Exploring Uncharted Territories in Ghana – Part 1/2

 This is part one of a two-series conversation with Mohamed Syahid, a year 3 accountancy student at the Nanyang Business School (NBS), Nanyang Technological University & KKH Opportunity Scholarship Fund scholar. In this article, we ask Syahid about his ten-week internship stint in Ghana – an opportunity provided by The KKH Opportunity Scholarship Fund for NBS scholars – and how he felt when he first arrived. Be sure to keep yourself updated on part two of our conversation with Syahid next week!

Syahid 1.1

A ten-week internship in Ghana! Why Ghana? And why the KKH Opportunity Scholarship Fund?

It was a last minute decision to apply for the KKH Scholarship, as I was afraid that I would not be allocated my first choice on my school’s (NBS) internship programme. The e-mail (to apply for the KKH scholarship) came by and the opportunity to do an internship in Ghana immediately grabbed my attention. I decided to apply and see how it goes.

What’s more, nobody knew anything about Ghana. And I wanted to challenge myself. I love to travel and interact with everyone and learn about different cultures.

What about your family and friends? How did they respond when you told them about the news?

I was in the hostel when I got the news (that he was awarded the opportunity), and I told a friend who was beside me, “Hey, I’m going to Ghana.” And she said, “Where’s Ghana?”

I knew nothing about Ghana then too. But since I had to make the decision pretty quickly, I called my sister. My sister asked, “Is it a safe place? Are you going alone?” I was too excited about going overseas that I did not really care about whether I was going alone or not.

My peers mostly reacted in the same way, and said things such as, “Oh, so you’re going to visit a safari”, etc. In fact, no one knew much about Ghana or the African continent. But I think at the end of the day, everyone was quite supportive. They were interested to know about the culture there too.

How did you prepare for the trip?

I did not have much time to prepare actually because I flew off the day after my last exam. I got a packing list from a previous senior intern and copied whatever he brought. We wondered whether we were required to bring bed sheets and all that? In the end, we decided to go with the flow.

What were you most excited about before you left, and when you first got there?

Actually, I was really excited about the journey, because I haven’t taken a long-haul flight before. It felt like a holiday to me in a way too.

The most important task upon arrival was to find out more about our lodging, because the pictures from our seniors did not show much detail. Upon arrival, we asked the drivers and the guesthouse staff what the other interns did.

The staff were very nice. They spoke English so there was not much of a language barrier. Although it was not perfect English, we could still communicate. Communication was actually one of our main concerns as well, but it was all right when we got there. We were able to fit in, though the locals were more comfortable speaking in their native languages.

Syahid 1.2

Tell us more about your experience in Ghana.

Oh, where do I begin! … I was there with two other interns. When the three of us first landed, we said to each other, “Oh dear, bad decision. Which part of Africa are we at?”

We were stopped by immigration officers (at the airport), who looked quite “shady”. They asked us for our visas and if we wanted to sign up for a visa. They even asked us for a sum of money! All of us panicked. We decided to call Wilmar in Ghana and the issue was quickly resolved, and everything went well after that, but it took us more than an hour.

When we first set foot on the soils of Ghana, it was… interesting. I do not really know how to describe the experience. But essentially, it is really different from the countries that you usually go to. You have to be very gung-ho when you’re there.

And when we visited the office for the first time, we saw the difference in culture.

Do you mean the working culture?

Mm… Well, just in general. But in working culture too, because in Singapore, everyone is so stressed. Everybody is always on the go for their career.

But over there, they believe in living life to the fullest. People are so friendly there. They never hesitate to share your problems, they will teach you no matter when, and are always willing to share with you their knowledge and experience. They constantly try to make sure that we learn a lot from them, which was really nice.

But because we are so used to the fast-paced lifestyle here (in Singapore), the pace there can be quite slow sometimes. But I suppose that is the culture that they grew up with, they believe in getting things done while forging good relations along the way.

However, they are not very tech-savvy. They do not use Microsoft Excel a lot – even some of the basic functions are new to them, so when we were there, we actually taught them how to use Excel.

Tell us more about the Ghanaians.

People in Ghana are very hospitable.

The good thing was, the company (Wilmar International) was great. But when we first went there, some of them (the colleagues) were quite hostile. Basically they felt we were spies, because when they heard we came from Singapore – our HQ was in Singapore – they felt they we were scrutinizing their work. We would also ask a lot of questions and so they thought that we were auditors. They had a very bad experience with auditors previously.

So I guess, just go there and clarify things. When we mentioned that we were students and on an internship, they were quite amazed but we managed to clear up the air. We should not assume they know our intentions.

Subsequently, when we got to visit the markets and the other places of interests, we realised that the locals are very friendly. We constantly asked our driver to teach us some local phrases.

The locals were so impressed that we actually took the initiative to learn their language, because many of the expatriates there do not do so. I thought that that was a very good way to build rapport with the locals.

“We went there with minimal expectations, and frankly, we imagined the worst. But it was not all that bad when we were there. We were quite sad when we had to leave as we forged many good relationships with the people there.”

I had a very strong relationship with my supervisor and these people are just so fun. I could just sit beside my supervisor and talk nonsense, and he will just entertain you and speak with you at your level.

Over there, it is amazing. They are so open with their thoughts. So you don’t have to worry about being very professional, in that sense. When we came in, they said, “We’re just going to be your friends. Let’s just work together,” and it worked well.

So I must say, I really enjoyed the 10 weeks over there.

Syahid 1.3

That’s great. What was your life like there?

Every week we went to the movies and had dinner at the mall. We do not really communicate with the expatriates, but hung around with the locals. We really appreciated the things the locals did for us. We felt so pampered by them.

They cleaned our rooms and cooked for us. And because I do not eat pork – they actually took the initiative to ask me, “Do you want me to whip up something else for you? Because we’re cooking pork tonight.” I felt so welcomed. It was a very nice gesture.

We made friends with the housekeeping lady – she is very funny. We brought her out countless times and we paid for everything. The staff there said they liked that we interacted more with them compared to the previous expatriates and interns. So they really felt the connection with us. We will even spend time to (have a) HTHT (heart to heart talk) with them too.

Oh, over there, it’s like a mosquito fest! You definitely have to bring an insect repellent.

Will surely take note of that! How safe is it in Ghana though?

It is actually quite safe there to walk on the streets. You can carry your iPhones but don’t show it off to the locals. Well, people may still look at you but they don’t do anything to you. They will say “Hi”, so then it depends on how you want to reciprocate that.

Syahid 1.4We made friends with the credit lady – we call her the credit lady. She sells us the prepaid top-up cards for our phones. We played with her son, who is really adorable.

How’s the food?

Well, the food follows the palate of locals. Some people complained that some food there was not fit for consumption. So we would just go like 20 minutes away (to get food).

Syahid 1.5It is very safe in Ghana. Just do not carry too much cash. We tried not to carry more than $20 every time. Usually we share our food, like rice and chicken. And we kind of knew the market price for the food there, so if they asked for more, we would say, “No, don’t lie to us.” We even learnt the language to tell the vendors not to cheat us! (laughs)

We hope you’ve enjoyed Syahid’s story. You can experience the emerging markets like Syahid too! If you’re an NUS or SMU student, there are opportunities to do an exchange semester in some African countries. NTU students can find out more about the NTU-KKH programme. (We also hear that IE Singapore‘s opening an office in Ghana.)

Be sure to stay tuned to GoBeyond.SG for more on Syahid’s experience in Ghana in the upcoming weeks!