accra but at another site, in another club, from a new professor. I found points of view in Accra that I did not know my story was missing.
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