Study Abroad Stories from 10 College Students Who Chose Africa

 


 

You’ll become a better dancer…guaranteed!

I can honestly say I have changed for the better, and it is noticeable. I’ve made so many more friends, I’ve become more popular, I’ve become nicer, more patient, and overall a happier being. I truly believe America would be a significantly better country if more people experience Ghana the way I did.

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You’ll grow mentally, emotionally and spiritually

Credit: Francisco Anzola

Credit: Francisco Anzola

I found myself in an emotional and spiritual crisis. I wanted something new in my life that would transform me, and give me the energy to walk on this arduous path of life. When the opportunity to volunteer and teach in Djibouti presented itself, I thanked the Master of the universe for listening to my prayers.

Spending three months in Djibouti was an out-of-this-world experience. My ideas were challenged at every moment, my experiences with the people I encountered, the places I visited, and volunteering with the Caritas kids forced me to grow mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

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You’ll experience for yourself how much Africa is NOT a country

Credit: Ross Huggett

Credit: Ross Huggett

As an African-American who cannot trace her roots, I have always wanted to know more about Africa and the many, diverse cultures therein. When I was offered the opportunity to spend my entire summer in Botswana this summer, I was elated! I would finally be given the chance to visit Africa.

My favorite part of Batswana culture is the sense of community. Everyone is so connected to one another. There’s such a selfless nature—an environment of giving without thinking first of what you will receive in exchange.

There are many misconceptions about the “African” experience. Having an “African” experience is a misnomer as you cannot trivialize the distinct cultures to one general experience… When people ask me, “How was Africa?” I will respond, “Botswana was great!”

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Your idea of the individual and community will change

Keegan's Host Family

Keegan’s Host Family

Many of my impressions came from the only travel book on the market for Nigeria (the Bradt guide), which suggested that Nigeria can be loud, confusing, and hot, but what the book didn’t mention was that this chaos also binds the community together and makes Nigerians interdependent even more than many other nations on the continent.

Regarding culture shock, I was more surprised at how different it was to come home. In Nigeria, I could remake myself on some level and knew that my experience and friendships were probably not permanent. When I came home, though, I felt as though there was a life I used to have that I should be fitting back into, but I couldn’t. You can’t come back from an experience like that and be the person your friends and family remember you as, but you can certainly be better if you adapt the lessons you learned there to the life you live here.

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You’ll have deep conversations with strangers

Zane

Ghana

“Where are you from in the world?”

I responded, “I’m African, but I live in California.”

“Oh okay, what part of Africa?” he replied swiftly.

I explained that I know I’m of African descent, but I don’t know exactly where in Africa my ancestors came from.

“Oh I see,” he paused. “Then, you mean you’re Black American, see?” He was smiling at me.

“No, I’m African.” I resisted.

He looked as if he wanted to say something else, but he said nothing. He bent down gently and said,

“Don’t worry. Allah wanted ‘that’ to happen, so we Africans could be all over the world. It’s good.”

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You’ll learn to speak a local language like a native

I knew that there were clearly a lot of misconceptions, misunderstandings, and miscalculations about what it is like in Nigeria, and I figured what better way to find out the real and unbiased truth than to go and experience the place for myself.

I was in shock for most of the first week I spent in Nigeria. Whether it was the way people drive, the way people prioritize tasks, or merely just being in the most populous country in Africa, I would say my emotions were overridden with surprise, humor, and disbelief at all of the new things I was seeing. It was a little strange at first living somewhere so different, but it was so exciting and everything was such an eye-opening learning experience.

As an American, it was easy at times to get frustrated by the lack of respect for personal space (in every sense of the word), an overzealous predisposition to spending most of one’s free time at a church or a mosque, and the lack of subtlety in Nigerian culture. I felt that these types of characteristics in Nigeria frustrated me much more on days where I was already tired. Overall though, culture shock was much less intense than I had expected it to be.

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You’ll learn different ways of doing things (like cooking on a charcoal fire)

Learning to cook fufu

Learning to cook fufu

Ghana, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Tanzania

It’s impossible not to feel culture shock. What is shocking is not how people do things, it’s that there exists the possibility of doing things differently. I had never considered the number of habits and practices that could possibly differ in another country and in another family.

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You’ll eat the best meals of your life. And, the fruits…you’ve got to try the fruits

Credit: David Stanley

Credit: David Stanley, Bo-Kaap Neighborhood

My most memorable experience while studying abroad was surfing and the road trip I took during our final break with two of my friends. We drove and bussed all around South Africa and into Lesotho; this gave me a chance to see the country as a whole rather than just Cape Town. Butternut squash anything was my favorite thing to eat while there!

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You’ll know yourself better and see the world differently

Girls playing in Fès-Boulemane

Credit: Mohini Ufeli, Girls playing in Fès-Boulemane

Morocco was at once very familiar to me… It was familiar in the beat-up cars and taxis driving alongside newer, fancier models. It was familiar in the immediate-tan heat, the pungent marketplace with fresh meat displayed within arms’ reach, fresh fruit looking straight off a tree. The marketplaces were like home… I felt like I “knew” Morocco. But this knowledge didn’t translate to comfort.

Living in Morocco helped me connect to my “Nigerian-ness.”The things I love about Nigeria are very personal. It’s the scent of the rain, the atmosphere of driving over Third Mainland bridge on certain evenings, or the harmattan haze on Saturday mornings.I never really had a sense of national pride; give me a few more years and a lot more living and reading and it might happen. I’m Nigerian. Nigeria is where I was born and raised. It’s where the bulk of my family lives. It’s what I sound like when I’m angry. It’s in the shape of my nose and the thickness of my hair. The country shaped a lot of my sensibilities and the way I see the world.

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You’ll see the global economy in a whole new light

Community meal

I remember that when I first arrived in Dakar I was surprised that it felt almost like home, as I noticed many similarities between the state of the city I was in and the state of my own city during my childhood.

The most important thing I took from the study abroad experience was that I managed to see the real face of a ‘developing country.’ I remembered what ‘insufficient’ infrastructure means, how that impacts the amount of time you spend when you travel or how when you take public transportation you cram into a full bus with people carrying their merchandise, with mothers keeping their babies on their back, with children in uniforms returning from school, etc. I understood how ‘migration for health purposes’ and poverty separates families and pushes people in a lonely silence, how social networks and families help individuals survive but also put high pressure on them, and how people still have the energy to dance on a Saturday night even though they worked very hard the whole week and maybe weren’t even able to eat as much as they needed.

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