Cultural Submersion is single-handedly one of the greatest aspects of study abroad. Many people visit countries, but few get the chance to interact with the land’s essence through culture. Prior to being a Gilman Scholar, I had no experience with cultural submersion in a foreign country, without a road-map or guideline I was a bit lost. Everything changed when I began to make meaningful interactions with locals. Some interactions gave birth to new friendships, others became fleeting, yet treasured memories. Regardless of the outcome, I saw each interaction as a relationship which strengthened my connection to and appreciation for Ghana.
The most memorable relationship was built while in Dzodze, a beautiful village on the eastern border next to Togo. A few friends and I were there for their yearly Palm Festival, an annual tradition where locals sang, dance and gave thanks. The celebration was how people showed gratitude for God’s gift of the palm tree – a resource that brought them food, drink, shelter, and tools. We drove through the night to get there, from the capital of Accra to Dzodze was about 9 hours. When I awoke, we were in Dzodze and the first thing I noticed was a new sky, untainted by the population of the inner city.
Before leaving for Ghana my Nigerian father said that African ground and sky personified god’s artistry. As I looked up, his words were given meaning. The scene below was just as romantic, we were in a dirt compound and scattered across it were small homes made from a mixture of palm straw and clay. We spent the next two days participating in festivities and exploring the village.
On the third day, we traveled on motorbikes to a secluded area in the village where young men tapped palm trees for sap and older women turned sap to wine. As we drank, an older woman came and sat next to me. She must have thought I was a local because she started to speak to me in her native tongue. Luckily, my friend was able to translate bits and pieces of the conversation.
We spoke for an hour but only 20 minutes of the conversation was translated. I watched every facial expression and listened to each fluctuation in tone as she spoke. Eventually, it was time to go and as I rode away I realized that cultural submersion isn’t about understanding everything. It’s about opening oneself to that which we don’t understand.