Editor’s Note: This story is part of a continuing series about international student life at colleges and universities across the United States. Please join us over the next several weeks as we bring you stories about international students and the American higher education system as a whole.
Kwame Wiredu thought he had all the education he would need when he successfully completed his medical degree program.
The 28-year-old is from the city of Kumasi in the West African nation of Ghana. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Kwame Nkrumah' University of Science and Technology in Kumasi in 2010. Then, in 2013 he received his medical degree from the same school.
But in the next few years, several things happened while Wiredu was practicing medicine that led him to seek more training.
In 2014, several countries near Ghana, including Sierra Leon, Liberia and Guinea, experienced widespread cases of the Ebola virus. The virus is extremely dangerous and spreads easily. Yet Wiredu noted that Ghana’s leaders were doing little in the way of emergency preparations.
Then, in 2015, Wiredu noticed doctors in his country refusing to work because of poor working conditions and lack of government support.
He says this made him question the abilities of Ghana’s leaders to deal with major public health issues.
"If this happened somewhere else, like in the U.S., you would see all the media coming in to help. You’d see all the practitioners putting our minds together to do something to mitigate the impact. But…with all these cases…the health policymakers were more of economists than people who had that touch with health…So I asked myself, ‘How different would it be if you have a health policymaker who also has the health background?"
Wiredu says he decided then that if he wanted better public health policies, he would have to help his leaders make them. And to do that, he says, he needed to be more informed himself.
So Wiredu decided to go back to school, this time in the United States. He entered the University of Denver in 2016 to seek a master’s degree in international relations and health policy.
The University of Denver, or DU, is a private research university in the city of Denver, the capital of the American state of Colorado. It was established in 1864 and serves about 11,600 students.
Wiredu says his interest in the school grew when it offered him a large amount of financial assistance. But he says he found the promise of a high quality education at DU even more appealing.
The Josef Korbel School of International Studies at DU offers programs that explore the larger health policy issues that interest Wiredu. He says the school’s strong infrastructure also won him over. And he says the small number of students per professor helped make his learning experience feel more personal.
However, Wiredu adds that his time in the U.S. has not been without difficulties.
The majority of American colleges and universities divide their yearly terms into two study periods called semesters. They are each usually three to four months long. But some schools, like DU, break their terms into shorter periods called quarters, each about 10 weeks. Wiredu says that with such a short study period, the classes move quickly and students can easily fall behind in their work.
Also, Wiredu says that people in Ghana do not treat others differently based on the color of their skin. It was only after he came to the United States that he experienced racism, he says.
For example, during his first winter in Denver, Wiredu went to a store to buy some warm clothing with an American friend. Afterwards, his friend pointed out to that an employee had been following them the entire time they were in the store. His friend suggested it was because they are both black. The situation was hard for Wiredu to understand, but he says he started to experience similar incidents more and more.
"It is still a difficult thing for me to grasp, until someone draws my attention that, ‘Hey, this could be an…act of racism'…So, how it has affected me? I would say that is difficult for me to assess."
For Tanya Tanyarattinan, stories like Wiredu’s are a call to solve problems like hatred and mistrust between different people. The 19-year-old says she hopes to do so little by little, by teaching people to enjoy and respect cultures they may not fully understand.
Tanyarattinan is from Nakhon Pathom, Thailand, a town just outside of Bangkok. In 2014, she entered an international student exchange program. She spent her second year of high school at Boulder High School in Boulder, Colorado.
The young Thai says she found Americans to be mostly open-minded. She says the family she lived with in Boulder were very welcoming. So much so, in fact, that Tanyarattinan’s parents wanted her to be near that family when she decided to attend university in America.
So, Tanyarattinan entered DU in 2017 to seek a bachelor’s degree. And, like Wiredu, she was interested in international relations.
Tanyarattinan says she soon realized that a lot of American students at DU had little understanding of Thai culture.
"I have been asked so many questions about my country, about my religion…I feel like many people have heard of Thailand, but they don’t know a lot about Thailand. Like, we have cool temples. We have elephants. But what about other things?"
Tanyarattinan says instead of being insulted by such questions, she saw a chance to educate people. So, she and some other students formed a Buddhist student group. The group holds cultural events and welcomes others to take part in some Buddhist traditions.
Tanyarattinan says sharing cultures is an important part of being a citizen of the world, a role she has learned to value highly through her experience at DU.
Kwame Wiredu expresses similar satisfaction with his higher education experience in America. He says his relationships with professors and fellow students far outweigh any difficulties.
Wiredu plans to continue his education at Dartmouth College, in New Hampshire, in the fall. He still plans to use all he learned at University of Denver, and all he will learn at Dartmouth, to help people everywhere.
He says the good that will come from that will, with hope, outweigh the prejudices he faced in America.
I’m Pete Musto. And I’m Dorothy Gundy.
Pete Musto reported this story for VOA Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor. We want to hear from you. What gifts do you have that you would like to share with the world? Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page.
Words in This Story
bachelor’s degree – n. a degree that is given to a student by a college or university usually after four years of study
practicing – v. having a professional medical or legal business
impact – n. a powerful or major influence or effect
master’s degree – n. a degree that is given to a student by a college or university usually after one or two years of additional study following a bachelor's degree
racism – n. poor treatment of or violence against people because of their race
grasp – v. to understand something that is complicated or difficult
assess – v. to make a judgment about something
temple(s) – n. a building for worship
elephant(s) – n. a very large gray animal that has a long, flexible nose and two long tusks
role – n. the part that someone has in a family, society, or other group
prejudice(s) – n. an unfair feeling of dislike for a person or group because of race, sex or religion