Located on the western coast of Africa in the Gulf of Guinea, this former British colony is one of the most peaceful and politically stable countries in Africa. Situated just a few degrees north of the Equator, Ghana's tropical climate not only lends itself to growing cocoa, pineapples and coffee beans, but also is a warm destination for ISEP students desiring a truly unique experience living in a developing country. You will undoubtedly feel welcome within the heart of this laid-back culture, known for its friendly people and relaxed attitude toward the concept of time.



Languages Spoken:

English, Twi

Education System

HIGHER EDUCATION OVERVIEW 

The education system in Ghana is in transition, moving away from the traditional British model toward a system more similar to that of the United States.  

The first stage in higher education, undergraduate studies, leads to the bachelor's degree or to a professional qualification. A bachelor’s degree may be obtained in three or four years, depending on the discipline and the type of degree: general or honors. Sometimes there is a preparatory year, as in medicine. In certain fields, such as agriculture, science, geography, and psychology, the bachelor's degree may be obtained as a general degree or as an honors degree, with the courses of study differing according to the degree to be received. In some cases, an honors degree requires an additional year of study. Professional qualifications are marked by the award of certificates or diplomas after one or two years of study. 

Graduate studies lead to the award of the master's degree and doctor's degree and to various postgraduate diplomas and certificates. A master’s degree may be obtained following two years of coursework and research after the bachelor's degree, and a thesis must be presented. In science, studies may last one year after a four-year 'honours' degree. To obtain a doctor’s degree, three years' research on an approved subject and the presentation of a thesis are required. Advanced professional qualifications are awarded as certificates and diplomas following one or two years' study after the bachelor's degree. 

The University of Ghana

With a current student population of about 61,000 students, the University of Ghana is the largest, oldest university in Ghana. First named the University College of the Gold Coast, and then the University College of Ghana after independence, it was founded in 1948, and had a special relationship with the University of London, with degrees issued in the latter’s name until 1951, when the University began granting its own degrees. 

The university lies about 13 kilometers northeast of Accra, the capital city. It is an internationally recognized institution, supplying most of the nation's trained labor force. 

The University of Ghana offers a variety of courses for both full-time and part-time students. There are currently over 200 exchange students through several exchange programs, including ISEP. There are also roughly 500 degree-seeking international students at the university, mainly from other African countries. 

STUDYING IN GHANA 

Academic Culture

Opportunities for Ghanaians to attend university are limited to the very best students. They tend to take their studies seriously, and you will find them spending a lot of time reading in the library. 

Class sizes vary—some could have up to 400 students, especially at the lower levels. Most large lecture courses also have a regular seminar period divided into smaller student groups. Upper-division courses usually have smaller class sizes and may be more interactive. Because University salaries are low professors often take additional work, which may affect their ability to hold classes regularly at the scheduled time. Be prepared for some classes to start after the official starting date for the semester, or otherwise have irregular meeting times. 

Students should note that relationships between students and lecturers are very formal. Open debate and/or questions that may be perceived as challenging the professor's knowledge should be restricted to after class, one-on-one discussions with the lecturer, and always presented respectfully. During one-on-one sessions, students may discuss other academic topics as well as bring along supplementary materials they may have (i.e. textbooks brought from home or supplementary readings) to further the discussion. 

Textbooks are hard to come by, as such, most courses may entail the handing out of lecture materials (pamphlets as it is mostly called by students) by lecturers. Some lecturers may require you to purchase such materials from them or print your own copies in the campus bookstore. For courses in your major, you may also wish to bring a general textbook from home. 

Courses 

Short course descriptions are provided on the University of Ghana’s website: www.ug.edu.gh. If you need a more detailed description, you may contact the office of the ISEP Coordinator in Ghana and they will do their best to provide you one. Of the courses listed on the University's website, not all are offered every semester. Odd-numbered courses are offered in the fall and even-numbered courses are offered in the spring. If you are especially interested in a specific course, please check with the ISEP office in Ghana in order to ensure the course will be offered in the semester that you are planning to study in Ghana. 

Once you decide to study at the University of Ghana, we advise that you email a description of your courses to your home advisor for approval, to ensure your selected courses they meet your university requirement and are transferable. If there is a course you must take for your home university and it is not offered by the University of Ghana, Ghana may not be the best option for you. 

