Studying in Ghana with Emily McGee

This post is part of a series of interviews with travelers who have studied abroad.

Meet Emily McGee from Maine: This blogger from One Trailing Spouse has a degree in literature from American University in Washington D.C., where she specialized in African literature. During her studies, she spent a semester in Ghana and a semester in South Africa. Here’s her story.

volunteering in Ghana

Emily volunteering in Ghana.

How often did you have class? Were classes easier, more difficult or the same as you expected?

I had classes on a similar schedule to my university in the U.S. (about 3 hours per week per class). In some ways the classes were easier because most were huge lecture-style classes, so there was never any work on a weekly basis, and no real need to do any reading or prepare for presentations or discussions. In some ways, this was more difficult though, because it meant that in many courses the final exam counted for your entire semester grade.

What surprised you about Ghana?

As far as school, I was surprised at how hard it was to adjust to the British style of university. I wasn’t used to having class with 500 other students and a professor who lectured for hours on end.

The heat in Ghana surprised me. I knew it would be hot, but growing up in Maine, I had no concept of how hot it could actually get. There was no air conditioning anywhere, and often no breeze and I just sweat constantly. For the first few weeks, I actually felt ill because I was so unused to the heat.

What was your favorite thing about Ghana?

I loved the food. Since it was so hot, I never cooked, I ate street food for every meal. Some of my favorite foods were fresh fruit, red-red (black-eyed peas and fried plantains in a spicy sauce) and kiliwili (ripe plantains topped with chili powder and ginger, then fried).

There were plenty of other things to like about Ghana though. The Ghanaians were very friendly and welcoming. There were plenty of cool places to visit on the weekends. The cost of living was very cheap.

market in Ghana

Market day in Ghana

Least favorite thing?

Back in the dark ages of 2005, I didn’t have the same access to technology as I do today. I would email my family and friends once or twice a week from an internet cafe. I didn’t have a phone, so I don’t think I called anyone ever. I had just spent a semester in South Africa, so I was used to being away from everyone, but now I appreciate that I can Skype or FaceTime with friends and family on a regular basis when I’m abroad.

Sum up Ghana in 1 word.


What song reminds you of your time in Ghana?

Anything by Westlife. They were an Irish boy band that formed in 1998, but were still SO popular in Ghana in 2005. I still know all the words to every song on their Greatest Hits album. Those songs were playing on every mini-bus and in every Ghanaian home I visited.

Did you get to do any other traveling?

Ghana was a cheap place to travel, but I was still a student with a very limited budget. I traveled quite a bit within Ghana, but didn’t travel outside of the country. My study abroad group was supposed to go to Togo and Benin, but the trip was cancelled because Togo had just had a coup.

Ghanaian dancing

Traditional dance in Ghana.

What was it like coming home?

I went to Italy for 2 weeks on my way home to visit two high school friends who were studying abroad there. That really made the transition back to the U.S. easy for me. I was able to see friends and spend time in a Western country before going back to Maine.

Do you have any advice for future students in Ghana?

Be patient. People have a very different sense of time in Ghana, and there’s no such thing as being late. Even at the university, our classes started three weeks late. Be patient and flexible and you’ll be fine.

I know this is a bit bossy, but I feel the need to say it: take your anti-malarial pills. One of my roommates stopped taking his pills, got malaria, left it untreated for too long, and died while we were in Ghana. It was devastating and totally preventable.

Study Abroad in Ghana with Emily McGee

Bucket baths – one of the perks of study abroad!

Emily has lived in Africa, the South Pacific, and three states in four years. She pays the bills by writing for various educational companies, but she’s happiest when writing about travel. Emily and her husband live life on the go, and recently got back to Atlanta, Georgia after five months in Kenya. Emily writes about travel, and life as a trailing spouse at One Trailing Spouse.

3 Responses to “Studying in Ghana with Emily McGee”

  1. That’s scary about Emily’s roommate. I’m off to Ghana next year, so guess I better stock up on the malaria tablets.

    I can’t believe the classes started three weeks late, though?! I mean, I’ve heard that many places in Africa have a different concept of time, but a university starting three weeks late?! By the way, the food sounds amazing. Plantains and chili powder!

  2. Malaria is no joke, definitely take your medicine! My husband also got malaria while we were in Peace Corps. It was misdiagnosed three times and he was extremely ill. Don’t ruin your RTW trip with something like that!

    I’m excited to hear you’re going to Ghana on your trip. Get ready to sweat. 🙂

  3. Wow, what an unconventional study abroad experience. I can’t believe classes started three weeks late…Did they at least inform people or was it a daily twiddling of the thumbs seeing if classes would start that day? Also…cannot believe someone died. How awful that must have been.

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