From July through December 2011, this is where I'll be. Here are the tales of my adventures!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Exponential Education

I decided to do an Independent Study/Internship as the Director of a program called “Exponential Education” for the fall semester in Ghana.  It’s a program that hires Senior High School students to tutor Junior High School students in math and English.  We pay them a weekly stipend and at the end of the program, we award one of them with a scholarship to be used for their higher education.

Every week consisted of anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes traveling by tro-tro to our teaching venue depending on traffic.  From there, we got to the hellish intersection that is Riss Junction.  It’s essentially a 4-way stop with no stop signs, lights, or direction so it’s constantly jammed.

It all started back in Santa Barbara where Helen Gradstein, the founder of the program, actually contacted the students who would be studying abroad in Ghana to see if anyone was interested in taking it on.  As someone interested in the field of Educational Administration, this seemed like a perfect opportunity for me so I enthusiastically signed up.

We met up and she explained how the program worked and handed over all of the necessary documents.  I was extremely excited and couldn’t wait to get things going once I was over here.  During orientation, all of the anticipation was exponentially (for lack of a better term) growing.  I wanted the semester to begin so I could start this program!  Unfortunately, that’s not exactly how things turned out…

Heidi, my partner in crime and Co-Director for the Ghana Fall 2011 Chapter, and I quickly discovered that accomplishing tasks took much longer than expected in most situations.  Plus, we were going on very little direction as to how to actually complete said tasks.

We waited weeks before actually meeting Professor Kate, the Ghana Program Monitor, because she was out of the country and I can’t even begin to explain all of the miscommunication we all had with one another.  Eventually, after traveling around the areas of Accra, Adenta, Agbogba, and Ashongman, and meeting with different school headmistresses, we felt like we had gotten the ball rolling.

We met for the first time with the tutors and students in October and initially had 2 tutors and about 15 students.  It was both exciting and terrifying!  I had never done anything like this!  As time went on, Heidi and I got the hang of things and I really think we made an impact on these kids’ lives.

By the end of the program, we had about 35 total students and 4 tutors.  The students’ math and English skills had greatly improved and we had really developed our own community away from the University.  It was such a rewarding experience and has helped further underline my passion for the field of education and working in administrative positions.

Our last week consisted of a special graduation ceremony and awarding scholarships to the tutors.  We ended up dividing the total scholarship money and allocating different amounts to each tutor based on his/her performance.

We said our goodbyes to the students, tutors, and Professor Kate and left Agbogba for the last time.  I tried uploading a copy of my final project for this internship for anyone interested in learning more about the program, but blogger isn't very functional apparently.  It’s a compilation of what we did this semester and also a guide for running future programs in Ghana so if there is anyone who wants to check it out, just let me know and I'll send you a copy!

Monday, December 5, 2011

End of Semester Concerts!

It’s been quite a while since my last post so a lot has happened.  It’s finals season and everyone is basically cramming, shutting themselves away to “study,” procrastinating, traveling, or sleeping non-stop.  Since I’ve finished five of my six final exams/practicals/projects and don’t have the last one until December 14th, I’ve been using this time for travel!  More updates on that venture to come later!

For this entry, I just wanted to focus on my Pop Band Final Concert and Acapella since they consumed a lot of my time during those last few weeks of classes.  I joined an Acapella group started by two of my friends, Carlin and Maggie (Carlin is the Asian guy below on the left, Maggie is the blonde in the group photo).  We learned a couple songs, performed for the University Chorale and then began recruiting more members.

At the end of Homecoming week, for the closing event, we performed “I’ll Be There,” “New Soul,” “Auld Lang Syne,” and the crowd favorite, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”  It was so much fun to be in an acapella group since that’s something I’ve always wanted to do, but never got the chance to actually take part in.  In the end, I met some cool folks and really appreciated the opportunity to be singing again.
A week or so before that concert, was my final concert with the International Pop Band, “Obrobini.”  It was a really bittersweet moment because it was the last time we’d all be performing together.

The show had a lot of individual solos from the Level 100 students who were also being graded.  There were a couple other bands performing too.  Jonathan and Bobby performed a traditional Ghanaian piece for their final.

Being a part of this band was an interesting experience.  It was a challenge to be a part of a group that had such different directional style than anything I’d ever experienced, not to mention I’ve basically always had sheet music to work with rather than complete improv the entire time.  Still, it really helped me musically and I appreciate all that I learned from this group.  I won’t miss having 10pm-midnight rehearsal, but I will miss the amazing and talented friends I made and having my UC friends come out to support me every week!  OBROBINI!

Friday, November 4, 2011

I can't believe it's November already!

This past weekend was REALLY packed, but really fun.  It started off with the boy’s soccer game at 7am on Saturday morning as usual, but this time they actually tied instead of a loss!  After the game, I went to the National Museum in Accra.  There was some cool stuff, but it’s strange to have expectations of a National Museum and then arrive only to find out it’s basically one giant room with a few exhibits inside.  Still, it was interesting to see more artifacts of Ghana’s history!

