I went on a Buck-i-SERV trip through the Akumanyi Foundation, where I spent two weeks working at a children’s home and school in Akokwa, a small village in Ghana’s Central Region. We did chores for the home staff, helped students with their school work, and played with them during breaks and after school. We learned about and visited different projects that the foundation is working on, and participated in cultural learning experiences.
Prior to this trip, I tended to consider myself an unemotional person. I took things in stride, didn’t spend time reflecting on or discussing my experiences and feelings. But, there were many aspects of this trip that changed this about me. I now feel comfortable sharing my thoughts with others, particularly those with whom I was in Ghana. Additionally, two of my goals upon my return home were to spend more of my free time outside, and less time using electronics. Because I spent nearly all my time in Ghana outside, and only used my phone to take photos and to journal, I know the benefit of these things. This has made it easy for me to stick to my goals, and I have already seen the benefits. This has been transformational for me in that I spend more time on my hobbies, present with family and friends, and considering both my trip and my daily life in the US. I feel that this personal growth is of immediate and long-term benefit to me.
The nature of this trip, my leaders, and my other team members encouraged me to spend time considering the implications of my experiences. Our down time and meals were often spent discussing what we each had done that day (as it was often different for each person), our shared experiences, the history and culture of Ghana, and our reactions to all the above. Many of these discussions began without prompting from trip leaders, which made for honest, open reflection. As well, each night most of our team spent time journaling. I initially journaled with the intention of only remembering the activities of each day. But, within a few days, I used my journal as a place to process my emotions, and to consider questions, in addition to keeping an itinerary. These interactions really changed the way that I went through our daily activities. I was purposeful, and allowed myself to feel challenged by different things I saw and did. This led me to be more in touch with myself, which is an important aspect of the personal growth I made during this trip.
This trip was largely immersive into Ghanaian culture. We lived in accommodations similar to what many Ghanaians do, ate authentic food, used public transportation, and took bucket showers. I think that if we were to have stayed in nice hotels, taken private transportation, and had endless amenities, we wouldn’t have been able to experience Ghanaian culture. Because we did, we could compare our lives and values at home to those in Ghana. Taking bucket showers made me consider the amount of privilege we have to take running water showers without often worrying about waste, and in the same water that we safely drink. We spent a lot of time discussing our privilege, and the ways in which our values differ as Americans from those of Ghanaians. This made me consider how I go about my days at home, and what things I can change to be less wasteful and more eco-friendly.
The personal relationships I made on this trip have led me to make some of these changes to my life at home. Only one or two people on our trip had international data plans, and thus the ability to stay in contact with family and friends in the US, and up to date on the news. Even though those people could do those things, they rarely spent time on their phones. As a group (including our leaders), all our free time was spent together. Sometimes we had meaningful conversations about our experiences, but other times we joked around, played card games, and helped each other out with chores. We became friends in a short period of time, which made me reflect on how I navigate my relationships with my friends and family at home. I now spend very little time on my phone when with others, and try to be helpful with little things without being asked or expected to, and thus this became a part of my personal growth.
Becoming more intentional in what I do, reflective on my experiences, and present in my relationships will, and already has, benefited my life. It has positively impacted my personal relationships, and my mental health. I spend more time thinking about little ways that I can make others’ lives easier, even just by helping with cleaning and other tasks without being asked. As well, by spending less time on my phone while with others, I have been and will continue to be more involved in their lives. Finally, increased reflection on a day-to-day basis has allowed me to better process my experiences and emotions. In terms of my academic and professional goals, I am considering ways to incorporate service into my career. I have decided to pursue an additional minor in Child Abuse and Neglect studies, and have toyed with the idea of a gap year between undergraduate and graduate school to do international service.