GETTING TO KNOW HO
Welcome to Ghana – the gateway to Africa! Bordered by Togo, Côte d’Ivoire and the Atlantic Ocean, this small but vibrant country is filled with history and cultural diversity. The Ghanaian people are known for their welcoming spirit, so get ready for a ‘Woezo’ everywhere you turn!
Learn About Ghana
Like the majority of the African continent, Ghana was formally colonized. The “Gold Coast” (named by the British) originally attracted the Portuguese to the area. The Trans-Atlantic trade route became a popular export route for gold, but also for slaves -- Cape Coast was one of the largest ports for the slave trade in West Africa. After centuries of oppression, Ghana became one of the first countries in the African continent to gain their independence, and has been one of the most politically stable countries in the region ever since. If you’re a history buff, learn even more about Ghana’s rich history.
Today, Ghana’s economy is one of the fastest-growing in Africa. They are one of the largest exporters of gold and cocoa (hot chocolate anyone?), and this economic independence has enabled a focus on access to education and meeting the basic needs of the population. One of the most recent social issues that has been at the forefront of Ghana’s politics is child labor – children are being taken out of school at an early age to help with the family farm or business. The government recognizes that is preventing the advancement of early education, and has started to put measures in place to prevent the frequency of child labor.
Ghana is abuzz with celebrations and festivities throughout the year, but one that you can count on every weekend is a wedding or a funeral. Funerals in Ghana are treated as a true celebration of life and the perfect reason to get together with friends and family. Everyone dresses to impress and many times, professional mourners are hired! The funeral business is quite lucrative throughout the country, as many people will save up their entire lives specifically for their funeral celebration. Coffin-makers line the streets of the markets and create true pieces of art for friends and family to choose from. Don’t be surprised if you get invited to one or two while you are in Ghana – it’s an honor!
The community of Ho, in the Volta Region, is a unique introduction to life in Ghana. Surrounded by green mountains, winding dirt roads, and kids playing a game of soccer, you’ll find yourself instantly welcomed into the rural lifestyle of Ghanaians. You’ll be close to the Togo border, so expect to meet traders stopping through town on their way to market days, where you can buy anything from fish to jewelry to soccer balls!
In the Volta Region of Ghana, it’s not uncommon to see small goats and chickens along the side of the road as you walk through the community. Just outside of the dry dirt roads of Ho, you might find yourself in a deciduous forest with mahogany trees, and you may come across the occasional monkey while hiking. It’s important to note that the climate in Ghana is extremely hot and humid. Therefore, it’s essential to wear breathable cotton clothing, and to ensure you keep well hydrated. Please also be aware of the signs of heat stroke. Mosquitos are common in Ghana, so anti-malaria medication is something you might consider and discuss with your travel doctor.
If you’re traveling outside of the Volta Region, you could find yourself in beautiful natural parks brimming with wildlife, including exotic birds, and even baboons or grass cutter. If you choose to visit Cape Coast on your weekend, please be aware of currents and rip tides at the beaches, and swim only in pre-designated safe areas.
Cultural Do’s and Don’ts
Entering a new culture is an exciting and challenging experience. And just as you bring your own culture to share, it’s important to be open and respectful to the culture of those you’ll meet during your travels. You’ll often find that you have a much more positive experience if you are aware of and take into account cultural norms when meeting new people and getting to know your new community.
Picture this: You’re living in a country far from home. You can’t understand the language, and you’re trying to order food, but everything seems to be moving so slowly! Why can’t it just be like in your home country: fast and efficient?
Sometimes, these and other frustrations can build up, and you may even become angry or annoyed at with this new and unfamiliar place, its cultural norms, and its people. If this happens to you, you might be experiencing culture shock.
Culture shock can be a normal part of traveling to a new country, but it might surprise you that you can also encounter reverse culture shock when you return home. While everyone experiences some degree of culture shock, the impact that it has on your experience depends on how well prepared you are to handle its different phases. Here are some tips and tricks to get you assimilated (and re-assimilated once you’re back home) so you can enjoy every moment of your journey.
- Have a sense humor.
Try to see something of value in every new experience you have. While it can be challenging in the moment, try to keep it all in perspective. The ability to laugh and go with the flow are two key tools to coping with initial culture shock.
- Expect differences.
In any new culture, there will be some differences. If you’re prepared for there to be challenges and differences before you arrive in-country, it can make a world of difference in how you adjust.
- ...but look for what’s the same.
You will likely encounter differences in cultures, but you might not immediately realize the similarities. Take a moment to appreciate those attributes that make us more alike than different.
- Keep learning.
Immersing yourself in a new culture is a constant education. So continue making an effort to learn and understand what you’re experiencing.
Living and working within your new community is a great way to learn the local language. Whether you’re an advanced speaker or just learning a few key phrases, you’ll enjoy CCS-organized language lessons during your time in-country to help you through your journey. Here are a few important phrases to learn before you depart for your volunteer program. Even if your pronunciation isn’t perfect (yet), give it a try! Your attempts to connect with new friends in the local language will always be appreciated.
As with learning any new language, reading phrases is helpful. But listening is one of the best ways to grasp sounds and vocabulary. Click below to hear Country Director Makafui Amenuvor begin your first Ewe language lesson.
Ready for the next level? Practice your Ewe with these online sites:
Recommended Reading and Films
We believe that travel and firsthand encounters are the BEST education. But there are also plenty of resources to help you learn more about the history, travel opportunities, culture, stories, and language of Ghana so you can begin to immerse yourself even before you arrive. Here are just a few of our favorites to get you started:
Article: Trends in Ghana »
CCS Blog: Ghana »
YouTube: Portrait of a Nation »
Between volunteering, cultural activities, navigating a new language, and immersing yourself in a brand-new culture, you’ll still have plenty of time to explore the local area and even the country during evenings and weekends. Free time is an important part of your experience for independent exploration and self-reflection, and our in-country staff will always have some great, local tips to share.
Start your planning with a few of our favorite suggestions, but also remember that you can plan most of your trips once you arrive in-country (especially if flights aren’t required) with your fellow volunteers.
If you’re ready to start learning more, review your online Training Sessions below (these are required – so make sure you allocate enough time to review each of these trainings, each under 30-minutes). About two weeks before your program begins, you’ll join your final pre-departure call with your group. We can’t wait for you to join us, meet your fellow volunteers, and explore all that CCS has to offer.
Training Call 1:
How to be a Successful Volunteer »
Training Call 2:
Savvy Street Smarts »
Training Call 3:
Volunteer Work Assignments »