Student Storyteller: Lessons from Ghana

This summer I had the opportunity to study abroad in Accra, Ghana. It was a life-changing experience to completely immerse myself in a foreign culture. I decided to study abroad in Ghana, because I wanted to travel somewhere out of my comfort zone and be able to appreciate a new way of life including new customs and new values.

Part of my study abroad experience included volunteering at a day care center sponsored by Street Girls Aid, an organization that provides day care for mothers who work as street vendors. The day care was located in a highly populated area of Accra with more than 50 children enrolled.

The past two summers I worked at a children’s summer camp, so initially I thought that helping the day care staff would be an easy task. However, within the first few days, I realized that working twice a week, for four hours at a time, with children I had no way of communicating with would certainly be a challenge.

There was a limited supply of toys, diapers, cleaning products and fresh water. The teachers there had so much to attend to that they usually left me in the classroom alone with the children, and I was terrified. The children were always crying because they were not used to me, and my frustration was not making anything easier.

After a few stressful days I began to think of ways to interact with the children and keep them entertained. I used facial expressions and hand gestures to overcome the language barrier, and I taught them songs and games I remembered from my summer camp experience. I tried to teach them some basic words in English. The children became more comfortable with me the more relaxed I was. When I got the opportunity, I bought the children toys, crayons and diapers from one of the local stores. I discovered that they loved to color and draw just like all other children.

When I returned to Wake Forest from Ghana, I took a course in international studies to help me better understand my experiences. One of our assignments was to discuss a cross-cultural skill we developed while studying abroad that could be applied to a future career. I used the STAR (Situation or Task, Actions and Results) formula created by the career counseling staff in the Office of Personal and Career Development to reflect on my experience at the daycare.

I realized that by volunteering there I developed a high tolerance for stress that would be useful in any of my future endeavors. The STAR formula helped me to map out the process of how I acquired this skill and how to express it in a job interview. I’m confident that I will be able to work in a fast-paced corporate environment, because I can manage my stress and quickly adapt to new challenges.

I never would have thought that the tolerance for stress I developed abroad would give me an advantage in my career search. But, if anyone asks me how I know I have this skill, I will be able to share my story about my successful adventure at a day care in Ghana as proof I know my strengths.

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