First World vs. Third World

In Accra, Arrivals, The Art of Travel Spring 2015 by Lydia Cap3 Comments

Hi guys! My name is Lydia Cap. I am a sophomore in Gallatin currently studying in Accra, Ghana. My concentration is just beginning to take shape–right now it includes public health, food studies, nutrition, and Africana studies. I am interested in the ways we relate to food: as a society, as individuals, mentally, and nutritionally. I can’t yet explain how Africana studies fits in, but after I write my IAPC this semester I’ll let you know!

Why did I decide to live in a third world country when I could have spent my semester in a beautiful, modern European city? I chose Ghana because it is different from everything I have ever known. Alain de Botton’s The Art of Travel opens with a discussion of anticipation; when I was in New York applying to Accra, I had absolutely no idea what the city would be like. There was nothing to anticipate. The majority of NYU’s study abroad sites come with a mental image of the city: Paris is known for romance, Sydney has its harbor, and so on. But when I thought of Ghana, my mind was blank.

Coming to Africa will allow me to form my own opinions of the continent, instead of filling the blank space in my head with Western stereotypes. For most, Africa is not a place for cities or scholars, but for mud huts and malnourished children. Yes these exist, but they do not define the continent. Pico Iyer tells us, “Travel is the best way we have of rescuing the humanity of places, and saving them from abstraction and ideology.” I hope that my time living in a non-Western third world country will help me, as NYU students like to say, “check my privilege,” while taking me far beyond the limits of my comfort zone.

As of right now, I have been in Ghana for one week and I love it! Despite the extreme heat, mosquitos, and brushing my teeth from a water bottle, I feel like I’m on a tropical (but still educational) vacation. Life here is laidback compared to New York, which takes getting used to but I do like the change of pace. We have a “free” membership to a local gym so I plan on getting into a fitness routine (for the first time in my life) to help adjust. The staff here has many events and weekend trips planned so my goal is to participate in all of them. I’m also starting an internship next week at a local teaching hospital where I will be analyzing treatment efficiency. Very cool!

One aspect of life here has me very nervous, however: I will never be able to blend in. Unlike Pic Iyer’s traveler, I will never be free of my social standing; because of my skin color, I will constantly be under observation by the locals. People will call me obruni (which translates literally to “white person”) and young children will stare because they have never seen someone so pale. Part of me is excited for this because I won’t be afraid to participate in touristy activities out of fear that locals will call me out as a foreigner, but I will miss being able to seamlessly blend into the background and go unnoticed for a while. But in the grand scheme of things, my skin color can’t dictate how much fun I have while I’m here!


  1. Hi Lydia, great post! I was particularly interested in your discussion of the fact that you will always stand out in Accra as a tourist. During welcome week here in Paris a professor told us that a favorite pastime of Parisians is to sit in a café and try to guess the nationalities of the people walking by. Another professor told us there is no reason to even try to fit in with the Parisians because she believes that Americans walk down the street with a completely different stride and posture that make us automatically stand out. I’ve been trying to take note of the mannerisms of people from different places and how I connote said mannerism with their nationality. While I don’t stand out in Paris as far as skin tone is concerned, I really want to know what makes me look clearly American. Have an amazing semester; I can’t wait to read more about your experiences!

  2. Hey Lydia! I have so much respect for you. It takes a lot to place yourself in an under developed country, especially to live there. I think you have the best attitude about fitting in, but your fears are, too, very realistic. I hope you end up finding a home in Ghana, and I think you will. Enjoy your experience there! I anticipate seeing how your life shapes and molds to the life in Accra.

  3. Interesting post. Ghana sounds great right now–warm weather, new experiences, complete change. Awesome! Thanks for sharing the term “Oburni” with us. I always love getting an insight into the culture of a place by its words. I respect the completely different aspect of your study abroad–I wish, and hope to in the future, to get away from a big city completely. It’s very different!

Leave a Comment