Afterward: Thoughts on Empathy

In my pre-departure journal, I spoke about race and racial stigmas or stereotypes that exist in the U.S. After reading it over again, I have realized that most of these feelings about race are due to guilt or blame. They happen because we dehumanize individuals by placing them into group that can only have a certain quality. My time in Ghana has taught me that stereotyping is only inaccurate because it is not the whole picture.

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A Nice Restaurant in Accra, Ghana

Examples of this are the West seeing Africa as a place ridden with Aids and poverty, and Africa only seeing the educational and economic opportunities in the West. Stereotyping happens between individuals as well. We see a part of someone and mistake it for all of him or her. In the U.S., we do this with race and ethnicity. We see how someone looks and we assume things about them, like how they should dress, talk, act, or think. We need to learn that every individual is unique and does not have to be one thing. People have so many layers that we overlook. One of my favorite poets, Madisen Kuhn, wrote, “you are a thousand things/ but everyone chooses/ to see the million things/ you are not.” In the U.S., we look at race and assume everything, but in Ghana, they look at where you are from and assume things.

Racism does not exist in Ghana. There are no racial biases. Everyone is treated equally. I think the reason for this is because no one feels guilty about who they are or who their ancestors were. They also do not put blame on anyone for the past. Their mentality is to move on, not to forget, but to put it in the past. One of the reasons I think this is so prevalent in Ghana is because they place blame on everyone for the slave trade, Europeans and Africans alike. It is not one group’s fault… Everyone is to blame so no one is. I will miss this attitude coming back into the U.S., and I will try to adopt this way of thinking.

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My Host Family

I will also miss my host family. They were so welcoming and hospitable. They truly cared about me and couldn’t wait for me to hangout with them. I wish we had more time together. My experience in my homestay taught me that standards are all relative and customs are different. Just because a family does not have a washing machine or AC does not mean that they are “poor.” This family had a larger house than I do. They have a cook, a doorman, etc. Standards are relative, and it is wrong to think that a family is worse off than you just because they don’t have the same things. Cultural expectations vary everywhere you go, and different does not mean bad, it just means different.

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Overall, Ghana taught me that you cannot assume things about people or places based on what the media, stereotypes, or others tell you. You have to go and discover the realities for yourself. That is why traveling is so important. Even if you cannot travel, get to know people from other cultures. I am part of the international student club on campus and I am also a language partner in iFACE, and these have been some of the greatest experiences. I have learned so much from my friends. Having friends from different cultures, ethnicities, and beliefs has instilled in me that different is not bad. Even if you disagree with someone, that does not make them your enemy. All people have good parts to them, and all people also have bad parts. I think that many issues in the U.S. could be easily solved if we acknowledged that “other” can be good. Democrats can be friends with republicans. Muslims can be friends with Christians. Most people are not as bad as the stereotypes would have you think. In my experience, empathy is key. You cannot always sympathize with everyone because you cannot understand what they are going through, but you can feel for them. You may never understand, but that does not mean that their feelings are invalid. Ghanaians know this, I know this, and I hope that one day the rest of the U.S. will too.

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