As part of the ISEP program benefits, we have arranged for all ISEP students to be given a beginner-level Twi language course during their first semester. This course, suggested by our Resident Director in Ghana as well as past ISEP students, will appear on your transcript from the University of Ghana. Students may also elect to take beginning level classes in any of the major languages of Ghana: Twi (which includes Asante Twi and Fante Twi), Ga, Ewe and Dagbani. Twi is by far the most popular and widely spoken language in Ghana. Ga is the local language of Accra. Learning either of the two languages probably would be useful, but knowledge is not necessary for survival. 

Summer students will enroll in courses taught by University of Ghana professors specifically designed for the ISEP program. 

Registration 

The process of registering for classes will likely differ from your home university. You will register online for courses, but you will also register in person with each department. This process is usually not more involved than signing your name to a sheet of paper or, at most, completing a one-page sheet. Past ISEP students advise that registration can take all day (so you may want to bring some fruit or something to munch while waiting in line). It may also take about one month for classes to get into full swing, another reason for learning to relax while observing and learning as much as possible. 

Semester Course Load 

Exchange students should select courses at the 300 and 400 level, which may be closer to 200 level courses at your home institution. Former exchange students recommend taking one course each in a variety of disciplines and taking a lot of courses as electives. Those needing several courses in one field may not get as much course content as they need for their major or minor field. 

Students take, on average, five classes per semester, equaling about 15 class hours per week. The term is 16 weeks long, including 3 weeks of examination at the end of term.  

Exams & Grading 

You should expect less continual evaluation of your work and a greater emphasis on memorization. Students must be prepared to assume more personal responsibility and independence in completing readings, out-of-class study and reading, and continuous revision throughout the semester in preparation for the final exam. Typically, 100% of the grade for a course is based on a final paper or exam. 

There are absolutely no early or remote examinations arranged for international students. All students are expected to take the examinations during the official examination period. If a student fails to comply with this practice this practice, he or she will not receive a grade for the course in question. 

Transcripts 

Transcripts should be delivered 3 months after the end of term. Students should be sure to sign in for all exams to ensure that attendance is recorded. 

Visa and Residency

ALL students are required to obtain a visa to enter Ghana, regardless of program length.

Type of visa: Single or Multiple entry visa

Visa fee: $60-$200, depending on processing time selected

National Identity Card Fee: $30/month (semester students)

Residence Permit fee: $140 (full year students)

When to apply: At least 4 weeks before departure

Where to apply: The Ghanaian embassy or consulate for your home country 

Ghanaian embassy in the United States consular services

 

Application Requirements:

Visa regulations and documentation requirements can change at any time and without notice. Students should always consult their local Ghanaian Consulate or Embassy to verify the most up to date visa information. Visa requirements can vary depending on the country your passport is issued in.

For students applying from the US, copies of all required materials are uploaded to an online application portal before submitting hard copies of materials via certified mail. It is important to follow exactly the requirements regarding file size and quality, or your application may be rejected. 

o   Visa application form – include printed copy with original signatures when mailing in application packet

o   Original valid passport with at least 6 more months of validity and available pages, plus copies of the bio-data page of the passport

o   2 color passport photographs with white clear background 

o   Proof of contact person/accommodation in Ghana

o   Admission letter from University of Ghana

o   Proof of Yellow Fever Vaccination 

o   Required processing fee – online payment via Consulate website

 

General Processing Time: 

Visa will only be issued when all requirements have been fully satisfied. Fifteen (15) business days is required for the processing of standard visas after online application is received.

Expedited service is also available for an additional fee and takes five (5) business days.

Applicants should submit their passports, together with the completed visa application forms and the supporting documents well ahead of the time of proposed date of travel, in order to avoid possible delays.

 

Immunization and Vaccination Immigration Requirements:

o   The Yellow Fever vaccine is required to enter the country.

o   Students should consult the CDC website to determine optional vaccines for Ghana. 

o   Malaria medication is highly recommended, but not required for immigration.

 

Registering with Immigration Upon Arrival

o   Your passport will be stamped by an immigration officer at your point of entry into Ghana.

o   The ISEP Resident Director will help you register with Ghana immigration services when you arrive.

o   Semester students are required to obtain a national identity card. Full year students are required to purchase a residence permit. You will do this during orientation.

