Lots of thoughts. Little sleep. College.

13 Days: Wofre me Ekua

ImageIn preparation for our trip, we learned a little bit about Ghanian culture and the languages spoken in the area that we’ll be working.

In Ghana, the national language is English, so the majority of the people we’ll run into will be speaking the same language as us. There are some tribal languages that are spoken though, and tonight we learned some of the basic phrasing for the tribal language Fante.

Welcome = Akwaaba

Thank you = Medaase

Foreigner = Obruni

Yes = Oho

No = Dabi

Sorry = Kose

Please = M’Pacho

My name is = Wofre me

Todd told us that children who see us out in the community will yell to us, calling us Obruni’s and asking where we’re from. I can’t imagine kids just approaching strangers like that, but it’ll be interesting to see for myself. He also advised us not to ignore them, because then that will just mean the kid who originally asked will keep asking and get their friends to join in too! Thankfully I’m excited to meet the community members and share my culture with them as well.

We also learned what our names are in the Fante language, and it’s based off of what day of the week we were born on, as well as our gender. So tonight I was able to learn how to say my name and what it is: Wofre me Ekua!

ImageSource: Fante-Akan Day Names by Kofi Garbrah

We also learned some cultural do’s and don’t’s for while we’re in Ghana. We’ll get a more comprehensive cultural lesson while we’re in Cape Coast, but tonight we learned the basics that will get us by while we’re traveling around.

  • Don’t use your left hand. Handing something to someone with your left hand is considered an insult.
  • Crossing your legs is considered disrespectful.
  • Never walk past someone without saying hello or good morning.
  • Raising your thumb and pressing it down is considered the same as giving the middle finger in the U.S.

The culture differences were interesting to consider as we all talked about them together. I’m nervous that I’ll slip up on the first two especially. I’m right-handed so it’s less likely that I’ll use my left hand for something, but I’m worried about the crossing my legs thing, because I especially do that when eating at a dinner table or just sitting on the couch. HopefullyI’ll remember and assimilate into the culture better than I’m thinking.

Trapped by broken mirrors

ImageWho you’re seeing in the mirror every day may not actually be the person you’re looking at.

But it can be; if you’re living for yourself, and not for other people.

We don’t get a whole lot of choices in life. We can choose where we go to school, where we work, and what type of apartment we live in. In college, they tell you the opportunities are endless, and they’re right. But what they don’t tell you is that your decisions ultimately become a giant domino effect. You’ll make one choice after another, and it’ll seem like this happened because of that, or that you have to do this because of that other thing.

It’s a sad concept really, to think that we can become trapped by our choices.

We do have some say in what happens to us though, even if in the smallest way. We can choose how we overcome our past decisions. We can choose whether we consider our choices to become our pain or our progress. We can choose our outlook on life, and we can choose how we spend our future days.

We can choose who is still in or out of our lives, and where it is we’re headed.

So you made some poor decisions along the way. Don’t think that means you have to keep making them, or feeling guilty because of them. The sooner you accept what happened and move on, the easier it’ll be to gain some composure and move on. Thinking about what other people are going to perceive you as? Stop that. It only matters what you think of yourself, and anyone else’s opinion should be thrown away if you know better.

Don’t decide things have to be a certain way because you’re not worth any better, or because you have to save face. You’ll never be able to break down the chain if you don’t try.

You do not, I repeat, do not have to be defined by your past decisions.

What makes life interesting is that we never know what’s going to happen. One day we’re going to class or getting our first job, the next we’re having a family or being promoted or getting ready to travel the world. I never would’ve though a year ago that I would prepping to leave for Africa, or that my best friend would be living in Tampa with me, or that I would be working a day job and writing in my free time. The reason all of that happened though is because I opened myself up to the opportunity, and if I had stuck around the things or the people that I decided no longer suited me, I never would’ve been able to achieve growth.

Maybe you’re scared of the opposition. Sometimes you have to have it though. The thing is, if we can make our choices in life, face the opposition and judgment, and still be proud of ourselves at the end of the day, then we know we made the right choice. For ourselves.

You’re not making choices for other people. For appearances. For things that no longer benefit you or help you grow. You’re making choices for yourself, and you have to live with them.