We then walked to the Cultural Center and my life was finally complete!!!  It was a seemingly never-ending center of shops!!  I bought a lot of really cool stuff that I’m so excited about including a chess set, a kente cloth blanket, a Ghana shirt, and a present for my dad.  (I can’t say what it is on here since I know he’s reading this…HI DAD!)  My bargaining skills are really improving!!


Later that night, I went out to my friend Hussein’s birthday party at Escobar where they had all you can eat cake and KABOBS!!! SO GOOD.  Felicia and I were so happy to just sit there eating while everyone was dancing haha.

Next up was a music video shoot for the song “Change Positions” by the group V.I.P.  My friend Alex met the producer or something like that and hooked me up with the gig.  It was really cool to be in an actual studio recording and see what it’s like, but I only got to stay for part of it because I had to leave early for work sadly.

I went to Exponential Education on Sunday as usual.  I’m not going to go into that yet because I plan on just writing a full post on it when it’s all over so for now I’ll move onto Monday, which was HALLOWEEN!!!!  Katie’s dad was in town visiting (I am seriously shocked by the number of parents that have come to visit) and he brought us….CANDY!!!  I was beyond happy.  I had Swedish Fish, Reese’s, Kit Kats and more for the first time in months and my sweet tooth was finally satiated.  After changing our minds twice, Acacia and I decided to go to the Halloween party in the dance hall so we made last minute cat costumes.  It ended up being pretty fun and it was good to see everyone having a good time and celebrating too.


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Fun things lately!

Here is a quickly summarized update of what I’ve been doing the past few weeks since my blogging has become more sporadic than it had initially been…

Now that the soccer season is over for the women, we’ve been getting to spend more time together off the field.  It’s been so much fun to meet all of them and it’s really meant a lot for me to have developed such a great team bond.

I finally got to go see a professional soccer match at the Accra stadium!!  The game was Hearts of Oak (the local Accra team) vs. Berekum.  The stadium was actually really nice and it was a lot of fun to be in a setting like that where soccer is THE sport of the nation so everyone gets really into it!

The game ended in a tie, but it was just really funny to me to see the level of play in these teams compared to the level of play I’ve been witnessing in the Black Stars, Mann U, Chelsea, and other Premier League games that are always aired on TV.  They’re wholly unlike, but live soccer is always entertaining to me!

Next came Acacia’s birthday!  Acacia also goes to UCSB, but we’d never met before and I’m so stoked that we did because I’ve really found a great friend in her.  It was her 21st birthday this week so Veronica and I got her some presents and candles for this BOMB cake that Mindy made.  You know it’s actually bomb when I say it since I don’t even like cake.

After that, we headed to an Italian restaurant in Osu, Mamma Mia’s Pizzeria, which was okay, but pretty expensive compared to the 5 GHC/day I’ve been spending on food.  From there, we went to Ryan’s Irish Pub where Acacia had her first legal drink (even though the drinking age in Ghana is 18, she’s been waiting for her 21st just to make it more special)!

Ladies Hood 2011

It’s about time my feminist side came out on this blog considering I’ve been here for 3 months now and haven’t really written much about women’s roles in Ghana.  This entry was sparked by a conference I attended last week sponsored by the SRC Women’s Commission titled, “Ladies Hood 2011.”  I wasn’t expecting anything in particular (mainly because the posters weren’t very descriptive), but I thought it would be a really interesting experience to see how these types of programs go in a place like Ghana.

The conference began with a “discussion” on whether abortion should be legalized or not in Ghana.  I expected to hear the extreme religious response on the matter, which I did: “Under no circumstances would God ever approve of an abortion.”  What I wasn’t expecting, however, were the completely opposing opinions that weren’t necessarily being equally represented, but were certainly present enough to spark quite a heated debate!

There were the usual questions of when a fetus is actually considered a human with rights, whether it should be a woman’s choice to do what she wants with her own body, etc.  A lot of women brought up the point that women are already obtaining unsafe and unprofessional abortions, so why not just provide a safe setting since they will continue to happen regardless of legalization.  One of the more frustrating comments I heard was something along the lines of “women should have the option of abortion in the case that there is no man to take care of them.” (-___-)

Eventually, the speaker came over with the microphone and asked the only 3 obrunis at the conference (Mariah and Stephanie—2 other UC students—and me) what our thoughts were on the matter.  First, after awkwardly sharing that I’m an atheist and literally having the facilitator gasp and walk away in what seemed like absolute disgust, we explained how we didn’t think religion was a relevant factor because it’s a social issue, not a religious one.  Of course, that argument doesn’t exactly work when you live in a place with no official separation of church and state…


I continued to explain my views and how I believe that a woman’s body is her own and she has the right to do with it what she wants and that a bundle of cells that has the potential to grow into a human is about as human as sperm frantically trying to connect with an ovary!  A lot of women were cheering and agreeing with me, and a lot were shaking their heads in disgust.  A wonderfully juxtaposed reaction to a very firm stance I’d say.

