On 21st August, 2015, whilst anxiously waiting for my twenty something birthday the next day, a notification on my phone alerted me of an email from the Tullow Group Scholarship Scheme (TGSS). This is the type of email that heightens the anxiety of recipients. The email confirmed that I had won a fully paid scholarship from the prestigious TGSS. That was the best birthday present I had been blessed with so far; for it was the first time I was going to leave the shores of Ghana and to make it more exciting, I was going to gain skills, knowledge and experience to contribute to the development of my country.
As we had few days to ‘pack and leave,’ I couldn’t plan any mega send-off cum birthday party. I therefore decided to have a grand birthday party in Aberdeen, Scotland on arrival, to make up for all the birthday parties I couldn’t have since the age of ten. “I would be a Legon girl (pizza addicts) for a day and eat all the nice pizzas in United Kingdom (UK)” I assured myself. Unfortunately, I couldn’t transmogrify into the Legon girl mode and I couldn’t also throw the well thought out birthday party because we arrived in UK after 3 days of lectures. This I must confess is akin to exercise in breathe control.
Thanks to the alumni of TGSS in Robert Gordon University (RGU), my first week in Aberdeen was well directed. They were still sandpapering their dissertation while preparing to come home after completion as the scholarship clauses demand but they had some free time to spare in helping the new scholars. The first place the newly-arrived-green scholars were taken to by the alumni was KFC. This presented me with new plans; “I will eat KFC once a week. “Chale this dey be, I go come here often!” I told myself whilst keenly observing the route from Woolmanhill Flats (my residence) to the Union Street where KFC is located.
Arriving in my flat and with the memory of how going back to KFC would be easy, made me exhale like a child who has had a warm bath at 7pm and ‘soaked’ in Korle-bu powder before going to bed. That night was the coldest night of my life. The duvet couldn’t fight the cold. “So e go be this cold till I leave? (Is this how cold it would be till I leave?)”, I wondered. Little did I know the flat janitors leave small space in the window for circulation even though that can be closed by the occupant of the room. I didn’t really pay attention to it till the next day when I found out and closed it as fast I could!
Every Friday morning after the morning show at Skyy Power FM where I worked, I eat ‘Owusua’s jollof’ inside Market Circle or ‘Akyɛkɛ’ with fried fish. This was my first morning in UK and a Friday too. Without information about where to get breakfast, KFC was the only option and I had to obey my cravings.
There is so much decorum even on the street. From my first day till now, I can count on one hand the number of cars tooting horns on the busy street of Union Street. I am sometimes tempted to believe that I am not walking on the street or the horns of the cars aren’t working. I am still impressed about the height of order in UK. Everything is orderly. Coming from a background where waiting for ‘trotro’ (public transportation) requires high degree of swiftness and strength, witnessing how orderly things are done in UK is something I greatly admire.
At the prestigious Robert Gordon University, technology and internet are greatly utilized in teaching and studying, making anyone who has mastered the use of internet and technology at an unassailable position to effectively learn. Lectures are very practical and class seminars after every lecture is one thing I would gladly want to see imbibed into the academic structure in Ghana. With the seminar, a journal related to the topic lectured in class is critiqued or appraised by the students with the lecturer contributing to the discussions. Again, lecturers are very time conscious to the extent that no minute is spared, so I had to automatically cast away the ‘Ghana Man Time demon’ that has haunted generations back home for years.
Honesty is one trait I also admire in UK. Even when a shop attendant is giving change for an item purchased, he/she echoes the amount given you. Let me share one experience I will never forget. A friend told me to alert him when anyone is selling a television. One of my classmates, a British, posted on the class’ WhatsApp group that he is selling his 42 inch plasma TV. I privately contacted him for details of the TV and as marketing demands, he started comparing prices with other known electronic outlets in the UK and luring me as to why his TV has the best price. He mentioned that even at Argos, it was £175 so his £150 TV offer is the best I will find anywhere. Minutes after the conversation, he messaged back and said “Sorry Nana, I mentioned Argos but I just checked and theirs is £140 so you can buy it from there if you want.” This is the least amongst the plethora of honest encounters I have experienced so far. I believe honesty is one of the reasons the UK has reached an enviable height. This indeed re-echoes Taylor Lautner’s assertion that “Honesty and loyalty are key. If two people can be honest with each other about everything, that’s probably the biggest key to success.”
My other memorable encounter so far is the first snow I saw in November 2015. As it was snowing, other scholars phoned me to ask if I was watching the snow. In a joyous mood, almost wanting to eat every drop of the snow, these scholars were asking me how Woolmanhill Flat is looking on the snowy day and asked for photos of it. That indeed reassured me that, Aberdeen is billion of miles away from Effiakuma, Takoradi (We are from far away!).
There are amazing friends I have met that I wouldn’t want to break ties with. People from all over the world, with different perceptive about life, how to study and how to think around situations. This, in my opinion has made me realize that, most rappers’ punchline, ‘No new friends’ doesn’t actually make sense.
Personally, my adaptability trait has been greatly tested since I arrived in a country where I cannot find any family relation or close friends who I have known for more than twenty years of my life. This indeed has made me greatly appreciate TGSS’ ‘diamond-processing’ interviews which fine-tune any person to mentally withstand life pressures.
I can proudly say that, so far, the experiences within these months are the most stimulating part of my life. Really, I now see the world as a playing field and I have learned that you can do anything you put your mind to it. Anything! I am therefore imbibing the positive traits here in UK and upon return, apply it in my own small corner where I will also witness the change that I dream to see in my country. Indeed, I am reassured to either “Drink deep or taste none!”
Nana Kwesi Coomson is a TGSS Scholar from Ghana. He is currently studying MSc. Corporate Social Responsibly and Energy at Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen.