Interview by Harriet Muutu ’23.
“My country is not enclosed in a bubble. We’re not oblivious to the rest of the world.”
International Humans of Brown (IHOB) introduces Angela Akoto, a sophomore student from Ghana concentrating in Computational Biology!
Q: How do you consider yourself International?
A: I’m from Ghana. I grew up there. That’s where I’ve spent my whole life.
Q: When did you move to the United States?
A: Last year when I was coming to Brown for College.
Q: Was it your first time coming to the states?
A: In terms of long-term stay, yes. I’ve been here to visit family over the holidays and stuff like that. This is the first time I’ve been here for more than two months.
Q: How do your experiences when you came here to visit your family compare to your experience now as a student?
A: I think the biggest thing is, coming on holiday, it was temporary. I’d come with my family and we’d go back home together then I’d go back to my normal routine. But last year coming to Brown, I found myself trying to cherish every single moment I had with my family because I knew they were going to leave me here. Subconsciously, I was sad to think I’d be away from home for a long time and I knew I had to step up my independence game.
Q: How would you say Ghana differs from the US?
A: I would say back home, people are very hospitable, very outgoing and very approachable. They don’t take life too seriously. You might not know anyone where you are, but it’s no problem approaching them or starting a conversation with them. I guess it’s also since we’ve had the same experiences living in Ghana conversations flow easily. Coming here, one thing I was not expecting was to feel invisible. You might meet someone, have a full-on conversation with them, but the next day, they just pass you by like you’ve never met! That confused me from day one. What does it take for me to leave as little an impact as possible on people? First year was rough in the beginning primarily because of that, but it’s gotten better.
Q: What other culture shocks have you experienced?
A: Not really, no. Not a big fan of the weather here though. Not classified as a culture shock, but thought I’d mention.
Q: What are some of the stereotypes you experienced when you came to Brown?
A: I’ve had people ask me where I’m from. I reply Ghana, and if they don’t know where that is, I’d specify it’s in Africa. And for some reason, a common follow-up question was “how is your English is so good?”. And that shocked me a little. Still does. I grew up in an educational system that is primarily taught in English but I don’t see the need to explain that. You shouldn’t assume that because I’m from the African continent, I should speak some African dialect and very little English. I’ve also had people ask me how I heard of schools like Brown and how I was able to apply. And in my head, I’m thinking, it’s a thing people do. Everyone around the world knows what the top schools are and they are aware of the educational opportunities all over the globe. My country is not enclosed in a bubble. We’re not oblivious to the rest of the world. So I found it odd that they’d find it odd for me to apply to a school outside my country and come here.
Q: What are some of the ways Brown has reminded you of Ghana?
A: When I have conversations with my friends over the phone we try to speak to each other in our dialect. It’s very important now more than ever to be able to do that because that’s what we have that nobody else has. Also worth mentioning is the Catholic community here at Brown that has contributed greatly to helping me settle in. I try to go to church as much as possible and my grandma doesn’t fail to remind me to do so. I’m also involved in AfriSA. I remember my first time in AfriSA felt like stepping into a home away from home. It was in Kasper and I remember crossing that threshold, getting into the mixer and hearing the music and people’s accents come out! It was a very precious moment!
Q: As one of the mentors in the International Mentoring Program, what would you say about International Community at Brown.
A: The International Community here is amazing. It’s hard for me to say that it can get any better than this. From providing shuttle services for incoming international students from airports outside of Rhode Island, offering year-long mentorship, organizing so many events for them throughout the year, I think the international community at Brown is really strong and the IMP specifically is at its peak!