Here’s an interview with Karah, a Biomedical Sciences student, who spent her summer in Ghana doing an internship at the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital (KATH) in Kumasi, Ghana.
Why did you decide to take up this opportunity abroad?
Personally, I decided to take this opportunity because I wanted to know more about another country. I wanted to make friends and explore new cultures. I researched Ghana before applying and what I found was that Ghana was filled with a rich history, and is one of the top West African countries for education. English is the national language, so I thought this was a good stepping stone; a totally different culture but I could still communicate. Moreover, I wanted to see more of Africa. Before this trip, I’ve only visited North Africa.
This internship also gave me the ability to work at a hospital and to actually apply what I have learnt in university to a real world hospital setting. So I thought academically this was a perfect internship for me and it would help my CV grow.
We would like to know more about the programme you attended! Please describe your typical day at work.
The programme was amazing! The facility was out of this world. I didn’t expect Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital (KATH) to be so big. KATH had everything from every hospital needs to restaurants and living accommodation for students and doctors.
My typical day went like this: I would wake up around 7am (dress, eat, etc) and travel to the hospital at 8am. I worked in 3 departments (biochemistry, parasitology, and bacteriology) over the course of 6 weeks (2 weeks per department). I would work/learn until noon, then I would get a lunch break (30 min) but, depending on how busy the lab was, sometimes I wouldn’t take a break. After lunch I would come back and work until 3pm/4pm (depending again on how busy it was). Work included lectures, shadowing, running lab samples, taking blood, or talking to the general public.
After work I would either go out and explore Kumasi or I would stay in and relax for the afternoon. There was international students as well, so I would go out with them and explore too. I would have dinner, relax or go out and then go to bed.
I worked 5 days a week and I had the weekends off. So during the weekends the international students, some KATH students, and I would go on a weekend trip to a place in Ghana. We went to the Volta region, Cape Coast, northern region (safari), and we even went to Togo (a country next to Ghana)!
Every day was a completely new experience!
How did you like the programme? What did you find the most enjoyable and most challenging? Tell us about all the differences you discovered. What did you miss the most about the UK?
Since the beginning on the application, I was so excited for this opportunity. It was a chance to take my learning and apply it to the real world. Also, living in another country, that was so different from anything I experienced before, it was amazing. The programme in Kumasi was very informational and hands on.
What I found the most enjoyable was people. I met life long friends in such a short amount of time, as well as the kindest people on earth. Everyone was so friendly, and helpful. Working in the labs was such a great experience because of the people around me. It was such a light hearted environment but we were serious about getting the right results in the lab.
On the other side, the most challenging was the way of life. It was very different from the UK. The weather, how one buys things/gets food, transportation, to even just brushing your teeth was very different. But without that uncomfortability I wouldn’t have grown as much as I did.
The main differences between the UK and Ghana was the environment and the culture. The environment was a hot climate and in my experiences warmer climates usually have friendlier people. The top three questions I received was: where are you from, what religion are you, and do you have a boyfriend? Ghana is a very Christian country and because of the way of life there, women are expected to be married or dating at a younger age than what I was brought up to be. So I could understand it, but it was definitely a learning point for me. Also drinking water was in plastic bags, so I would spill it all the time – that was very funny for me.
The main things I missed about the UK were my friends and family. I wish they could have experienced Ghana with me. I cannot truly describe how incredible Ghana was. I loved every second of it but I can admit I felt homesick sometimes.
What graduate attributes have you gained through this experience? Have your transferrable skills improved?
The only thing I could say is what graduate attributes and transferrable skills did I not improve on? This trip really hit every point. To name a few team work, adaptability, and global outlook are one of the top attributes I have improved on.
In the lab we all had a different job. It took all of us to run and complete one sample. We were a team. From collecting the sample from the patient or nurse to labelling and recording the information of the patient and sample to running the tests (which is usually 4 different steps on its own) to finally collecting and recording the results and relaying it back to the patient and doctors.
