TRACY OLORENSHAW left a fantastic job in New Zealand to embark upon her African adventure with her husband Olly, opening their eyes to a world of differences but also to the fact that kids are kids wherever you go.
“Where is Ghana?” was one of the first questions we had when asked if we would be keen to come and teach there. Hunting for it in Western Africa on the map still didn’t really tell us too much. Some friends had often talked of teaching in an international school, living on the compound, and the love they had for the place. None of this really resonated too much until we put an application in with the recruitment agency based in the USA. Several long Skype interviews, with our referees being interviewed for over an hour each, and many, many questions later, we had to seriously consider: is this what we wanted?
We decided that we were living a ‘safe’ life in New Zealand and our aim in life wasn’t this, but to experience other cultures and lifestyles and see the big wide world. Not having done much travel in our early teens/early twenties as most New Zealanders do, we decided now would be a good chance to have some adventure and travel.
Teaching at the international school in the middle of BrongAhafo, Ghana, involved living in a very isolated community. The compound is surrounded by clay roads, where men, women, and children carry huge loads of sticks, sewing machines, bananas, and boxes full of chickens on their heads. Seeing babies tied on women’s backs as they go about their daily work is common practice. We had heard the students were amazing and had inspired some weary teachers to love teaching again. Leaving a fantastic job behind in New Zealand was a serious consideration and not one that was made lightly. It became more than the job, as I loved my job in New Zealand, it was more about taking life’s opportunities and having an adventure with the chance to see how others live.
I arrived to a class of fifteen students, with one local Ghanaian teacher and myself, an ex-pat teacher. The aim being to work together to provide quality education for the students, as well as inspiring the local teacher I worked with to learn new ways of providing education for the students. Working with Grade 3–4 in a school that provided a US-based education system was how it had been explained to me, although I was told it had been ‘Kiwi-fied’ quite a bit along the way, due to the other
New Zealand teachers who had blazed the trail before us.
Kids are kids the world over, is my conclusion. Same interests, same learning needs, same joys, and same heartaches – just in different environments. I love the freedom these children experience living in the gated community, catching frogs, lizards, and fireflies, while avoiding the malaria-carrying mosquitoes at dawn and dusk. The children live a life of freedom that I probably experienced as a kid but known by few in this day and age – where they leave home in the morning and return in time for dinner, with little concern for danger being out of their parents’ sight.
The isolation, lack of ability to buy resources (these get delivered from the USA once a year in a container), and the intermittent power and internet connection can be challenging. Learning about a whole other culture and nation, which I knew little about before arriving here, has been a worthwhile experience. The well-behaved students, the differences and wide range of cultures and nationalities within the school, and the opportunities to learn of other countries offset these hardships.
Seeing and learning about how others live and how there are so many more people living in countries like Ghana than there are in New Zealand has been grounding. I think I have become more tolerant of differences and have a broader knowledge of how people think, live, and interact.