Saturday, November 14, 2015

Alumnus Jimmy Steier’s Semester in Africa

Ben Murray | Assistant Editor Freelance

Q: What are you doing in Africa right now, and how long have you been there?

A: Right now I am studying abroad for one semester at The University of Ghana at Legon in Accra, Ghana, West Africa. I am primarily taking graduate classes in Public Health. I’ve been in Ghana for almost three months now. My term only lasts four months though, so I will be heading back to the U.S. fairly soon.

Steier catches some rays on a typical fishing boat in the estuary
where Lake Volta meets the ocean. He was a with a group that
was headed to check out how traditional fishermen cast their nets
Q: What inspired you to apply for and go on this trip?

A: Often times I believe we, as Americans, view the United States as the extent of the world when, in fact, it is only a microcosm of the much larger fabric of humanity. I felt that studying in Africa would allow me to achieve a more robust worldview, and consequently kick start my desire to live abroad later in life.There is value in experiencing a foreign culture that is, in many ways, in stark contrast to your own. It gives you a critical eye to your own culture, and it helps you to be more tolerant of differences.
I also have a younger brother, Bereket, adopted from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. His roots were a catalyst for my decision to come to Africa.

A view of the Lake Volta near the Akosombo Dam.
Lake Volta is the largest man-made lake in the world.
Q: Where are you currently and where have you been in Africa since the trip began?

A: I have actually only been in Ghana and in the small neighbouring country of Togo since coming to Africa; however, I have travelled extensively domestically, and later this month I will be travelling to Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa and, briefly, Nairobi, Kenya.

Q: What is your favorite thing that you have done so far?

A: Ghana is a coastal country so I’ve spent a good amount of time at various beaches. But, my favorite experience was traveling to the north of Ghana and hiking to the largest waterfall in West Africa called Wli Falls. I think it was the most remote and beautiful place I had been in my life.

Q: What is something that has surprised you in your time there?

A: I really had no conception of what Ghana would be like prior to coming, so everything was a surprise in a way. The way school works here is certainly surprising: the University follows the British System (Ghana was a British colony) so almost the entirety of your grade is contingent on one final exam. As a result, there is virtually no work required throughout the semester, which is the direct inverse of the workload at American colleges. This is very conducive to travel, but also gives me a creeping feeling of idleness.

Steier, along with the rest of the students in his exchange program,
most of who are American attended a traditional twinning ceremony
Q: How has this changed your life?

A: I think it is a difficult proposition to put an ongoing life experience into perspective, but if I could give one answer, it is that this trip has spurred my aspiration to travel the world.

Q: What influence has your education at Mount Michael made on your experience?

A: I believe Mount Michael gave me a foundational look into many subjects, which helped to locate my areas of interest. Mount Michael also whetted my interest in other cultures via its international students.

Q What are the people like there?

A: I don’t want to typecast an entire population of people, but generally Ghanaians are friendly and very outgoing—always introducing themselves and trying to be your friend. The words “brother” and “sister” are used to describe any acquaintances; I am called “Oburoni”, a word used to describe a foreigner or ‘white person’ in the native language of Twi.
In many ways, the culture is antiquated, though. Ghanaians are often intolerant of too much deviation in dress or action, and conformity is seen as virtuous. Productivity is also not always at the forefront, as time is not seen as a commodity. I often become frustrated with these differences, but viewing the culture through the lens of Western principles isn’t always reasonable.

Q: What is one funny or touching story that you have witnessed or been a part of?

A: I began playing soccer, or “football” they call it in Ghana, for a semi-pro team. The team volunteers with groups of young boys from low-income families. The boys all want new cleats because they have second or third-use rubber boots. My mom is visiting in two weeks, bringing with her many pairs of cleats and new soccer balls for the boys. I will be very happy to give them the new equipment.