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Special education major Karen Fraser reflects on study abroad at the University of Ghana

Karen Fraser
Sophomore, special education major

Students attending the University of Ghana live in the heart of West Africa while studying the rich culture, history and complex issues facing Ghana. Karen Fraser, a UW-Eau Claire sophomore special education major from Maple Grove, Minnesota, studied at the University of Ghana in fall 2014 and spent time learning about the culture and exploring Ghana's capital city of Accra. UW-Eau Claire's study abroad program in Ghana, available through the University Studies Abroad Consortium, combines study at the USAC Ghana Center with classes at the University of Ghana in Legon. Students also have access to numerous volunteer and service-learning opportunities. Founded in 1948, the University of Ghana is the oldest and largest of all Ghanaian universities and currently enrolls nearly 40,000 students. The program is open to all UW-Eau Claire students regardless of major with a 2.5 GPA and good academic standing.

Karen shares her thoughts about her study abroad experience in Ghana.

What attracted you to the Ghana program? 

I've wanted to go to West Africa since high school after getting to know some people who had lived in, or were from, the region. The Ghana program offers a wide variety of courses and lots of opportunities to see the country and get involved in the community, so it seemed like a good fit. 

Had you had previous experience navigating other cultures? 

Nope, not at all. That was something I was excited about when I decided to go to Ghana. 

What courses did you take in Ghana? 

What other activities were you involved in? I finished up most of my general eds while I was abroad. With American students, I took "Society, Government and Politics of Ghana"; "Twi Language"; and "Service-Learning." With Ghanaian students, I took "Environmental Ecology" and "Ghanaian Popular Music." I also volunteered at a shelter/school for people with disabilities while I was there, and I also joined the pingpong team for a day. 

What experiences or interactions in Ghana had the greatest impact on you? 

I lived in the dorms on campus with a Ghanaian roommate, and we would often talk about the differences between Ghana and the U.S. It was fun to dispel misconceptions we had about each other's countries. She was surprised when I told her that many people would not believe that there are things like refrigerators and electric guitars in Africa, while I was surprised when she did not understand what a sunburn was. One day she taught me how to cook Ghanaian egg stew and introduced me to local foods, while I explained apple pie and Thanksgiving dinner. We talked about each other's education systems and politics and future plans. Thanks to my roommate, I learned about Ghana a lot more deeply than I would have on my own. 

What surprised you most about your time in Ghana? 

A lot of things surprised me at first but became more normal. For example, everyone speaks English, but on the streets you will hear a mixture of hundreds of other languages all around. Also, the University of Ghana is huge — the size of UW-Madison — and it's quite prestigious. It was a lot of fun to check out markets and activities around campus and explore the city of Accra. 

Did your time in Ghana change you or change how you think about the world? 

After going to Ghana, I feel much more informed about international political issues. Ghana is a half-and-half blend of Western and traditional ideas, and it was interesting to learn about how international pressures have impacted that and how Ghana has impacted the rest of the world. I've also realized that there is more than one "right" way to do everything. For example, in the U.S. we place a lot of value on efficiency, but in Ghana things happen when they happen. And these are both perfectly logical in their own way. 

How did this experience enhance your college experience? 

Studying abroad allowed me to set a lot of goals for what I want to achieve in college. It just sort of clicked. I've also found I have a lot more ambition in my studies to learn as much as possible and get as many new perspectives as I can. 

How did the experience impact your future plans? 

My study abroad experience made me realize that I really want to teach English abroad in the future. I just completed a TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) certification course online, and I hope to teach abroad for at least a year after I graduate. What advice would you give other students who are considering a study abroad opportunity? Everyone can study abroad! UW-Eau Claire has programs all over the world, for every major, and there is a lot of financial aid available. It is easy to check out your options online or at the Center for International Education in Schofield Hall.

To learn more about UW-Eau Claire's study abroad program in Ghana, contact Colleen Marchwick, senior study abroad coordinator, at or 715-836-4874.