Everyone warned me of the culture shock, but it’s really hard to say what that is exactly.
I have been living in Accra, Ghana for about three weeks now. I was lucky enough to have been one of seven Laurier students to attain the Queen Elizabeth II Scholarship through our Human Rights and Human Diversity department. I am so grateful to be interning for the amazing Non-Governmental Organization, the Street Children Empowerment Foundation for the next three months.
I guess you could call it an emotional jet lag of sorts, culture shock. I feel as if I will under- stand it’s meaning so much more once I have reintegrated back into Canada in September. I have also been warned of the culture shock I may experience when coming back, which was super surprising to hear.
It has been quite interesting because the most common thing you hear about the Ghanaian culture is “they are so nice,” which is also a Canadian stereotype. The funny thing is, Ghanaians and Canadians are both “nice” cultures, but in very different ways.
In Canada we are used to the typical over-politeness. Now in Ghana, that is not the “nice” everyone is talking about. For example, my first day here we were in a little store and a couple of the other students were looking through the two fridges of drinks. The lady at the front used a very stern, almost aggressive sounding voice (at the time at least), to say, “shut the door” because one fridge door was left open while they were looking in the other. I was taken aback to be honest. I thought, why didn’t she just ask them to shut the door politely? But I soon learnt that is just not a piece of the Ghanaian culture. Not to say that lady was mean, or angry with the students for leaving the door open, Ghanaians just tell you what to do rather than ask you. Before realizing this I felt so confused. I thought everyone must have been just saying Ghanaians were nice to make me feel better. This culture shock made me feel a little bit lonely at the start.
But then you find yourself on the streets of Ghana looking even slightly lost and within seconds someone will ask you, “where are you going?” and help you to the point of walking you to wherever you need to go. That’s not something you find in Canada. Certain Canadians might take the time to explain directions to you if you ask for assistance, but no Canadian is going to notice your facial expressions, make the effort to ask if you need help and physically guide you to where you need to be. It’s so incredibly relieving to know you always have help if you get lost in Ghana. That might be something I get too used to over these next few months. I am going to be driving to Newfoundland shortly after coming back to Ontario in September, and I can really see this culture shock coming into to play on that drive if I get lost. I am definitely not going to have the security of relying on the community to help me find my way.
In Ghana, you walk into your office of work and everyone greets you with a smile and “good morning.” You see people on the streets and many say, “you are welcome,” almost all ask, “how are you?” These are not courtesies I am used to in Canada, but are so very heart lifting here in Ghana.
Now the art here was a fabulous culture shock. Ghana is such a colourful country; it’s absolutely gorgeous. The tro tros – which are a van-type taxi of sorts – are all different bright colours. A lot of the buildings incorporate bright colours in their design, especially the smaller shops. Ghanaian clothing is always very flashy and unique (to us Canadians at least). There is a traditional Ghanaian cloth called Kente that is a piece of artwork in itself. Kente cloth was originally worn by royalty; it is a very common fabric that captures beautiful patterns, designs and colours. Kente is local to Ghana, and a lot of the specific patterns symbolize different meanings and history behind them. Friday is the national Kente wear day so many people can be found wearing the unique fabric and promoting its cultural value, even in the workplace.
I am not even one third through my adventures here in Ghana and I am finding more of the positive side to culture shock than anything. Maybe it’s just the honeymoon phase, which is also typical for culture shock, but I am loving every minute of my stay here. Of course there are the differences that take quite the getting used to: the sweltering heat, the jam packed public transit, the crazy traffic, everyone stopping you on the streets and people asking to take pictures with you. But the positive easily overcomes the negative. Culture shock can come in many different forms, but always know, it’s okay to feel however you may feel. Culture shock is unique to every person, and is in itself a form of growth that I am grateful to be experiencing.