This week Andreas and Karin from the BIDS class of 2017 talk about their exchange semester at the University of Ghana in Accra. They write about the application process as free movers and how they connect the reality of Ghanaian development they witness every day to their class room teachings. So far, Karin and Andreas can “nothing but warmly recommend future students to go“.
At the time of writing, we are quickly approaching May and the finals are just around the corner. As the sun is setting over the enormous campus of University of Ghana, we realized that we have spent more than three months here and soon the semester will be over. Time flies. We figured that a few of you BIDSters back in Lund maybe have done some head-scratching when you have been thinking about the exchange opportunities available for next year. Therefore, we want to share our experience from University of Ghana with you.
Why University of Ghana?
As a fun fact and to be honest, the journey started in the basement of Herkules. During the past couple of years, it has become a minor tradition for BIDS students to study their exchange semester as free-movers at University of Ghana, as an alternative to go on exchange via the faculty agreements offered by Lund University. In the slightly intoxicating atmosphere of Herkules we both realized that we wanted to study at the University of Ghana,
Hard facts: University of Ghana is considered to be the best university in Ghana (every president since independence has attended UG) and ranked the 7th best in Africa in 2016. The University currently has 37 000 students and a large campus in the outskirts of Accra.
Andreas: “The reason for why Ghana became such an interesting alternative for us both is development diversities that Ghana has to offer. From a development perspective, Ghana has for long been seen as a rising star and recently achieved a lower middle-income country status. However, despite that rates of inequality have increased in Ghana, sadly more attention has been given to economic growth than inequality levels. Before coming to Ghana, I’ve been spending time in Uganda and therefore I was really looking forward to make the comparison between East and West Africa, which then created another reason for me to go to Ghana.”
Karin: “I have wanted to come to Ghana since I studied African politics and learned that Ghana was the first country in Africa to gain independence. The philosophy of Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of Ghana, who advocated strongly for Africa to stand united against colonial domination and was one of forefathers of Pan-Africanism, which has fascinated and unconsciously drawn me to Ghana. Also, I aimed to study at a university in an African country to gain a non-western perspective on the topics that I am interested in as a complement to the materials that we have studied in BIDS.”
How did we go about it?
After taking the decision to start the application process as “free movers”, the first step we took was to meet up with Maria Bruce, a BIDS student who has previously been studying and doing research at University of Ghana. (Alumni and networking between BIDSters is a great thing!) We met for lunch at LUX and Maria told us everything from how to apply to the university and what courses were good to what you cannot buy in Ghana (tampons and sunscreen) and where to do the best weekend trips.
Inspired and filled with excitement in May 2015, we started to fill out the necessary paperwork to apply to University of Ghana. We needed to apply to the university itself and we could find all the documents needed at the University of Ghana website. We got our applications signed by the BIDS course convener Montserrat in June and then we could kiss our letters goodbye as they were going to meet their unforeseen destiny in Ghana. We patiently waited throughout the summer until we finally got the admission letters in September – we were officially accepted to our exchange university in Ghana!
As “free-movers” we did not have a formal exchange advisor who could guide us through the exchange study process. But we had each other. During the fall semester in Lund, we met up every now and then to discuss practicalities of our exchange: how to go about the visa application for Ghana, what courses to study and to search for possible scholarships and how to go about insurance. At the time, it could seem like a small on-the-side project to figure out our semester in Ghana, and after all it did not feel like it was a lot of work (and now, everything feels totally worth it).
How has studying at university been?
Karin: “It has been amazing, sometimes confusing but overall, it’s been very rewarding. Living and studying in Ghana has been a powerful learning experience since it has combined reading and experiencing reality. For example, I study a class about how transportation is linked to development. One week we read articles about off-road settlements (communities that do not have access to adequate at all or seasonally). The weekend after, we were among a group of students who spent the weekend travelling to a coastal community in the east of Ghana. The road leading to the community was very poorly maintained and there were some island communities who relied entirely on canoes to get to the mainland. These experiences made me see clearer that what we study in BIDS really has a connection to the real world. The Human Geography classes that I have taken here have also included several field trips. We had for example the opportunity to interview farmers in a rural area about their view on an irrigation centre for a rural development class.
“Of course, the life as exchange student has not always been smooth. It was at first difficult to find what classes were available to us (and put together a schedule without collisions), be part of a group project when the project group consisted of 15 people, and not to get the right readings for a class because there is only one book in the department library (and that one is currently not there). But overall, with a smile, a lot of water and the ability to depend on classmates to gain vital information, it can be done and enjoyed. After almost a semester in Ghana, I feel like I’ve gained a more sober perspective of developing countries and the issues that they face.”
Andreas: “I totally agree with Karin. Of course, in many ways the experience of studying in Ghana has been quite different from studying in Lund. It brings you many opportunities but at the same time there are a few challenges that you have to tackle to be able to find a good study environment. The heat and the very humid climate make it hard to focus. Internet connection can be lacking sometimes and it might take you an hour or two to download an article. The African time-perspective is alive and well and group meetings that you have set up can sometimes take up to an hour or two before everyone is gathered and the meeting can be started. However, we have figured out that the key to this is to seize the opportunities instead of focusing on the challenges.
“In one of my classes, Strategies of Development in Africa, we discussed different strategies that have been launched in Africa to enhance development. As we mentioned above, Ghana has been experiencing rapid economic growth but rates of inequality grew along. That is truly being reflected in my everyday life in Accra; in one day I can go from Internet cafés and rooftop pools in the highly developed Airport Residential Area to spend a day with the fishermen, who live in informal settlements on the beach in Jamestown, the harbour of Accra. In the classroom I study inequality and development but by stepping outside the classroom I get to experience everything I study. It may sound cheesy but in many ways the whole of Ghana has become my classroom.”
If there are any of you lovely young BIDSters that feel like this is something that could interest you and you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Based on our experiences at University of Ghana, we can do nothing but warmly recommend future students to go!
Quick know-how about going to University of Ghana:
Semester: 1 February-28 May
Application deadline for second semester: 31st August
Semester Fee: 3347 USD (including accommodation)
Flight ticket: ~600 USD (return trip)
Written by Karin Edstedt and Andreas Yngvesson
Edited by Yannick Schwarz