Chelsea Davis - Twi in Ghana
About a year ago, I left the United States for the first time to study abroad in Ghana. Unfortunately, my time there was too short, so I decided to find a way to go back. By the next summer I found myself in Ghana again, this time through Projects Abroad. However, the unique thing about Projects Abroad is that it offers more than just a volunteer opportunity.
Though I was technically considered a volunteer, I was really there as a student - a language student to be precise. I went to Ghana on a volunteer programme to learn the local language and to gain what turned out to be a very interesting cultural experience.
Picture a young white girl, walking up to a primary school in Ghana for her first day of Twi lessons. At this point, she is still recovering from the long flight from Pittsburgh to Accra, and she is excited because she has not yet gotten lost on her way to school. She’s reliving what it feels like to be in Africa. Then, she hears a small voice saying a familiar word: oboroni. At first she smiles, thinking, “Yes, I know, little one. I’m white. I’m a foreigner. And you are completely fascinated by me.”
Turns out, he wasn’t the only one that was fascinated. That one small voice gradually became a dull roar as more and more kids caught on. Then, before I knew it, I was surrounded by at least twenty small girls and boys, who were hanging from my limbs and saying OBORONI! OBORONI!
I like to refer to this as the “Oboroni Chant.” Though it is cute at first, I quickly began to tire of being called foreigner over and over again, so I taught them my name. This led to the “Chelsea Chant.” Fortunately, most Ghanaians are fans of the Chelsea Football Club, so everyone was happy.
After being met by the daily greeting from the welcome wagon, I would spend the day learning both Twi and witnessing the culture of a typical Ghanaian public school. After watching interactions between the teachers and students and interacting with them myself, I realised that what really makes the school function, in spite of the lack of financial resources, is everyone’s ability to take on multiple roles and responsibilities.
For example, my teacher took on the role of language instructor for me, taught four classes for the students at the school, and also acted as a father figure for one student who lacked a male role model. The students seemed to carry this same attitude. They not only did the school work required of them but were always ready to aid the teachers when they needed assistance. Playing these multiple roles created a culture of communal responsibility in the school, which was incredible to watch.
I did a total of 84 hours of Twi lessons. In this time, I gained the ability to read at a basic level, write simple and compound sentences, and engage in small conversations with people. I found my teacher very devoted and always available. He even bought me some books, so I could continue practicing Twi back home. Aside from being my teacher, he also became a good friend. Before I left, he invited me to his home to meet his family, and we have continued to keep in contact since I’ve returned home.
My host family
My host family was hospitable and eager to get to know me. Many mornings, I joined my host father during breakfast, and we would chat for hours about our life experiences and our cultural backgrounds. My host mum also shared with me her experiences in the Ghanaian school system, as she was a teacher for many years.
My experience in Ghana
Last but not least, I found the Projects Abroad staff to be exceptionally in tune with the volunteers’ needs. From the beginning, all of us were reassured that the staff would be available at any time if we ever needed anything. They urged all the volunteers to be open and honest about their experiences and when problems would arise, staff members were quick to give advice or intervene if necessary. They genuinely cared about our well-being.
All in all, my experience in Ghana was a positive one. As it was my second time visiting the country, I was pleased that the Projects Abroad programme was organised in a way that provided me with a structured Twi class, whilst also allowing me the freedom to move about Ghana and link up with the people I had met during my previous trip.