Africa is definitely a different world compared to the UK, so adaptability played a huge part. For example the weather – something so simple played a huge part. The average temperature in Ghana was 32 degree Celsius and the coldest it got was around 24 degrees. In the UK, we don’t get anywhere close to that average temperature. Also the mosquitoes – yes we have mosquitoes in the UK, but not the ones that carry diseases like Malaria. I had to take an anti-malaria pill every day. I was fine, but it was something to adapt and get used to.
Finally, my global outlook. All I can say was wow. The first story I would like to share is about the work place. Everyone was so relaxed and work wasn’t stressful at all. Even in busy times everyone in the lab was very cheerful and calm. Also, everyone would say “good morning” and made sure everyone in the room got a “hi” and eye contact. So no one was left out and I thought that was really sweet. My second story was an interesting one about culture norms. I was out with my friend (she was Ghanaian) and we met one of her male friends. He said “oh it looks like you have gained weight!” Right away, I said ” Oh my god, that was rude.” I was horrified that anyone would say that. Then my female friend explained to me that it wasn’t rude, it was a compliment. African women love to be curvy and women are beloved for it, which is the total opposite in my culture. Most of my female friends want to be skinny or lose weight. For me that was such a funny experience.
This trip was once in a lifetime. I can not stress this enough, I learned something new every single day. A lifetime of experiences in 6 weeks.
What message would you like to pass on to students who are considering a similar opportunity? Is there anything they should know before going to Kumasi? What advice or top tips would you like to give to students who plan to gain international experience in general?
Research! I would definitely look up some information about the country before going there, especially if it’s a country that is totally different from where you are coming from. One should never go to a country without some previous knowledge or insight. I knew nothing about West Africa and I learned along the way but I am glad I looked up and found some information about the hospital and the city I was heading too.
I would definitely bring bedding (fitting sheet, pillow, blanket, etc.) – that was my only mistake and the one thing I had the worst problem with. I would bring everything you need for at least one week. Yes, buying stuff there is easy and everything was accessible but overall being in the new country/environment and trying to sort out things is stressful.
My last advice is to enter that country with an open mind. Try everything and smile big. Be smart, but usually people just want to share their culture and get to know you. Don’t be afraid, and have fun with it. There will be some bad experiences but that’s what makes a person grow and learn.
And finally if you have any interesting experiences from your trip, please share them with us here!
I have two experiences that were really fun for me. It happened away from the hospital, when I traveled on the weekends. Two trips: Volta region, and Cape Coast.
Volta region was my favourite. It is the water region. The area was lush and filled with greenery, beautiful lively plants, and roaring waters. Our trip advisors told us, we were going on a hike to a waterfall, but little did we know that this hike was 6 hours long in the jungle and half the time we were climbing straight up. But I don’t regret a second of it and I would do it all over again if I had the chance to do it! It was crazy but so beautiful and by the end of it I felt like I could accomplish anything. That hike is something I will never forget and I recommend anyone who is visiting Ghana to go to the Volta region. Wli Falls it’s called, the highest waterfalls in Ghana, and we also hiked to Tagbo Falls which is only a 45 minute walk from Wli.
The Cape Coast trip is were I learned to surf. Which is something I didn’t know one could do in Ghana. But now I can officially say I can surf! Also on the cape coast trip we went to the Castle. Which was the biggest slave trading port in West Africa. It was sad, we took a tour of the place and I cried. We saw the cells that people stayed in. To this day you can still see the line on the wall were the faeces, urine, food waste, dirt and dead bodies were left. People had to stand in that waste for about 3 months, shoeless! More people died there than the number of actual slaves sold. It was horrible and disgusting to learn the cruelty of human. The worst part was it was a big and beautiful building over looking the coast.
The last story I want to shares is how kind people are. In my lab, I met a staff member, who was one of my supervisors. We got to talking and I discovered that he got a scholarship to study his PhD in London at MY university, the University of Westminster. Such a small world! Anyway, I told him I wanted to see the Kente museum, which is about an hour and a half away. He asked if I had a ride and I said well I am not sure, I was thinking Uber. He said right away, no I will take you and be your tour guide for the day. He took the next day off and he drove me and a of couple students to the museum and around Kumasi. It was brilliant and so kind! Anyway, we are still in contact and he is arriving in London on 15th September! Very excited for him to come. However, the roles will be reversed and I will be his tour guide!