Warthogs and Waterfalls on the Weekends

Breanna Pendleton

The sun was setting and the air had finally cooled down to the point where we weren’t sweating. The only sounds I could hear were the jeep tires on the dirt path and monkeys jumping around in trees. Warthogs eyed us as we drove through their land and gazelles constantly darted across the road in front of us.

We stopped to observe some baboons playing their own sort of game and, as we stopped, we were able to finally spot what we had driven into the savanna to find – an elephant.

He was just eating leaves, not at all bothered as we climbed down from the top of the dusty red jeep and stared at him just living his life. This was one of those moments in life when I was absolutely, 100 percent happy.

 I could not stop smiling and I was, at that point in time, truly excited that I had decided to spend my second semester of my junior year living in Ghana. All the preparation, the orientations, the travel, the 29 hours spent getting to go to this park, was all worth it. 

When I was in middle school, my best friend got to go on a long vacation with her mom to Europe. I was so jealous of her and the adventures she was having. I had never even been as far as Canada, and hearing her stories sparked my desire to travel

the world.

I wanted to see things I had never seen, try foods I never even knew existed, hear and speak new languages and meet an assortment of people.

When I came to Colgate in the fall of 2008, this passion of mine to study abroad was ignited knowing that after two years, I could take a whole semester to go wherever I wanted. My first two years were integral in shaping who I am and I’m glad they molded me to make the decision I did when it finally got to the point when I had to choose a place to live for five months.

I spent my spring semester junior year living on the University of Ghana campus, taking courses at the university with thousands of Ghanaian and other international students, mostly from nearby West African countries. The day I moved into my dorm, the nicest dorm on campus, I was shocked that this was where I would be living for months. I was used to having a clean dorm room at the start of every semester, with constant running water and electricity, not to mention air-conditioning and soap dispensers in the bathroom.

It took some getting used to, of course; as did drinking water out of plastic sacks purchased on the street and sleeping under a mosquito net that trapped all the heat and humidity. None of these things are what I remember from my study abroad experience, though. Instead, I remember the three trips I went on with my program where I learned to make a drum by hand, carved wood, pounded bark to make dye, walked on a bridge hundreds of feet above the forest floor and swam under waterfalls.

I remember the weekend I spent in a remote village on the highest mountain in Ghana dancing with the local children who lived without any electricity or even a road – it took almost an hour to walk up the mountain on a foot-wide path to get there.

These children and adults were the most content, hospitable people I have ever encountered. I remember the time I touched a crocodile and the immediate love I received from all the children who lived at the market stands who just wanted to hang out and play.

This life-changing experience was made possible by the support of my family and friends, but also through the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship. This $5,000 award enabled me to afford

my program.

I want everyone to know that if finances are what are holding you back from spending a semester off campus, assistance is available. This is the time to make these things happen and there is a network of support to help eliminate perceived roadblocks.

My semester in Ghana was magical and at some points so challenging it was all I could do to persevere, but in the end, studying abroad in Africa was the best time of my life.

I learned more about myself and the world in that short span than ever before, and I am excited and proud to be the person I’ve turned out to be because of this experience.

I encourage everyone to try something out of your comfort zone, either while you study abroad in college, or after you graduate. You’ll make it through and you’ll be so much happier for it.

Contact Breanna Pendleton at

[email protected]