 

Last Updated: February 2024

Culture

CUSTOMS

Ghanaians are a very friendly people, and both female friends and male friends hold hands when together. Ghanaians are assertive people, but not hostile. 

Greeting others in Ghana is very important. It is considered rude to walk past an adult in a house without greeting him or her, or to get to business right away without taking the time for an initial greeting. Due to the special emphasis placed on greetings, a handshake is essential. Men and women usually do not shake hands unless the hand is extended first by the woman. Western women, though, will usually have their hands shaken by African men.

LIVING AS AN INTERNATIONAL STUDENT IN GHANA

For all exchange students, those who have been to Ghana before highly recommend that you make an effort to break through the cultural barrier as quickly as possible. Since you will meet other exchange students during your first ISEP orientation, you may find it easier at first to spend the majority of your time with them. However, your time in Ghana is short, and it is to your benefit to meet other Ghanaian students and begin your cultural adjustment early. Former exchange students are unanimous in their opinions that the Ghanaians will definitely make you happy you got to know them.

Foreigners are almost universally treated with great friendliness and tolerance in Ghana. Racial discrimination is generally not a problem, but some exchange students have reported feeling racial or national origin discrimination against them. Students should speak with the ISEP Resident Director in Ghana if they have any concerns, but this is most often due cultural misunderstanding: 

Firstly, Ghanaians may continue speaking in a local language when an exchange student joins the group. This can be uncomfortable but it is likewise less comfortable for them to change to English, which they are often not as proficient in but are required to learn because it was the language of their colonizers.

Secondly, it is quite easy to notice when Ghanaian students are talking about an exchange student and laughing, appearing to be making fun of the student. Although it may indeed be true that they are commenting on an exchange student's differences, they are generally unaware of how this might make an American student feel. It may not occur to some students that Americans, who seem to have so much going for them, would be vulnerable to the same sensitivities and problems that they might face. Many have also not been exposed to as many diverse people as Americans have, and have not had the opportunity to think about cultural differences and commonalities. One strategy for this kind of situation is to learn to laugh at yourself – you are bound to do some things oddly, and becoming comfortable with that fact is key for an enjoyable stay. Learn to see things as they do, and you will have learned something extremely valuable.

Thirdly, you might experience some services you might deem poor based on your home country experience. In the past, we have had reports of exchange students being served last or receiving poor service in a public place, such as a dining facility or other kinds of student services. When situations like this occur, you need to take a step back and ask yourself some questions; such as: What is the norm there for determining who should be served first? What is the relative importance of serving a friend compared to the person who arrived first? Or even an acquaintance or a respected person, such as a class officer or teacher? If the person providing the service is not a student, how much authority or respect does he or she receive from other students? If the respect is high, do you provide that same level of respect? If it the respect is low, what is the cause of that? Can his or her own feeling of self-esteem be raised by exercising some authority over an American student? If the person providing the service is a student, what sources of resentment might there be toward exchange students, who are given more space in the dormitories, appear not to take their coursework as seriously and clearly have more money? These examples may help you think of other similar questions.

Truly unfriendly behavior among Ghanaians is rare. Once you learn to ask questions like those above and understand what people's motivations might be, you will find their acceptance, curiosity, hospitality and eagerness to know you phenomenal.

PERSONAL IDENTITY ABROAD

Female Students 

Women may find that they are sought after for relationships by Ghanaian males. If you do not desire a relationship, a firm, yet polite refusal should suffice. Gender issues can be very tricky to negotiate cross-culturally, especially when it comes to personal relationships. Keep in mind that this is one of the most common areas of misunderstanding when crossing cultures; proceed with caution until you know more about the culture. What you view as completely normal behavior may be interpreted in a totally unexpected way by the people around you. It is recommended that students who may want advice regarding how to navigate relationships in the Ghanaian context consult with the ISEP Resident Director as a source of local insight. 

Students should also be aware that Ghanaian culture is quite conservative when it comes to dating and sexual relationships. Largely due to the media, many Ghanaians do hold a stereotype of Americans, particularly American women, as being more sexually uninhibited than Ghanaians. You should be aware that many Ghanaians will consider that a female student who invites a male student to her room, or who accompanies a male student to his room, is interested in a sexual relationship; some will consider that she has given consent to such a relationship merely by offering or accepting such an invitation. 