Remember that.

14 Days: Looking back on the past semester

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Two weeks. Just two weeks away. In two weeks, I will be on a plane to take the journey of a lifetime.

I feel like with finals week approaching, one more visit home this weekend and my work schedule, the trip is going to sneak up on me sooner than I think.

I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on the past year and everything that’s changed. Looking back caused me to dig through old documents and stories, and in the process I found the personal statement that I wrote for the School of Mass Comm’s scholarship application last February.

At the beginning of the year, I had a very specific plan in mind for how things were going to go.

I thought that I would be spending my days working as News Editor at The Oracle. I would be living on campus, and I would keep my car so I could try to snag an off-campus internship at the Tampa Bay Times. I wouldn’t need any financial support from my parents, because I had a job and enough financial aid to survive. I would get A’s in all of my classes, which were finally starting to become more interesting and focused on the career I was looking for. I would finally get everything I was looking for.

Things didn’t go according to plan, however.

For financial reasons, the car stayed at home for another semester, and I ended up moving to and off-campus apartment that provided rent at a cheaper rate. I was working endless days and nights at the paper, and ended up resigning from the position after the first month of the semester. My grades were slipping, and Tampa Bay Times said they were looking for someone who had more internship experience. I spent the rest of fall playing catch-up, trying to figure out what it was I truly wanted out of my time at USF.

The answer had seemed so easy the previous year. I walked onto campus, and in a matter of months I was getting bylines at the paper, an internship on campus and even a Hearst Award nomination. I couldn’t believe all that I accomplished in the first year, and at the same time I couldn’t understand why I seemed so lost in my second. I guess you could call it a “sophomore slump” of sorts, but I knew I needed to decide what it was I wanted to walk out of the university knowing and being ready to take-on as a career, because the perfect plan I had for myself didn’t seem to fit anymore.

About mid-way through the semester, I had been invited to an interview with the internship coordinator for The Dallas Morning News, one of the largest newspapers in the state of Texas. I walked in with my resume, clips and a nervous smile. We spoke about the past year and everything that had happened, and what it was I wanted out of the next opportunity that I pursued. The internship coordinator said he liked me and thought I was talented, but that it didn’t seem like I have very much confidence in myself.

In the moment, I was stunned to hear such a bold statement made by someone I had just met 20 minutes prior, but I thought about it, and I realized that he was right.

I wasn’t very confident in myself back then. I had heard all of these things about how I was a talented writer and a good student, but I never really believed and of it. I had stayed at The Oracle as long as I had for the learning opportunity, but then it got to the point where I wasn’t learning very much anymore. My classes were challenging me, finally, but I couldn’t give the time to them that I truly needed to because of other activities. I realized that I wasn’t doing things for myself anymore, but that I was doing them because they became routine. I needed to find something that challenged me, but at the same time helped me grow and made me feel prepared to go out into the job market — a fate that was coming much sooner than I had realized.

So I took some time. I did a lot more personal writing. I talked with friends, family and professors about new opportunities to pursue. As time went on, my grades were back up to where they should be. Applications for jobs and internships were being sent out. My finances were starting to improve. I was starting to get everything back together.

Things have changed quite a bit for me since last fall. I landed a new position at the USF Alumni Association, working in the communications department. While here, I get writing experience for the magazine the Association puts out, and I also get to work on the website and even some graphic design. I got my car back, and my grades have stayed at A’s as we approach midterms season. I’m also a contributing writing for USA Today College, so in my spare time, I’m able to get national bylines that I can later put into my portfolio.

This summer, I’m planning a volunteer abroad trip to Ghana to work in community development, and I’ll also be a Peer Mentor in the Honors College to help out incoming freshman, and also make financial ends meet. As the next school year progresses, I’ll be able to take classes that not only interest me, but that provide me with skills I’ve come to realize I’ll need once I graduate, such as marketing, business and graphic design.

I don’t have everything figured out, I’ll make that clear right away. What I am finding myself doing more this semester though is exploring the possibilities that I have. I’m not confining myself to The Oracle, or to that one internship, or to that one place for a career. I’m realizing that I can go and do just about anything that I set my mind to. I’ve considered becoming a higher education reporter, or working in a communications department for a non-profit organization. I’ve also considered the idea of joining the Peace Corps one day, or pursuing more than one degree while in graduate school. I know whatever work I pursue, I want to continue telling good stories, and to be doing working that makes a difference in the world.

I’ve learned this year that I don’t have to limit myself to one specific plan to accomplish that, and that anything can happen. While print journalism is my true passion, I’ve realized that in the digital age, there’s hundreds upon thousands of ways to continue this career path and still remain relevant to my audience. Receiving a scholarship from the School of Mass Communications would provide me the flexibility to continue my education and see what it is I’m going to go after when I graduate, and give me the freedom to continue exploring my possibilities.

This past Thursday, I was awarded the John and Jerry Wing Alexander Endowed Scholarship for this personal statement, and I was shocked that I received such an honor. I will definitely help with next year, as my student loan debt is almost at the level of a really nice car. It also makes me less reliant on heavy work hours, so I will be able to keep a balanced schedule next year.

This summer after I get back from Ghana, I’ll still be writing for USA Today College and working at the Alumni Association. I’ll have two summer classes on top of two jobs and the writing gig, and I’m going to be busier than ever. I’m super excited for all of it though, because I’m pursuing a variety of different opportunities, and that means a variety of good stories to tell.

Applying Manjoo’s concepts at USF

“Who needs to watch “House of Cards”? The annual USF student government election controversy once again provides more devious entertainment, rule breaking, plotting, cheating and deceit than even Hollywood can script.

I’m very proud of both candidates!!!”

— Comment made on The Oracle’s website in response to the article “Student body president elect still unclear,” 17 March 2014.

In a digital era where anyone who wants to publish their information can do so easily and for virtually nothing, a rising question that often appears is whether or not all the information presented to the public is accurate or not.

Sometimes, however, it may not be whether or not the information itself is true or not, but how we disseminate the information and whether our perception of it is accurate.

In “True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society,” author Farhad Manjoo explores this topic and explains a number of concepts that can be noticed in today’s media world because of how the audience perceives its news. One of these concepts is selective perception, which is the a term to describe when although the audience in question is viewing the exact same news story from the exact same source, members of that audience will still perceive it in different ways, and selectively choose which parts of it to believe and remember.

This concept can be viewed even in news on our very own university’s campus. Throughout the semester, USF’s student newspaper The Oracle published a series of stories about Student Government’s spring elections for next year’s presidency and senate positions.

This year, the campaigning became a little heated between two candidates, Jean Cocco and Brandi Arnold. A series of grievances were filed against each candidate, and Cocco had so many filed against him that he was temporarily disqualified from the election, although he won the popular vote in both the first round of voting, and in a run-off round. Cocco later appealed the grievances and was allowed to remain in the race, winning the spot of presidential-elect for the next school year.

Things didn’t stop there, however. The Election Rules Committee also appealed the decision to the Dean for Students, who sided with the decision that Cocco won the election. There was also tension within Student Government itself, with some controversy in the judicial branch and senate, which is still continuing to this day.

As the story progressed, everyone seemed to have their own opinion about what was true and what wasn’t as far as the grievances are concerned. While viewpoints and opinions may have been determined by student’s preference for a presidential candidate, the predetermined views reflected in the comments on social media and The Oracle’s website on the controversy, as students would either support the infractions imposed upon the candidates, or argue that they were a waste of time, as what happened numerous times concerning grievances made against Cocco’s campaign.

“Between the supposed errors on the grievences and the minorness of the infractions I find it absurd to dq Cocco. OMG a link is on the YouTube page and not the video. Oh geez, somebody is wearing a shirt in a printing lab. A long time friend and politician supports someone… oh foreshame. These elections are unamerican. What a sham. And to schedual the hearings when there is a Senate meeting knowing full well he is a senator…. Sounds like a planned mugging to me. There are many questionable things going on here. American values are being sat on here.”

— Comment made on The Oracle’s website in response to campaign controversy, 6 March 2014.

 

“All these grievances are dumb.

1. Who cares if the voting link is not on the picture or video? It is tedious to do this, and does the campaign get an unfair advantage by NOT putting the voting link?

