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Engineering and culture in Ghana

April 23, 2013 — 

Last fall one of our engineering students spent a term studying in Ghana. Below she describes her experience and how her engineering education at the University of Manitoba served her during this unique challenge.

— I spent the Fall 2012 semester studying at the University of Ghana, in Ghana, a peaceful and beautiful country in West Africa. While abroad, I studied political science and religion (working towards an Arts minor), volunteered a little bit in the pediatric ward at the campus hospital, and traversed the country from one end to the other. The experience was exceptional and, in addition to my in-class learning, I learned many valuable lessons about what it is to live in a new environment.

The greatest thing, I think, that I learned from my experience in Ghana is that there is so much to be gained by learning about and experiencing other cultures. While abroad, I had the opportunity to experience Ghanaian culture and learn about the history, values, and norms in Ghana. Experiencing the richness of the culture gave me a better appreciation for the diversity of cultures in the world, and a keen understanding that there is much to be learned and gained from other cultures. For instance, from my experience of being immersed in Ghanaian culture, I have gained an appreciation for a more relaxed sense of time (“Ghana time”), for new foods and colourful patterns, and for the eloquence of the diverse cultural/historical traditions of the country (songs, proverbs, dances, drumming, stories). Experiencing a new culture also allows one to see that perceptions of circumstances (such as rich or poor, strange or normal, old or young, and even hot or cold) are all relative and highly variable from place to place.

In a place where the climate, culture, and environment were all entirely new to me, I found that the most helpful thing that I brought with me from my engineering studies was the ability to improvise. I’ve noticed that in engineering, as in life, it sometimes happens that you don’t always have all of the materials or information that you need, you run into unexpected obstacles, or your schedule is somehow disrupted or destroyed by some unforeseen issue. However, in engineering we are taught to make the best of what we are given and to be prepared for the unpredictable. This was especially true for me as I tried to make my way through a semester abroad in a developing nation. The understanding of the need for improvisation is an asset that carried me through all kinds of scenarios, including finding myself stranded in the dry and dusty savannah, whenever the power and water supply to the University failed, or when sudden monsoon-type rainstorms (or, alternately, unendurable heat/humidity) would destroy all plans for the day.

Overall, I am limitlessly grateful for the opportunity to study abroad at the University of Ghana. It was an incredible experience which permitted me to spend five months in a proud, colourful, and vibrant country with indescribably kind and generous people. I will certainly never forget my semester in Ghana, and the understandings I gained from my experience there continue to have an impact on my education, career plans, and life. —

~ Ingrid Baragar, 4th year Biosystems Engineering student


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