Spring 2020 Stories: Meet Gloria McComas

Program and Location:

University of Ghana (ISEP); Accra, Ghana

Major/Minor:

Neurobiology/Psychology

If you were already in your host country when you were recalled home, what are some of your favorite memories from abroad?

Wow, there’s so many. I enjoyed the simple everyday things, like walking to the food stalls in the morning to buy some fresh mango or pineapple for breakfast, or getting fufu (a sort of traditional soup and dough you eat with your hands) and fried plantains for lunch. I joined the school’s pop band as a singer, and we were preparing for our reggae concert. The entire music department was also preparing for a huge Easter production, and I ended up in a gospel choir and learning traditional African songs in the local languages like Twi and Fante. I also loved going to the huge city market! I genuinely don’t know how to explain it, and even photos only show so much. I enjoyed bargaining, whether it be for spices or a new pair of shoes or even a guitar. You can literally find anything there. The seller always starts at too high a price and the buyer starts too low, and then you both kind of play a game back and forth until you meet somewhere in the middle. Oh, and I also miss the people who weave through traffic with food and drinks carried on their heads. It was really convenient to be able to just reach out the car window for a bottle of water or a snack.

What self-care strategies have you used to process the emotions around having your study abroad experience cut short or canceled?

In addition to keeping up with my friends there, I’ve been listening to a lot of Afrobeat, which is the genre of music that’s played pretty much everywhere in Ghana. I was introduced to it, literally the moment I got off the plane, and I haven’t stopped since! It reminds me of my time there, and to be grateful for the experience even though it got cut short. I’ve also been keeping up with the little things that make me happy, and not to pressure myself to be ultra productive every single day. I like drinking coffee outside when it’s a nice day, taking walks with my dog and taking pictures of the Spring flowers, and playing new songs on the guitar.

Are you continuing classes online? What are some of the challenges to distance learning and how are you overcoming them?

Doing distance learning from home while I’m supposed to be abroad is a sharp contrast, and it kinda cuts deep. It’s a reminder that I’m not where I wish I was, but I just try and remind myself of the positives: I was still able to study abroad in the first place, I made it home safe and I still get my semester credit. The first week, the classes were tough because of the time difference, but luckily my teachers have been very accommodating and moved classes later so I’m not getting up at 3 am!

How are you staying connected to the NC State and/or PackAbroad community during social distancing?

Probably like most others, I’ve been FaceTiming my friends a lot. It was hard to keep in touch while I was in Ghana because I didn’t always have cell service, so it’s actually been easier to do now than when I was abroad.

What have you learned about yourself during this time? How have you grown in this experience?

I’ve thought a lot about my ability to adapt and accept throughout this entire experience. Sometimes my 2 months in Ghana feel like a dream. My daily life was so drastically different from how I live in the US, but I kinda just jumped into it and it became my normal. COVID wasn’t affecting Ghana the way it was Europe, or really most places; when I left I believe there were only 3 confirmed cases in the entire country. Because of this, the call to return home felt abrupt and unnecessary, until airlines starting shutting down, my flight was canceled and I was making preparations to live with a friend in his village.
Now, it’s somehow been almost a month and a half since I left, and I’ve quickly adapted to my old way of living, though the lifestyle is still very different because of social distancing and government-mandated lockdowns. I went from living in the US, where I didn’t notice that we always have air conditioning or freshwater available, to living in Ghana, where I was walking 6 miles a day just from going to class or buying my meals from the outdoor markets, to getting ready to move to a small village for an undetermined amount of time, to just barely grabbing a flight that opened up to go to London to Toronto to DC, to living back home again where basically everywhere but the grocery store is closed. The whole ordeal has been a rollercoaster.
I learned that I adapt well to different ways of living, but that it’s a little harder to accept changes I wasn’t prepared for. I learned to just take it one step at a time and to work through my thoughts as they come. Being able to adapt to new environments and quickly evolving situations has been crucial to making the most out of my experience, and I think I’ve come out the other side with a greater appreciation for the relationships I’ve maintained and created along the way. There are things I’ve gained and things I’ve lost, but in the end, it’s the people that make the biggest impact; I’m incredibly grateful to my old and new friends for being in my life, and for making my days, no matter where in the world I am, just that much brighter.

Do you hope to take advantage of other abroad experiences in the future – ie studying abroad again, interning, volunteering, or working abroad, before or after graduation?

I’ve been thinking about studying abroad again, but I don’t have many class options anymore. I found one university in Ireland with a lot of neurology courses that looks promising. After graduation, I plan on joint the Peace Corps.
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