Opheley Salihu, a senior in the Honors College who will graduate in May 2013, and majoring in the international relations track in political science. She is a resident assistant in the Honors College and a former peer mentor for the Office of Multicultural Development. In this interview, she shares her experiences during a study abroad trip to her native Ghana in spring 2012.
Please describe your study abroad experience.
Joining fellow students during her time in Ghana is Opheley Salihu, who can be seen here on the far right in the second row.
My experience studying abroad was amazing to say the least. This was a life-changing opportunity that has helped me grow and learn, not only academically, but also personally. During my study abroad at the University of Ghana, West Africa, I took courses that I truly enjoyed, and that were beyond my coursework. I decided to stay an extra two months and work with a local outreach program. I worked with a few local families struggling with poverty and poverty-related issues, including lack of health care, gender inequalities and proper education. I worked alongside six other volunteers and a full-time staff to help the community gain these basic needs. I also taught basic arithmetic and grammar to a local kindergarten class of about 44 students.
What were the costs associated with the trip? How was it financed?
My tuition and other fees associated with the program totaled roughly $5,500 for the semester. The cost of a single room on campus for the semester was $800. I was responsible for the cost of my food and other living expenses, which varied, depending on whether I was traveling to other regions or simply living my day-to-day campus life. I financed my trip mainly through scholarships. I also was able to transfer my financial aid from The University of Akron to apply to my program in Ghana.
What do you feel you gained by studying abroad?
I was able to take a full load of courses on various African political structures and issues within the continent, which is something I am very passionate about. This really helped me focus on the direction I want to go in for graduate school and a career path in general. One thing I gained that I was not expecting was an amazing group of friends that became my family. They, along with the local students, truly made this experience a memorable one. We are all still very close. I made fantastic memories and gained wonderful friendships that will last a lifetime.
What were the similarities/differences between studying in the United States and your experience in Ghana?
Studying in Ghana was very similar to studying in the States, though there were a few differences. The main difference was that all courses were mostly lecture based and met once or twice a week for about three hours. Another major difference was that grades in my coursework taken in Ghana were based solely on final exams; it was rare that any of my courses would come with many assignments and smaller tests, which made it a bit more difficult.
Were there any safety concerns being in an unknown place?
Not really. I never felt unsafe. You have to use common sense and take the same precautions, such as not walking by yourself, that you would take in any major city in the United States.
How long were you abroad?
My program was four and a half months long. However, I went earlier and also stayed for two months afterward to work with a local school. My total experience lasted for almost eight months.
Which credits did you satisfy while studying abroad?
I took 18 credits while I was abroad and all of them transferred to UA and satisfied the upper level requirements for my major.
What were prerequisites or requirements that needed to be filled prior to being eligible for your trip?
The program I went through was University Study Abroad Consortium, which requires students to be at least a college sophomore with a minimum GPA of 3.0. There is also an application process. The University of Akron has separate requirements to satisfy before approval is granted.
What advice would you give to students thinking about studying abroad?
I would tell students to start early and do research on the country you would like to visit. Get accustomed to various traditions, etc. Also, planning ahead is key for making sure you have enough time to have everything submitted, including important documents, visas and other things you may need to do before leaving. Lastly, I would encourage you to simply "just do it." Don't find excuses for why you shouldn't go and don't let your fears of the unknown stop you from a life-changing opportunity.