2. A person is allowed to wear whatever he/she wants if going to the lab for personal things. You can’t penalize people for wearing a shirt while going to the computer lab for academic work.

3. Bringing a celebrity to campus: If the celebrity wants to endorse someone, he should be allowed to do so. So Charlie Christ comes on campus, and you expect the candidate to tell the former Governor of Florida that he can’t say certain things because it will get the candidate disqualified?

If the above are considered violations according to the rules, then the rules are flawed. Change the rules.

The purpose of having rules is to maintain a clean campaign and to prevent abuse. None of the above acts implied foul play.”

— Comment made on The Oracle’s website, 7 March 2014

There was also a series of comments made against the publication itself, with many users commenting on the fact that The Oracle quoted candidate Cocco in a story about the university adding Chick-Fil-A sauce to its menu after many requests from students. Many users perceived the quote from Cocco as a nod from the publication in favor of his campaign:

“Passive campaigning”… Look no further than this “newspaper” and its Editor in Chiefs silly article on Chick fil A sauce. Cocco just “by chance” is the first interviewee/random student asked about the lack of this condiment and is support. Cocco is a loser that I’m sure will not go away for the rest of this year and I’m sure the “editor in Chief” will be very negative towards the winner of this race.”

— Comment made on The Oracle’s website, 20 March 2014

“I just love the puff piece the EDITOR of this newsrag wrote about the lack of ” chick Fill a” sauce on Campus. The story started with an interview of a student who just happens to be cocco.. What a scam.”

— Comment made on The Oracle’s website, 10 March 2014

“I found it interesting that the EDITOR IN CHIEF of this “newspaper” found a way to slip a mention of this candidates name while “reporting” on the lack of Chick -fil-a sauce.”

— Comment made on The Oracle’s website, 10 March 2014

These comments show that students are suspicious of the publication for presenting a bias, but it also demonstrates another concept that Manjoo outlines in True Enough: Hostile Media Phenomenon. This concept is the belief that two people on opposing side of a controversy can watch the same news story, and that both people will come away feeling misrepresented in the story.

Those who commented on the story about the Chick-Fil-A sauce believed that the publication held a bias that was against their views and therefore was hostile towards their beliefs, but there were also commenters who believed that the petition for Chick-Fil-A sauce was just a fluff piece and a waste of time, so no matter what end of the spectrum someone stood on, people were going to view The Oracle as hostile toward their beliefs.

While the controversial election has come to a close this semester, the discussion on what should have happened and what did actually happen will still be a popular topic among students, especially those involved with Student Government and the media. Because of the coverage of this election, next year’s race will be just as closely looked at, and it will be interesting to see how Manjoo’s concepts can be applied to future elections.

38 days: Bulls Service Breaks Banquet

BSBbanquet

 

Tonight we had our Bulls Service Breaks banquet, and it was an opportunity for students to reconnect with the groups and share with the other students involved with the program what it is they gained from their trips.

Since we are one of the only two groups who has yet to go on their trip, the experience was more of a learning experience for us, and to show us what it is we have to look forward to when we hop on the plane for Ghana.

It was absolutely incredible getting to hear from the other students about their trips and all of the things they learned. One group said their project changed once they arrived because of weather, but they stayed motivated and were still able to make a difference. Another group found bonding opportunity while building an entire fence together, and they said just being able to see the work they were doing made it all worth it for them. Another group of students said they were told by the organization they were helping that they were some of the best volunteers they’ve ever had.

Hearing all of these stories made me anxious to get going on my own trip and to have my own stories to share. In a little more than a month, I’ll be there, and by the time May rolls around, I can’t even imagine how restless I’ll be.

We’re still in the fundraising stage, and we’re looking to find more ways that we can raise money for our trip. An idea that we’ve thought of for fundraising is canning outside of supermarkets, which is asking for donations from people who have spare change walking in and out of the store. The Threads of Hope sales have gone pretty well, and I’m hoping to sell even more bracelets before I leave. Not just for my funds, but because I believe in both causes that the money goes to: our trip to Ghana, and families in the Philippines who make the bracelets. A fund raiser like that is a win-win for me.

While we’re just five weeks away from leaving, in between that for me are busy work schedules, final exams and wrapping up my semester.

