Part I: A Jommin Time, Or How I (barely) Made it to Ghana

A female student laughs as she considers a bracelet being sold by a Ghanan street vendor.

When I made a summer to do list at the end of my freshman year, securing a marriage proposal was definitely not a part of it.  Nor was canoeing through a lagoon, traversing a rainforest canopy on a rope bridge, or acquiring two hundred new nieces and nephews.  

Actually, I didn’t make a summer to do list at all – my final two exams fell back-to-back on my last two days in the United States, and moreover, my last hours in New Haven were spent scrambling to clean out my dorm before the firm and unyielding move-out deadline.  In between the madness of moving out, when I wasn’t cramming organic chemistry mechanisms, weeping over a particularly unfortunate triple integral, or squeezing in emotional goodbyes, I barely had time to remember what I had planned for the summer, much less think about the things that I wanted to do.                

And so it seemed, quite haphazardly, that I would be on my way to Africa in no time at all.  

Rest assured, we did cover our basics – our trip preparations included securing Ghanian visas and getting an entire platterful of the requisite immunizations (the nurse at Yale Health did give me a particularly sympathetic glace as she stuck me repeatedly with syringes).  But the first time I met some of the people I was traveling with was when we were already on the shuttle to JFK, and several details of our service work were only confirmed once we had settled into Kumasi several days into the trip.  

At Yale, many students choose to go abroad during the summer – this stems partly from many students’ reluctance to stray too far from New Haven during the school year, and from the fact that our summer is about twelve weeks long.   Be it interning at CERN in Geneva, working on your start-up, or studying in Beijing on the Light Fellowship, Yale not only offers many ways for students get creative with their summer plans, but also to get funding through fellowships, grants, or on-campus jobs.  Another way to go international during the summer, particularly if you have other plans and don’t have too many weeks to spare, is to do a service trip.  Because I knew that I wanted to come back to New Haven and do Chemistry research for the majority of the summer, this is what I opted for.  Going to Ghana was part learning experience, part work experience, and part immersion in a strange new world, and our eighteen day journey was a very welcome respite from the college bubble.  Our trip consisted of 11 undergrads - which is totally wild when you consider that the trip was basically a bunch of 19-21 year old strangers set loose in West Africa with no professorial or parental supervision (our trip leader Zahra is from Ghana, but had also just finished up her freshman year).  Not to mention that every step of the trip was student-organized, from finding accommodation to selecting the trip participants.  

To be honest, it didn’t hit me that I was going to Ghana until I was already there, the combination of greasy sunscreen and tropical heat frying my skin to a crisp.  Luckily, traveling to Ghana with Yale Students for UNICEF ended up being by far the best coda to my freshman year that I could have asked for.  In retrospect, I really had no idea what I was getting into when I settled into my semi-comfortable seat on the Boeing Jet that would take us to Kotoka International Airport in Accra…. To be continued.