Alumni Reflections: Aleida, Ghana 2006

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It has been 12 years since I left for Ghana. Though I have travelled to over 15 other countries, earned a couple of university degrees, begun my career and found a new home across the country since then, I still, almost on a daily basis, think and talk about Ghana. From the people I met, the food I ate, the different cultural traditions I experienced, I constantly find myself reflecting on and referencing those 6 months back when I was 18 years old and freshly out of high school.

Unlike most of my peers preparing to leave high school, I was not excited about visiting universities, I was not keen to compare programs, I did not want to apply for scholarships. I was tired. I was uninspired. I needed something new and completely different.

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Thankfully my mother was a high school teacher and had heard about Lattitude Global Volunteering from a guidance counsellor on her own faculty. A sense of relief washed over me: there was another option out there!

Though my parents were supportive of and saw the value in taking time away from formal education and traveling for a while, they did steer me in the direction of applying to volunteer in a country relatively similar to my own, such as Australia. 

Looking for something truly new and different still nagged at me though, and so when I sat down for my interview with the Lattitude team it did not take much convincing on their part to have me choose to go somewhere completely unknown to me. Making that decision for myself was the first major life decision I had truly made by myself for myself.

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While I was proud of my peers for their admittance into a variety of post-secondary institutions, as I walked across the stage during our high school graduation ceremony, I was incredibly proud to hear the faculty announce that I would be taking a different route, I would be travelling to Ghana in September to teach for 6 months.

My time volunteering in Ghana was indeed the type of unique growing and learning experience I wanted and needed. Every day was vastly different than they would have been at home: some challenging enough to make me question what in the world I had been thinking when I chose to leave my comforts of home and family, and others magical enough to make me question why I would ever consider going back. Ultimately, taking time away from my ‘normal’ when I was transitioning from youth to adult was the most formative opportunity I can imagine having taken, having helped shape who I am and where my life has headed today.

After returning home in March the following year, I prepared to begin college to study International and Intercultural Studies. Having the knowledge and experiences from Ghana to draw on meant I was enthusiastic and ready to get back in a classroom. Four years later I completed my Bachelors’ degree from Simon Fraser University, specializing in international development and economics.

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Today, I have a Masters’ degree from York University in Development Studies. I work in the specialty coffee industry - I am a consultant with a nonprofit organization which partners with coffee-producing community in their self-led visions for local development.

Having had the opportunity to take my time to explore, to reflect, to learn during my Gap Year were crucial elements in discovering my passion as well as myself. I could not be a stronger advocate for young people to take advantage of the same opportunity to discover themselves.