But it will be here sooner than I think.

 

39 Days: The Process of Background Research

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Since it’s my first time leaving the country, I’ve made it a personal goal to soak in any information about Ghana that I can before leaving. My biggest fear is that I’ll arrive at the airport in Accra and find myself completely unaware of how to handle myself or to interact with others. While that may still happen, even despite my research, I want to take any steps that I can to ensure I go over there calm, cool and collected.

So far, I’ve learned a few things on Trip Advisor and in a Culture Smart guide that I ordered off of Amazon:

  • Ghana is referred to as the country that is the “gateway to Africa,”and is also considered one of Africa’s success stories. When tourists visit the country, they’re expected to assimilate into the culture and way of life in the country.
  • In 2000, the literacy rate for males in the country was 80 percent, and 67 percent for females. An updated survey says the literacy rate for the total population in 2012 was at 71 percent, but that some speculate this “may have been a generous survey.”
  • The life expectancy rate in Ghana is is 65.32 years according to the CIA World Factbook.
  • The country may not rank very high on the Human Development Index (it ranks at no. 135 according to current statistics), but it does rank much higher on the Global Peace Index (no. 58 out of 162) and the Worldwide Press Freedom Index (no. 27 out of 180)
  • Personal toiletries will be hard for me to come by when I’m there, unless I find a major supermarket. Plus, if I do find them, they’ll be very expensive compared to what I’m used to. I better remember to pack enough of my own!
  • Tap water isn’t something you can just drink from or brush your teeth with in Ghana. While this one seems like a no-brainer now that I think about it, I never considered the idea of not constantly having clean water available to me. Bottled water can be purchased over there, and we’ll have clean water at the ProWorld offices, but every day tap water and water from the sink isn’t for filling up a glass or water or putting anywhere near your mouth.
  • There is also a difference between satchet water and “ice water” according to Trip Advisor. Satchet water has undergone a filtration system and is safe to drink, but ice water is just the tap water that was chilled in a plastic bag, making it still unsafe to drink. Again, since I had never considered the idea of water being unsafe, finding this out also surprised me.

I think the biggest takeaway I’ve had so far as I prep for this trip is that it’s really not going to be anything like what I’ve experienced before, and that’s not just because I’ve never left the country before. It’s exciting, nerve-racking and something I’ll never be able to compare to anything else.

And I can’t wait to get going.

Trip to the medical examiner’s office

I’ll be honest — when I found out that we had a field trip to the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner’s office, I was a little uneasy at the idea. My understanding of a medical examiner and what they do stretched about as far as seen actors and actresses play them on Law and Order.

Hillsborough County sees about 10,000 deaths each year, and about 1,700 of those come to the medical examiner’s office. The medical examiner’s office can run for two and a half days on its own power if there is an outage, and can hold up to 200 bodies in its facilities.

The facility was built in order to handle the growth of the county for the next 50 years, as the population will continue to increase over the years. It was interesting to me how intricate the planning and general infrastructure for the building was.

My first impression walking in wasn’t so bad, though. You could hardly tell what the place was from the outside, and even the front lobby didn’t look anything like I imagined. There were flowers and posters hung up in the administrative officers. Friendly staff greeted us, and it just seemed like any other ordinary place.

I learned quite a bit from the experience though. Dick Bailey, the operations manager at the medical examiner’s office, told us that the staff tries to be courteous to the people who visit them, because a lot of the time it’s not under pleasant circumstances. 

Bailey explained to us the difference between a coroner and a medical examiner, which was that a coroner is elected and a medical examiner is a licensed doctor. He also told us that the coroner system would one day become obsolete, as cities are able to hire more licensed doctors.

A medical examiner is also the person who will determine the cause of death, and that an autopsy is not always run once a person dies. Basically, the medical examiner’s office will deal with any death that we see in the newspapers or online, Bailey said.

The public records available at the facility includes just about everything they do, Bailey said, unless it is part of an ongoing investigation. What interested me about the public records was that if you receive a death certificate from the medical examiner’s office, it will include more information than it would had it been received from Vital Statistics, such as the cause of death.

Learning that helped me see that sometimes it’s not what you’re asking for that determines what you’re going to get, but where and who you’re asking. 


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