Friday, January 10, 2014

Lessons Learned

By: Carley Berman

The evening on which I received my email saying that I was accepted to Scripps' program 'Ghana: Media, Society and Governance,' I knew that my life was going to be infinitely different.  I knew instantly that I wanted to accept my nomination - who could possibly pass up an opportunity to travel with their peers to Ghana?

As the following weeks passed and I prepared myself for the trip, I knew I was in for an experience unlike any other - but I had no idea how much the trip was going to change my life.  The lessons that I am personally taking away from Ghana go far beyond what I learned in the classroom.  The lessons that I learned about international journalism will surely help me in my future career, but the life lessons that I am taking away from participating in the trip to Ghana will impact my life forever.

Now that I have safely returned to Cleveland, it is easier for me to reflect upon the life lessons that I learned while in Ghana.  One of the biggest realizations that I came to while abroad is that the problems that I thought I had back in the United States are truly insignificant compared to the problems that the citizens of Ghana have: the trip really opened my eyes and put a whole new meaning upon the phrase "first-world problems."  How can one sit and be concerned about when the next time they will have internet is or if their checked bag will be within the weight limit in order to fly home when there are people on the streets of Accra not knowing where their next meal is coming from? How can it possibly be acceptable for me to have internships on the brain when there are people in Ghana who have medical problems that they will never receive care for and have to fight for themselves on a daily basis? These questions, among many others that ran through my mind, contribute to the first life lesson that I am taking away from Ghana: a problem we Americans have,  no matter how big it may seem to us, will have the same amount of significance to that of the people of Ghana. Take a step back and look at the issue in the grand scheme of life and I guarantee it really is not that bad.

The second lesson I am taking away from Ghana is that it truly is the little things in life that matter the most.  After interacting with children at an orphanage in Ghana, one of the biggest things that I noticed is that the kids, who were dealt such a difficult hand in life and had every reason in the world to be unhappy, were the happiest kids I had ever met. Here are kids who have next to nothing and do not know who their parents are, but still greeted us with smiles and kind hearts.  I couldn't help but compare this to American children, who are concerned about having the latest electronic device or if they have the most stylish article of clothing.  The gravity of this comparison effected me deeply: here was a visual lesson of true happiness.  As long as you have others around you who are looking out for you and a smile on your face, that's really all you need to get by.  Never take what you have for granted.

Piggy-back races at the orphanage. 
Thirdly, a lesson I am taking away is that the earth is an amazing place and that it truly needs to be taken care of.  Seriously.  Throughout the trip to Ghana, one of the main aspects that I could not get used to was the pollution.  Driving through the city of Accra was a wake-up call in itself: there is a permanent layer of smog over the city, the main river that flows through the city is filled with garbage and there is constant trash-burning everywhere.  While we saw many beautiful places while in the country of Ghana, not all of it was easy on the senses.  This third lesson is shorter than the others: take care of the environment.  Recycle what you can and find a trash bin for waste.  Our resources on this planet are incredibly valuable and are not permanent, so any steps taken towards helping the planet are not going to be in vain.

Finally, a fourth lesson that I am taking away from this trip to Ghana is that in life, one can really hinder themselves if they are not open and willing to take in new cultures, experiences and people.  Ghana is a very different place than the United States and the trip was very eye-opening for me.  While it can be uncomfortable and difficult to step out of a comfort zone that you've built for yourself while living in a first-world country for years and years, simply talking to people that have a different lifestyle than you can teach you a lot.  So go ahead: try that new food, even if you think you'll hate it.  You only have to take one bite.  Go ahead and learn how to play the drums and dance with Ghanaians, even if you have no rhythm (like me).  Don't waste a second of life, never take anything for granted and take that leap of faith because more likely than not, you'll learn a lot and be glad that you took a risk.

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