That discussion ended after everyone started complaining since we were just going in circles and we continued with a discussion of women having positions of power in the workplace, politics, and society.  On the one hand, they recognized that this issue is largely due to gender inequalities, but as the discussion continued and I heard what some of the suggestions were, it made me even more frustrated.  Women were saying that the problem lies in the women who have attained power, but don’t know how to act.  They “should maintain humility” instead of “being bossy” because if they’re too controlling, men won’t respect them. AAAAA!!!
Next, after introducing the guest speakers at the high table, came a short poetry recitation and a performance by a singer/talk show host.

Afterwards, there was an informational presentation given by a medical doctor explaining STI’s and other common female bodily functions/issues.  That was actually a really sad talk to sit through, especially after the Q&A section.  Women were asking questions about their bodies that really reflected how little sexual health education there is in the education system here.  I understand that societies with such traditional religious views have certain emphases in their education (i.e. religion courses are typically mandatory), but every woman should have a strong understanding of how her body works, what is “normal” and what she should be concerned about.  It is a huge disservice to both men and women for this information to be omitted from the standard curriculum.
The best part about this conference was of course, THE FREE SHIRTS!!  We got these great shirts that say “I <3 my parents” and “I <3 my baby” that are anti-abortion shirts, but I’m just excited to wear mine when I get back home because I think they’re hysterical!

Quick shout out to the Vagina Monologues Cast since this is a post completely dedicated to women!  You ladies continually inspire me to be a stronger woman.  For any of my other feminist friends out there, you should really consider auditioning for the show this year.  It will positively change your life, plus, who doesn’t like talking about vaginas all the time?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Inter-Hall Soccer Tournament Champions!

WOO HOOO!!!!  The Jubilee/ISH Women’s soccer team won it all!  We had our last game this Monday and ended the season undefeated!  I haven’t even mentioned soccer or should I say “football” on my blog I realized, which is surprising based on the fact that it has been consuming a lot of my time.

We have practice basically every day at 6am with the exception of 4pm practice on Wednesdays (love those!) and the men and women practice together.  It’s been a great way to make new friends and meeting soccer players is always great because everyone has something to teach. 

The boys always come out to our games to support us and it’s fun for us to see them play too!  The intensity level of their games is quite a step up from ours so it’s pretty exciting to watch.  Below are some of my teammates at one of the boy’s recent games.  I honestly forgot how much I enjoyed being on an organized sports team.  You gain a sense of comradeship that is nothing like other group dynamics. 

As the captain of the International team, I was interviewed by University reporters and representatives from the Sports Directorate. It was so cool!  I was also the top scorer in the entire women’s league so they wrote an article about me and gave me the nickname “The Goal Queen.”  I thought it was so funny, but was also secretly stoked to be recognized like that since I’ve never really been much of a soccer star haha.  Here’s the link to the articles:

ISH Team:

Akuafo Hatrick match:

Goal Queen:

Special shout out to my intramural team back home: The Big Yellow.  I haven’t forgotten about all of you and hope you haven’t forgotten about me either!!! Once I’m back home, we WILL finally get that championship.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Auntie Irene’s Birthday

This past weekend we celebrated the birthday of Auntie Irene, one of our UC-EAP advisors.  We went to the house located in Oyafira and were given a huge feast or Ghanaian dishes and drinks.  It was a fun night of socializing, dancing, and celebration that ended with Auntie Irene cutting her birthday cake and more dancing.

It’s been nice to have more space from the large UC group, but it’s also nice to get together for events like this and see everyone dressed up every now and then.  Plus, I can never turn down free food.

Clearly Nicole can’t either… :D

Thursday, September 29, 2011

International Student Welcome Durbar!

The International Students were finally officially welcomed to the University this weekend, now that it’s Week 7!  It was actually a lot of fun to get dressed up, see some live performances and get to eat an AMAZING buffet!!

There were some local groups that came to perform traditional music and dancing, including “The Fire Dance,” in which a male and female dancer both danced with a burning flame on top of their heads.

Then there were some student performances and a couple of them were my friends from Pop Band!  Bobby, our guitarist, did a cover with Fraser, one of the CSU guys, of Alison Krauss’s “Down to the River to Pray” and another bluegrass song and it was so great to have a little feeling of home.

Cecily, our lead singer, also sang one of her original songs with Bobby accompanying her.  That girl can sing.  Hopefully I’ll get more videos up of the Pop Band Concerts or find them on YouTube, but she is easily one of the most talented singers I’ve heard in a while.  So versatile!  She’s the other shorty in the picture below.

There was also a special performance from UCEAP as a tribute to Professor Irene Odotei (a.k.a. Auntie Irene).  She one of our programs special advisors/faculty members and she’s absolutely phenomenal!  She’s such a funny, captivating, and informative speaker.  Three women from the UC group escorted her to the stage with traditional attire and dance moves.