And so it came to pass, that after a vigorous and seemingly never-ending cycle of applications, interviews, exams and assessments, the Son of Man was deemed one of the fortunate forty-one (41)-out of over twelve thousand (12,000) applicants- to be called a Tullow Scholar. And that was even the easy part!
Armed with a comprehensive British Council briefing, I arrived at Coventry University. Even though I had been to a couple of European, American and African countries for vacations and conferencing, nothing prepared me for life as a student in ‘Her Majesty’s Kingdom’. From the food, to the people through to the weather and the academic system, it appeared to me that every day was a call to all that was strong and excellent within my pampered and somewhat entitled Ghanaian body and mind.
As a quintessential Mfantsi man, my first shock was with the food and their prices. Immediately I dropped off my bags at my student lodgings (181 Saint Georges Road), I was taken on a tour of Gosford Street, Coventry’s answer to Oxford Street (Osu or London, it doesn’t matter). My ‘Tour Guides’ were my housemates Deladem Kpodo-Tay and Stephen Kiggundu, incidentally both Tullow Scholars from Ghana and Uganda, respectively. I told Dela I was hungry, whereupon he ‘humbly’ advised me to make do with the standard chicken and chips (C&C). I would not hear it and I insisted on eating ‘authentic’ food because for the rest of the year, I reasoned, I’d be eating C&C anyway. So to AGG African Restaurant, we went- despite Dela’s protestations.
Being somewhat familiar with Nigerian cuisine, I ordered Gari and Ogbono soup. I should have known! For starters, the cashier who took the orders at this Nigerian Restaurant was White. Pure Caucasian. And on the phone, he was speaking to somebody in authentic pidgin English that was certain to rival that of late Nigerian music legend, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti or Basketmouth, the Comedian. Countrymen and Women, save the first meal I was almost force-fed when I heard my Dad had passed ten years ago, that was surely the saddest meal I have eaten in my entire life. Gari, Soup and two pieces of meat for 45 cedis!!
Save that jolt, my initiation into the British ways of life has been relatively smooth. The copious British Council and Alumni briefings, my visiting a family friend here in Coventry in 2005 and my all-embracing disposition have made settling in easy.
I find that systems work, people obey the Law as much as they can and technology is an absolute necessity. I have also found that you mind your business, people are more socially reserved and time is nobody’s friend. And Race is not an issue, at least not as glaringly as in the States. It is typically nuance, like all thing British.
I also realize that with the strict plagiarism, word limit and Turnitin Rules, the ‘dubbing’, ‘remix’, ‘osmosis’, ‘copy and paste’, chew-pour-pass-forget’ and ‘mix-mix’ approach to education is not even remotely possible here. One has to read voraciously and not merely re-gurgitate. One has to analyse, evaluate, critique and where possible, offer alternate models to various theories and information gathered. Not that Sandra, Irene and Karen of British Council Ghana didn’t warn us. We naively thought it couldn’t be that bad. Massa!!! Come and see for yourself.
Technology is central to studies. No endless photocopying or free passes to late assignment submissions with ‘the material was not in the library’ as the get-out-of-jail excuse. Way before the lecture, all your study material is uploaded to Moodle. Weytin be your excuse, na? With a Student ID Card, one can print, access scholarly databases and open doors from any part of Campus. The system is impersonal and managed by machines. The teaching and learning methods are different-and dare I say it?- far better. No sloppy arguments, uncritical thought processes or untested hypotheses. And being taught directly by lecturers who wrote the standard international textbooks and articles is a joy beyond compare. Never mind that these old folk insist we call them by their first names. Eeeewwww! I can’t. My African sensibilities won’t allow it. There has been a huge paradigm shift in my thinking and outlook on life and I wish I had had this incomparable opportunity when I was in my twenties.
The best part of my life here is at being in the treble-winning ‘Modern University of the Year’, Coventry University and a veritable United Nations General Assembly Class. I hobnob with Brits (the Landlords), the ubiquitous Nigerians, Chinese, Pakistanis, Americans, Tanzanians, Belgians, Greeks, Kenyans, Indians, Rwandese, Romanians, and Cameroonians. All these ‘Learned Friends’ bring their multi-national perspectives to bear on the truly global topics that we treat.
On my To-do List, I am yet to watch a live EPL Match, visit Shakespeare’s birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon, visit the Warwick Castle, visit Coventry’s Transport Museum and go to Birmingham, UK’s second largest City. However, every day in the historic town of Coventry, I walk through an open-air Museum. The Gosford Street (dating to the 12th Century), the Coventry Cathedral and the deliberately-preserved parts of the City that were bombed by the Germans during WW11 are within daily line of vision as I take the 10 minute walk from 181 ST. Georges Road to Campus. This weekend, God-willing, I will visit the Transport Museum where I can see the first cars to the futuristic models (Coventry is the home of the British Car Industry; all London Taxis, Jaguars and Land Rovers have their ancestral home here). Sadly, Coventry City FC plays in the Championship but in our new signing Joe Cole (former Chelsea, England) we trust. The Sports Facilities here are excellent but save a solitary match in November- where I was goal-king- I haven’t been much involved in Sports, Leisure or Student Union country tours. That is my greatest regret.
I have not yet been asked whether we live on trees in Africa and I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry when I am told, patronisingly, that “ for somebody whose first language is not English, your command of our English is excellent”. On more than one occasion, I have been approached, without warning or preamble, to supply marijuana, on my innocent way to buy Domino’s pizza on a Saturday night. Just because I am of a darker hue, I was told when I asked.
These experiences-mostly good, a few bad and none ugly- have given me a broader and more universalist view of what we need to get right in Ghana. But that will be for another day, God-willing. Beyond the bright lights and the endless consumerism, I will return home a positively-changed person. Whether Ghana is ready for me or not, my life will never be the same (with all due apologies to the Charismatic Preachers).
Oh, and don’t worry about ogbono and gari. Luckily, Dela is a fantastic cook and I have extended family and old Legon mates here, so Ghanaian food is never in short supply. Sometimes we are homesick and at others the political and economic news from home is depressing, but we remember Sandra drummed into us ad infinitum, that we are ‘resilient’, so we soldier on. And ‘Timothy Stobbs’ has not let us down yet…
Well done, British Council. Thank you, Tullow (Ghana) Limited. The rest is up to us, time, and chance…..
About the Author
Kow Sessah Acquaye is a TGSS Scholar from Ghana. He is currently studying Master of Laws (LLM) in International Business Law at the Coventry University.