To think that half a year ago, I packed my bags in Florida and began a 24+ hour journey to Accra, Ghana, my new home for the next few years, is still insane. Month one reminded me of my 2019 travels in Ghana. That carefree, naive little girl was looking for good times and good people. Months 2-6 have been a mix of having the best time of my life and crashing hard mentally. Those crashes are what inspired this post. The lessons and realizations I have had in just six months have allowed me to tap into my own needs and grow painfully yet gracefully all in one. Today I am letting you, with six ways, into the personal development journey I have been going through while still finding my way around Accra.
ONE: I Need People to Lean On More Than I Thought I Did
As an introvert and someone who had gotten so comfortable with her own company, if you told me moving here would have made me actually want to be in the presence of other human beings six months ago, I would have laughed. It’s funny how what I shut out of my life for the last three years is exactly what I needed to feel complete and whole again: People.
In my defense, I used to LOVE meeting people. That was before I entered undergrad and placed all of my energy into what ended up being superficial and opportunistic “friendships.” After so much disappointment, I stopped trying to meet new people and just embraced the solo lifestyle.
Once I discovered that I could hop on a plane and land in another country BY MYSELF and be fine, it was really over! I felt as if I didn’t need anyone and subconsciously began to shut people out.
I find that I really care about my social life in Ghana because it is such a social atmosphere. I WANT to get dressed and go out. I WANT to attend events and laugh because I deserve to be happy and be surrounded by love, positivity, and good vibes. While I am still that same introverted girl, I now allow myself to open up to the possibilities of new people and interactions, even if it is scary as I’m still overcoming past trauma.
TWO: I Don’t Stop Being the Representation Just Because I Want To
Although I’ve visited Ghana before my move and knew what to expect as far as being asked about American culture, I can admit that I wanted to shut that part of me out for a while. I began realizing that I embody identities that I don’t always care to talk about: Haitian, Floridian, Black American, woman. Not because I am not proud of them, but because sometimes I just want to be without the labels.
The reality is that I don’t stop being the representation for those groups because I want to be. I may be the first individual in those categories people have ever met in their life here in Ghana. In those cases, I am (whether I like it or not) serving as the representation for those groups and often correcting stereotypes.
I had a Bolt driver tell me once, “Wow, you’re from Florida? I know Black people do drugs and are in gangs in Miami.” Mind you, they had never been to Miami, but movies they had watched altered their entire perception of Black people in one city.
So guess who now has to get into a long conversation about not all Black people being like this? Of course, I could ignore it and stay quiet, but then that ignorance continues to spread and I contributed to the issue instead of making a difference.
Although It can be exhausting at times, it has taught me to be proud of being the representation in these moments and look at it as a way to bridge the gap.
THREE: To Be Strong in Myself and My Boundaries Even When Everyone Around Me Challenges Them
This looks like knowing the why behind my boundaries and sticking to them even when others misinterpret those boundaries as disrespect, which has happened too many times.
I’ve noticed that men automatically assert themselves as being the authority in any given situation. It’s almost as if when a man speaks or tells you to do something as a woman, and you don’t do it, you are rude, disrespectful, etc.
I’ve had a few encounters where I refused to do a particular thing as simple as taking a picture, and before I knew it, I had a group of people attacking my character as a person.
This could be cultural miscommunication, as explained through many conversations with my Ghanaian friends, but I’ve also noticed a strong lack of boundaries. I always take the time to explain where I’m coming from (something I never did back home). However, my boundaries are to protect me not to offend others, and I am okay with being the “bad guy” sometimes to keep them intact.
This doesn’t just occur with men, of course, but I’ve learned that sometimes people in general are committed to misunderstanding you to prove their point, and that’s okay, but it’s also not my problem to internalize why that is. All I can do is continue showing up for myself and being open to hearing new perspectives and learning.
FOUR: That I Am Hella Privileged As A U.S Citizen and I’ve Always Taken it for Granted
Being Black in the U.S undoubtedly comes with its own set of issues. Over the last two years, those issues have intensified as anti-racism protests swept the nation, one of the reasons why I chose graduate school abroad. I was tired of being in predominately white cities and needed a break.
My friends know me to be very critical of my home country. Growing up as the first daughter of immigrants, I have had a front row seat to what the American dream looks like and how much it has done for my family. Although I know that my life in the U.S as a Black woman coexists with cons like microagressions, racial slurs, constantly being overlooked, a rushed lifestyle, etc., the reality is that being born in a Western system means that my life is automatically easier.
Being raised in the U.S opens up plenty of opportunities. Even taking out a loan to earn a college degree is seen as a luxury to me after living in Ghana. The fact that you can earn a degree for thousands of dollars you don’t physically have is insane. Even if it does mean being in debt, the opportunity is still there. Things I have never thought twice about like the “buy now, pay later” credit system that has allowed so many Americans to be able to own a home, cars, and open businesses. I am grateful for all of the opportunities and privileges being a U.S citizen afford me as I navigate Ghana.
There is real hardship in Ghana, and the disparities are vast. You can be walking down the street and spot a three-story gated house with several cars parked in the driveway. In the same blink of an eye, to the left of that house is often referred to as “slums” in Ghana. What I struggle with daily is the fact that for many, the opportunity does not exist to fight their way out of these circumstances.
FIVE: The Mental Health Issues Are Not Going Anywhere
As someone who struggles with a generalized anxiety disorder, among many other mental health issues, when I first came to Ghana in 2019 for two months, my anxiety was non-existent. I thought being back this time around meant that I would experience the same reality, but it has been the complete opposite.
It turns out my anxiety is still here but looks different and is triggered by different things here in Ghana vs. when I was in the States. In the U.S, my anxiety stems from always feeling like my physical safety was at risk. In Ghana, it comes from wondering if this person will try to take advantage of me or cheat me, people constantly staring and being prepared to be misunderstood.
Mental health care when I first arrived in Ghana was going well, but it quickly went downhill. Living in Ghana has made me realize that mental health may always be a struggle for me, but finding ways to cope is needed. While I am more at peace in Ghana, moving did not wipe away the struggles.
SIX: I’ve Come A Longer Way Than I’ve Given Myself Credit For
I have had one hell of a personal development journey, and living in Ghana has lighted a fire under that journey to discovering this current version of me. I’m learning what I like and don’t like and feel that for the first time ever, I have the space to do it in a healthy manner.
A year ago, I wasn’t able have hard conversations with people about anything in fear of being misunderstood or being seen as being difficult. I didn’t even realize until about a month ago that I got my voice back. I’ve been able to freely speak my mind without a care in the world about how it’s received.
Although life in Accra can be challenging, I genuinely feel that this city has forced me to expand my comfort zone and tests me every day. I’m thankful for the growth and the many more lessons to come.