Kenzie Zuchowksi is a senior marketing communications major at Wayne State University. You can read more about her research project on her blog: https://kzuchowskighana.wordpress.com/
My trip to Ghana through the African Democracy Project was not only a significant event for me in terms of my academics, but has greatly expanded my worldview as well as how I recognize and relate to state authorities. While that statement might seem like an abstract bunch of words meant to placate a tenacious instructor, I mean every one. But more than just an abstract thought, this trip allowed me to gather tangible evidence for the concepts we seem to hear about daily.
Sure, I knew what colonization was before this trip, but I had no idea how much it contributes to the history and structure of a nation. I thought I knew what democracy was, but I didn’t understand its subjectivity and weight. My thoughts on Africa at large were also about as primitive as my thoughts on aeronautical engineering: I didn’t have many and what I thought I knew was mostly wrong.
This ignorance of the African state is not an uncommon theme here in America. Most people at one point, myself included, have made the common yet tactless error of referring to Africa as a country, not the great, diverse continent it actually is. Furthermore, the information I had in regards to specific African countries was gathered, not in a classroom, but haphazardly through second-hand information. I knew about Somalia because I love Tom Hanks and needed to see “Captain Phillips”. I knew about Egypt because I had an video game that took place there. I knew about Madagascar because a bunch of animated animals told me to. And while I don’t think Chris Rock would intentionally lead me astray, I probably shouldn’t base any real thoughts or opinions off what he says in a children’s movie. But you get the picture; prior to this trip, my thoughts on Africa were, in a word, underdeveloped.
And while these sorts of inaccuracies and perceptions are not inherently troublesome, they do contribute to a narrative of Africa, and its many countries, that is off-base and, at times, condescending. Learning about Ghana in particular has been a refreshing insight to my ignorance. The more and more I learn about the world, the larger it becomes, and the more I realize there is a HUGE expanse of information I just don’t know. But ignorance is subjective and I think learning how little I know taught me the most.
For instance, going into this course, I thought I would come out with expert level knowledge in my chosen research field. But as we went through the course material, I discovered that expert level knowledge can’t be acquired in one semester, through one course. To even think that I knew what a good research question was is now laughable. There is no short answer to a research question because education shouldn’t be “short”. Everything needs to be contextualized. And when I say everything, I mean everything. To answer one question means you should probably answer fifty more.
It is this exact concept of developing questions instead of answering them that has really changed my worldview. When approaching “the issues” whether political, cultural, or economic, I now wonder what I should learn to have a well founded opinion. I wonder about religious influences in a way I haven’t before. I now see the intricacies in speech that drive home the importance of precision of language. I look for historical influences and am beginning to see the true benefit of the past. Diversity, democracy, government, and politics are just a few words that I now see are subjective in both their practical and theoretical definitions. This class has not given me answers, but by giving me the ability to evolve my questions I am acquiring knowledge greater than the answer.
I will remain forever grateful to both the people and state of Ghana for giving me this experience. I could go for hours about the amazing time I had meeting former Presidents, visiting memorials, and conducting interviews. I could go on equally as long about the amazing people and incredible institutions I encountered along the way. To the innovators, to the educators, to the students, I would like to extend my most sincere thanks. For, at the end of the day, it is the people, the citizens, that truly establish a nation. To Wayne State, I would like to thank you for sending me that study abroad email long ago. To all those involved in the African Democracy Project, my thanks feel hardly sufficient, but they will have to do. I entered this class with ignorance of my ignorance, but I am leaving with a newfound appreciation for all that I don’t know. And while I can keep trying to convey what all this means to me, I think these concepts have already been spoken for. In terms of culture, travel, education, and beyond I think Kwame Nkrumah said it best, “Forward ever, backward never.”