Campus and Staff
The University of Ghana, Legon campus is an exciting environment for overseas studies. Extracurricular activities seem to be just as popular there as they can be on the campuses of American institutions. Only nine kilometers from downtown Accra, Legon is a green campus from which students can conveniently access beaches and other recreational facilities, markets, and potential clients for special study assignments. The campus layout is very simple and getting around is normally a pleasant experience; I rarely used the campus shuttle bus which seemed to be very active.
At times, it was difficult for me to adjust to the unsanitary condition of the latrine and shower areas, a condition that results from the Ghanaian water regulation policies. Sources that I came familiar with indicate that less than 35% of the students enrolled at the university live on campus, and these students must routinely take advantage of light that they might find outside in public areas when electricity is shut off, in accordance with regulatory policies.
Professor Irene Odotei, the Study Centre Director, is a very personable and intelligent woman, and these attributes are felt through the efforts of her staff. She provided ample opportunities for IP students to come together in a relaxed social atmosphere where they could dine and discuss academic or social matters. Although I found the staff to be overwhelmed with their assignments at times, they always appeared to be eager to help resolve issues that IP students might raise. My impression is that they would benefit by making more written materials available at the Study Centre that would enable an IP student to more easily access critical information on their own, avoiding the confusion that sometimes resulted from the combination of uninformed guests students, and over tasked host faculty having discourse.
Money and Banking (Top)
Ghana's currency as of now is the Cedi. It exchanges with the USD at about 9,200 Cedis to 1 USD (As of March 2007), but this is all going to change. In July 2007 the currency will change to the Ghana Cedi. It is not a devaluation of the currency, but 10,000 Cedis will now become 1 Ghana Cedi. 1 Ghanaian Cedi is broken down into 1 Pesewa. The new currency will be very similar to the USD (1 Ghana Cedi =~92 cents). The confusing part will be during the first 6 months when both currencies are in circulation and one will be able to use 1 Ghana Cedi or 10,000 Cedis to buy the same thing or you’ll even be able to use a combination of the two currencies.
Things here are cheap, even if you’re used to traveling in developing countries. I generally spend between $1-1.50 per day on food, but this can vary widely depending on where you eat. Estimates on how much money one will spend vary too much with living habits to accurately predict, but plan on somewhere between $200-500 per month. Traveling can cost a lot but your choice of hotels and restaurants makes a huge difference in how much you spend. You will generally always be able to find somewhere to sleep for $5-10.
It is recommended that you don’t open an account at the Barclay's on campus. It took 5 months to open an account and get a functioning ATM card. In order to withdraw money, it could sometimes take over an hour waiting in line at the bank. It was a good introduction as to how things like this operate in Ghana, but yet very frustrating at the same time. A much better alternative would be to open an account at Bank of America before you leave. BofA works in partnership with Barclay's so you can withdraw directly from your BofA account with your Visa card from any Barclay's branches. If you have any other bank and use the ATM's you will pay an international withdrawal fee which varies depending on the bank. Don't bother with MasterCard, as they are useless here. It would be a good idea to bring a few hundred dollars in cash or traveler's checks. This will be useful at the beginning of your trip if you haven't figured out the banking or if there is a problem with your ATM card. American dollars are also very helpful when traveling outside the country. Visas for other countries often require USD or other international currencies and you can save money if you only exchange money once. (USD to CFA (currency used in all countries surrounding Ghana) as opposed to USD to Cedis to CFA) I hope that made sense. I prefer cash as it is much easier to exchange and you get a better rate, but it doesn't offer the insurance of traveler's checks, so weigh the options and choose. If you take cash, bring large bills as some places won't exchange 20's or will give you a worse rate. I hear the Standard Charter bank on campus exchanges American Express checks but I'm not sure.
Housing and Meals (Top)
The males in our program each shared a room with another American from the program. We all stayed in an Annex of Legon hall, one of 5 main residence halls on the campus. Most of the other international students in other programs stayed in one of the several International Student Hostels (ISH) but the living situation we had was a much more realistic and rewarding experience in my opinion. With that said, the living conditions in Legon Annex A are not as nice as they are in ISH, not even close. The rooms are fine and being on the 5th floor allows a nice breeze to come through (especially nice when the power is out and you have no fan (highly recommended buy a fan right away! Or even two!) The bathrooms have some problems. The water rarely flows, perhaps a few hours a day if you’re lucky. Buckets are useful to fill up when the water is running, if you don't fill up while it's running you will have to fill it outside then carry the bucket up 5 flights of stairs, good exercise but not that cool if you're in a hurry. When the water doesn't flow, the toilets don't flush. I won't get two graphic but use your imagination of a dorm toilet which hasn't been flushed in a week. So just be prepared to live with these kinds of things. These things weren’t the hardest things to get used to, so don't worry.