African American Students 

African American students are often initially surprised to discover that the average Ghanaian does not consider them to be very different from a Caucasian American. They see and appreciate the difference, but their perception is that African Americans are culturally closer to the U.S. than to Ghana. 

LGBTQ+ Students 

Students who identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual should be aware that homosexuality is illegal in Ghana. Due to this, there is very little tolerance for homosexual behavior and little to no support network for LGBTQ+ individuals either on the campus, or in Accra. 

It is recommended that LGBTQ+ students conduct personal research on their host country before departing for their program and understand the local laws and circumstances in Ghana. The articles below may be a good starting point for such research. However, students should keep in mind that social attitudes and acceptance may vary based on several factors including region, age, and the local political climate. If you have additional questions or concerns and would like to be connected with your host coordinator or an alumni who identifies as LGBTQ+ before your departure, please contact your Student Services Officer.

Human Rights Watch - LGBT Rights by Country

EQUALDEX - LGBT Rights in Ghana 

UK Foreign Office - Local Laws and Customs in Ghana

Daily Life

HOUSING

The University of Ghana has traditionally been a fully residential campus, and most students live on one of the on-campus residential hostels or halls of residence. The desire to maintain this status limits spaces in the face of the ever-increasing demand. Be aware that local students will have four to a dormitory room while you will have only two. 

The International Student Hostels (ISH1 and ISH2) were opened in the early 2000’s to address the increasing housing demands of the growing international student population. In addition to the international students, Ghanaian graduate students make up a small number within this dormitory. The ISH residences are on campus and within walking distance from the academic areas. However, please note that the campus is large and it is an approximately 15-30 minute walk to class depending on where a classroom/lecture hall is located on campus.   

Upon arrival you will be assigned a double room in one of the International Student Hostels that will be shared with either another international student or a Ghanaian student. Each student will have a bed, desk and chair, armchair and small table, drying rack on your balcony, and an overhead fan. Students share a bathroom with other students on their floor. The International Student Hostels are mixed gender, with separate floors for males and females. The dorm has a front desk open during office hours and 24-hour security (porters). Overnight guests are not allowed, and all visitors must sign in at the front desk. The bathrooms and other common areas are cleaned daily. Between the two ISH residences there also are such amenities as laundry service, a small convenience store, canteen, hair salon, etc. 

Off-campus housing is not available through ISEP benefits. Students wishing to move off-campus must pay the entire cost themselves. Permission to live off-campus is only granted on a case-by-case basis, and if considered a university official will inspect your off-campus housing to determine that security is adequate before any final approval is given. 

Laundry

There are inexpensive laundry facilities in the dorm where you can drop off and pick up your laundry for machine washing and ironing. Many students also choose to wash their clothing, particularly their delicates, by hand. There are drying racks located on the balcony of each room. 

Water

Please do not expect to have hot showers in the dorm while in Ghana. None of the halls on campus have this facility. The good news is that with the tropical weather in Ghana, you will quickly come to appreciate your lukewarm showers! If you must have a warm bath, you may consider buying a bucket and a kettle for making hot water that Ghanaian students use for this purpose. They are inexpensive and very common in Ghana. Don't bother buying it in the U.S. You will have an opportunity to buy this item on our shopping trip during orientation or at the Bush Canteen on campus (also part of your campus orientation tour).

Students should not drink the tap water in Ghana. Bottled water for consumption is available everywhere at very low cost. 

Electricity

In Ghana it is very normal to have electricity cuts when the power grid becomes overwhelmed. This load-shedding is locally referred to as Dumsor (meaning “on-off" in the Akan language). Usually the power will only go out for a few hours at a time. The ISH residences are equipped with generators, although they are not 100% reliable and only cover essential functions. Accordingly, each residence is also equipped with surplus water tanks in the event that a power cut impacts the ability to pump water to higher floors. It is also very important to note that electricity (and water) are expensive utilities in Ghana. You should do your best to be conservative with your use of these resources. 

