The first couple of weeks in a new country are the most daunting period; anxiety, stress and excitement all mixed into one. After the initial feelings have worn off, it is easy to feel lethargic and bored. Routines are formed, and boredom invites negative thoughts highlighting the particular difficulties you faced in the last two weeks.
Here are some ideas to help you survive the first two weeks in Ghana:
Keep An Open Mind
A new culture, a new set of norms, and new people. It is easy to become overwhelmed by all the newness; the catcalls of “obruni,” the never-ending honking on the streets, and the heat are few that I can easily think of. While it is tempting to think about how things “should” be, take the opportunity to bring out the inner child in you—be curious, observe, ask lots of questions and be contemplative.
Put Things into Perspective
It is easy to feel overwhelmed and resentful when things don't go as you plan. Whether it is planning for a weekend trip, or people showing up late to a workshop you are hosting. Channel your frustration, and resentment into something positive instead of letting it consume your thoughts and put a damper on your experience. Think about the bigger picture, including your motivations of being in the country, or the decisions that workshop participants have to make when deciding whether to pursue their livelihood or attend your workshop.
Keep Your Mind Occupied
Once routines are formed and boredom sets in, you know that it's time to rejuvenate yourself. Plan weekend trips, try out new restaurants, go to church and explore new places are few ideas that will prevent you from being bored. Step outside of your comfort zone (within reason) and challenge yourself to try out something new each day.
Take Note of the Little Things
One of the things I dislike most is waiting on people. Yet, waiting on people was the one thing I did a lot of at the beginning of the trip as I was too inexperienced to go off on my own. I resented that; one day while myself, three fellow volunteers, and our program manager attempted to fit into a four-seat taxi, I realized that it was the first time I genuinely felt happy and laughed in Ghana.
It is easy to get caught up in the moment and feel angry or say things that you will regret later on but don’t forget to take note of the things we took for granted (in my case, having more volunteers to talk and hang out with – they left a couple days after we arrived and they are sorely missed)
Keep a Travel Journal or Blog
I write constantly on my blog about my days and observations in Ghana. While this serves as a medium to update my friends and family, it also serves as a memory box where I can reflect on the challenges and experiences I have gone through. When I read some of the earlier posts on the trip, every inconvenience I mentioned seem so minor now.
Stay Healthy and Get Enough Rest
This may seem like a no brainer, but being well rested, feeling alert and relaxed each day will help you take in more of your surrounds and feel happier. Giving sufficient time to your body and mind to adjust to your surrounding will help you stay focused, calm and minimize the chance of getting sick in a foreign country.
Take Every Learning Experience and Make It a Growth Opportunity
One of the things I was constantly warned about is “Africa Time,” a concept defined as the informal attitude towards time due to the relaxed lifestyle in parts of Africa. As someone who appreciates and stick to a schedule to the T, frustration, and indignation were my companions during my first workshop, when people showed up 45 minutes into the scheduled time. I didn't realize it right away, but this experience taught me to become more patient and adaptable to unforeseen challenges and be able to work with what I have.
It is What You Make of It
Ultimately, your first volunteer trip abroad depends on what you make it out to be. It is your trip and all the experiences you will have will depend on your decisions. You are the only one who can decide whether this trip will become a memory of a lifetime, or just another overseas trip