The food here is amazing, but it may definitely take some getting used to. If you are having problems adjusting, there is always rice and beans close at hand, but don't rely on this as there are so many other foods to enjoy here. Carbohydrates make up a much larger percentage of the diet here than I was used to, so it was a little difficult to get used to. The main dishes include fufu, banku, kenkey. All three are served in balls, differing in consistency and taste but the principle is the same: small pieces are torn off with the fingers and dipped in sauce. Yams, rice, beans, chicken, fish and goat are some other types of food one could expect. You will have intestinal problems adjusting to the food but if you bring with you medicine such as Cipro or Imodium, you should be fine. Don't be shy with the food! Don't give up on something after one try; eat everything at least a few times until you’re really sure that you don't like it. Rice will always be there if you need to go back to it. There are several restaurants on campus as well as markets with food stalls. I recommend these places as they are the cheapest and most convenient. There are also lots of western and Lebanese restaurants off campus to visit. I personally recommend staying away from them. You are in Ghana, eat Ghanaian food, but they are there if you want them.
Other than that enjoy your trip, be safe, have fun and go outside of your comfort zone! Don't only hang out in your room with other Americans from the program. There will be some amazing students from your program, so don't completely abandon the program group either. A good balance of the two is the best option, even though it is much easier to just stay with Americans, so make sure you make the effort to meet others as well.
Most of my experience has been with cell phones here in Ghana. Most of the communication throughout Ghana is via cell phones or payphones. Landlines are mainly used by business offices, or private home numbers. So cell phones are the way to go. First things first: cell phone etiquette. Everyone uses them. Most professors, students, even doctors will answer a cell phone during work. Students should not take too much offense, but they should just keep in mind that most people do not have answering machines or way to keep record of people calling, besides text messaging or a missed call log, so most will answer it mid-conversation. Students should know that they have the liberty of bringing a cell or buying one over here. The networks are Areeba, One Touch, Tigo, and Kasapa. All are well known, but Areeba and Tigo are more accessible for buying pay-as-you-go units. Units are what we in the States consider as "Pre-paid" or "pay-as-you-go” minutes. Kasapa and Areeba are infamous for the most dropped calls, and horrible coverage areas. However, some students agree that Kasapa provides the best variety and prices when it comes to purchasing phones. Areeba is widely used and should be available at any vendor. Tigo provides a flat rate for calling any other network, whereas, other networks charge differently for calling other networks. One Touch seems to provide the best coverage for reasonable rates; however you may have keep going back to the vendors for units. The charges and coverage to and from the States will vary depending on which provider you’re with. Most students will experience the frustration of frequent dropped calls or bad reception. Most of the parents calling have to call several times to get through, if they get through at all. You can also receive and send text messages on these phones.
A year is a long time without a phone so getting a cell is highly suggested; it's so much easier to be able to reach people here and in the States. Even if you don’t plan to use one that often, it is still very helpful.
Togo was a pleasant "getaway" that was neither too far away, nor too expensive, and there are several transportation options for traveling to there; these range in price according to comfort. Most official personnel seemed to speak at least some English; however, much of the general population spoke neither English nor French.
Both Togo and Egypt were popular travel destinations for IP students; Togo for its proximity to Accra, beautiful beaches and French atmosphere, and Egypt for its classical monuments and tours. Travel to and in both of these countries is, again, comparatively low in comparison to American standards; and, modest comfortable hotels were readily available.
Extracurricular Activities (Top)
Activities and events may be difficult to find upon arrival, but just like any other college campus in the States, the student will have to search out opportunities and make an effort to get involved.
Here are a list of some of the events that occur on campus throughout the year:
Weekly Bible Study
Sports (games to watch or partake in)
Various Holiday Themes
Organized Departmental Trips
International Theme Week
For Hall Week, activities are organized by the various halls (i.e. Volta, Commonwealth, Sarbah). Each day different events take place, such as concerts, beach parties, dinners, theme days (i.e. Wacky Hair Day) and or boxing matches.
If you’re interested in getting involved in Sports, then you just find a Hall--mostly likely girls will play for Volta and Guys for Legon- and talk to the head organizer about which sport to play, and they will sign you right up. It is a great way to meet new friends.
Theatre/Dance/Drumming Productions happen at least once a week. Students who enjoy watching performances can watch African Drama or Dance, as well as foreign plays and various dance recitals.
Here is a list of activities off-campus that students may want to partake in:
Shopping at the Markets
Volunteering can be very rewarding, especially if you are having a difficult time adjusting. The potential to meet people and make friends by volunteering may help make things go a little smoother.
The clubs, like in any country, can be fun. It just depends on what you are into.
You will probably find that you will be meeting most people from your classes, theatre productions, church, volunteering, and or in the Halls. Students should decide which hobbies most interest them and find something to get involved in. One important suggestion, besides keeping an open mind and a positive outlook, is to try and speak the language. Most Ghanaians find it a bit amusing, but show more respect for you when you are attempting to speak the language. They may laugh, but they love it. It shows an effort and respect for their culture. You are not just a tourist, but an outsider fascinated with learning about the inside. But just like anywhere you may go, making friends comes differently for everyone. So students should make an attempt, even if they don't succeed at first.