FOOD

Ghana is know for such local specialties as Jollof Rice, Waakye, Red Red, Banku, and Fufu. Street food in Ghana is also abundant, affordable, and delicious! Accra is a very international city, and as such there are many restaurants serving a wide variety of cuisines including Italian, Mexican, Chinese, American, and more. 

Meals

Semester students have a meal stipend included in their ISEP program fees. Summer students do not have the cost of meals included in their ISEP program fees and should therefore expect to pay for meals out-of-pocket. 

Average per-month meal costs are approx. $200 USD, although you can spend nearly half this amount if you stick to buying groceries and frequenting food stalls as opposed to more upscale, full-service restaurants.

There are several on-campus supermarkets, including one almost adjacent to the International Students Hostel. There is also an open-air market adjacent to the hostel that has a variety of food stalls with meals available at very reasonable costs. There is a basic shared kitchen on each floor of the residence (hot plate, shared refrigerator, sink). Students may also optionally consider renting a minifridge from the front desk, depending on how many meals they expect to prepare themselves. 

TRANSPORTATION

Local Transport 

Tro-tros (collective vans for 12-15 passengers) and city buses are the most common type of local transportation in Accra, although many students also utilize taxis for getting around campus and Accra. Uber and other apps are also becoming more available - DiDi Rider is the preferred app locally because it offers the most affordable rates. 

All sources of local transport are cash-only, and even with the app-based services most drivers will prefer you pay in cash. You should always agree on a destination and price before the start of your journey! 

Intercity Transport

Bus is the best way to get around the country (STC and other companies). it is reccomended that groups of students who are considering a trip outside of Accra consult with the Resident Director regarding private intercity transport options.

Students should not plan overnight intercity travel - travel in darkness, particularly outside the major cities, is extremely hazardous in Ghana due to poor street lighting, insufficient road maintenance, and the unpredictable behavior of pedestrians, bicyclists, and animals. 

WHAT TO PACK AND OTHER CONSIDERATIONS

A shopping trip is scheduled as part of the orientation for items that students may need for their rooms (linens, kitchen utensils, cooking pots, washing bucket, cleaning supplies, etc.) and other personal items. 

Linens

All beds in the Hostel require twin-sized sheets. It is highly recommended to bring one set of your own linens (sheet, pillowcase, travel towel, etc.). It is possible to buy additional linens inexpensively upon arrival in Ghana. A mosquito net is also recommended.

Phones and Internet Data

You can bring an unlocked phone from home to use in Ghana or may also purchase a mobile phone after arrival. Students should budget about $40 USD for the cost of purchasing local SIM and adding minutes and data to their phone. While the entire University of Ghana campus has WiFi coverage, upload and download speeds will vary a good deal depending on the number of users on the network and may be significantly slower than you are used to. Some students choose to purchase additional data and an internet hotspot to supplement the WiFi, depending on their personal data needs. 

Clothing

It is hot and humid in Ghana almost all year-round. While Ghanaians tend to dress more conservatively, this can vary depending on age, location, and setting. Students should bring sufficient clothing, in particular personal items. Many choose to pack lighter and then purchase additional clothing once in Accra. Note that Ghanaians often judge maturity based on appearance, and students tend to dress more formally for class than you may be used to. In academic settings women and men often wear button down shirts and blouses with pants, and women may also choose to wear mid-length dresses and skirts as a more heat-friendly option. Athletic clothing is not the norm outside of sports settings. 

Toiletries

Unless you have specific brands of personal care items that you cannot do without while abroad, it is recommended that you only pack travel-size toiletries and purchase locally, rather than taking up space and weight in your luggage. Most everything you need can be found in Accra, although specialty/imported items such as contact lens solution may be more expensive than at home. Students who menstruate should be aware that tampons are not common - you may consider bringing supplies from home (or better yet, utilize a reusable menstrual cup!). 

Electronics

In Ghana, power plugs and sockets of type D and type G are used. The most common is type G - the same as used in the UK.  Students from countries that do not use these socket types should pack plug adaptors. 

Voltage in Ghana is 230V. Dual voltage rated devices (most phone and computer chargers - anything with a block on the charging cord) will operate without issue. However, if you are traveling from the US which uses 110-120V, it is not recommended that you bring single voltage devices (the most common are hair styling appliances), or be sure to bring a voltage converter. 110-120V appliances CANNOT be plugged into the sockets in Ghana without a voltage converter - if you do so, you will blow the fuses in the entire residence! 

Health and Safety

Your health and safety is our number one priority. Please read and reference our Guides and Tips for general information regarding health and safety abroad. 

Detailed information about Ghana can be found here. Please pay special attention to the Safety and Security, Local Laws and Special Circumstances and Health sections. 

Please see the Culture section of the Handbook for additional notes regarding safety, local laws and circumstances related to LGBTQ+ identities in Ghana. 

Travel Health

Please note that a Yellow Fever Vaccine is required in order to receive your Ghanaian visa and enter the country. It is recommended that all students make an appointment with a travel doctor to discuss recommended vaccinations and anti-malarial medication soon after accepting their ISEP placement. 

Please review the CDC's Health Information for Travelers to Ghana for additional recommendations and advice about travel health while abroad. ISEP would recommend that students pack a mosquito net for their bed. 

If you’re planning to bring your personal prescriptions and/or over-the-counter medicine, you need to make sure your medicine is travel ready. More information can be found here. Please contact your Student Services Officer and ISEP Coordinator with any additional questions. 

Information on this page is sourced by the U.S. Department of State and the CDC. Non-U.S. nationals should disregard the Embassies and Consulates and Entry, Exit and Visa Requirements sections of the travel information. 

Currency

At the beginning of January 2008, Ghana implemented a new currency with the intention of making money transactions easier. The new Ghanaian monetary system is comprised of pesewas and Cedis. 100 pesewas are equal to one cedi. One cedi is written as GHC1. The value of the cedi has decreased in recent years, though not as dramatically as before. A useful currency converter can be found here.

Cash and Money Matters

The primary means of payment is cash. Some more upscale stores and restaurants will accept Visa debit and credit cards, but for the most part Ghana remains a cash economy. 

ATM cards have become very popular in Ghana. We recommend that you deposit money in your account in the U.S. and bring along your ATM card to withdraw money from your home account directly. In addition to your debit card, you may also choose to bring a small amount of Cedi obtained at your local bank in your home country so that you do not have to worry about finding an ATM immediately after your arrival.

Make sure that your card has a Visa logo on it. MasterCard, American Express or other networks are not commonly recognized in Ghana. Also, it is a good idea to notify your bank that you will be traveling abroad and accessing your account, so that they will not suspect any fraudulent activity and freeze your account.

There are several banks conveniently located on campus where students can use ATM cards that have Visa logos to withdraw money. There are many other ATMs all over the city of Accra and other major cities where ATM cards with Visa logos on them can be used. Payment apps are also becoming more common as an alternative to carrying physical cash.  

Money Exchange 

It is not recommended, but if you choose to bring your money to Ghana in bulk, it is recommended that you bring U.S. dollars or Euros in large denominations. Students should leave their cash in a bank safe deposit box and exchange as necessary. Some international students have also chosen to open U.S. Dollar or Ghana cedi accounts at one of the banks on campus.

Since 1988, Ghana has had privately operated foreign bureaus; these "Forex" are located throughout Accra and the country and usually offer a much better exchange rate than the banks. For the most part, the larger the bill you exchange, the better the rate you will receive. Exchanging a $50 bill will bring in more Cedis than will the same amount in smaller bills. All banks in Ghana also change money. 

It is NOT recommended to bring travelers’ checks, as these are no longer recognized locally and very hard to exchange for cash, even at larger banks. 

Sources of Information

Lonely Planet: Ghana

BIBLIOGRAPHY

*Links below will take you to Amazon.com for content and purchasing information.

Travel Guides

Ghana-Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture 

The Rough Guide to West Africa

Literature
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart: A Novel
Aidoo, Ama Ata. Changes: A Love Story
_______. No Sweetness Here and Other Stories
Angelou, Maya. All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes
Chatwin, Bruce. The Viceroy of Ouidah
Walls, Rose.  In Ghana Here (available at University of Ghana bookstore)

Culture, History, and Politics

Boateng, Faustine Ama. Asante (Heritage Library of African Peoples West Africa)
Clark, Gracia. Onions Are My Husband: Survival and Accumulation by West African Market Women
Edgerton, Robert B. The Fall of the Asante Empire: The Hundred-Year War For Africa'S Gold Coast

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