Challenges of Research:
Challenges of Research in Ghana - By Jessica Giguere
Conducting research is an experience and a challenge. It is a difficult task, even more so when done in an unfamiliar country. Simply living abroad constitutes a world of difference in every piece of your surroundings: faces, flavors, accents, resources, and culture. Although living abroad is one of the most profound educational experiences one can give oneself, research is made more difficult with the added dynamics.
On paper, surveying hotels seemed a simple task. However, I could not have been more wrong. Before going to Ghana, I did not take into consideration the cultural and resource differences that I would be experiencing. I thought of conducting my research in Ghana in the same way that I would in the United States. Initially, the biggest hurdle I faced in Ghana was the location. I had never been to Ghana before and therefore did not know where things were located around the city. This was hard not only for initial necessities, such as finding places to eat, but also for research purposes. There are limited road signs and simply no road maps. In order to get somewhere, one must know landmarks, a clear disadvantage for me since I had no idea where anything was located in the country.
Another challenge I faced was the transportation system. Tro-tros (the bus system) are not only crammed full and hot, but are difficult to board, because the bus stops were usually crowded and often functioned on a "rush to the bus" or a "first come first served" policy rather than a queued line. There were also no set schedule, posted routes, or signage with station names. Being a foreigner trying to navigate the tro-tro system was very difficult for all of these reasons. The difficulty of doing research was amplified because not many hotels were known by locals and many of the hotels did not have websites, and so securing accurate directions proved particularly challenging. This problem resulted with me having to walk between hotels, which was not only time consuming but also very tiring.
In addition to this, being a foreigner walking around the streets of Accra brought a great deal of unwanted attention. Many times while walking to conduct surveys, I was greeted by men who wanted my contact information. On more than one occasion, I was even followed by a man until I gave my email address or phone number (all of which I made up). This made the survey collection difficult because I was consistently harassed, and it caused the process to take much longer and the experience to be a more frustrating one.
Internet access in Ghana also presented a problem while trying to conduct research. Although there was internet access in the hostel, as well as at the International Programs Office and the Balme Library of the university, these sources were not always reliable. The wireless internet in the hostel was not always available, and even when access was available, it would often disconnect, causing the webpage being viewed to close unexpectedly.
Finally, one of the biggest and most difficult challenges that I faced while doing my research was dealing with the cultural norms and class standing. The first set of issues with which I grappled were cultural norms, such as addressing others in a very formal manner, and only using the right hand because use of the left hand is considered an insult. These were little things that are easily forgotten when you are not used to them, yet they are considered greatly offensive in Ghana. The other set of issues that I encountered pertained to race and class. While conducting surveys, I experienced the positive and negative associated with being a westerner. Some managers who were completing the survey asked me for money, assuming that because I am white and western, that I am also rich. In one instance, a manager refused to complete the survey unless I gave him my phone number or agreed to have lunch with him. However, other managers afforded my courtesy where none may have been offered if I were Ghanaian; they would drop what they were doing and express eagerness to help. It was difficult to judge what attitude I would encounter, and it was especially hard when the attitude was negative.
Despite the challenges associated with conducting research abroad, there are many positive things to be gained. One learns to hurdle any obstacle and grows in one's ability to problem solve. There is an increase in knowledge and understanding of a different culture, as well as the customs. One acquires the skills to work within a new environment and to adapt to unfamiliar and sometimes strange situations. One becomes more flexible amidst difficulty and learns that patience really is a string virtue.
After reflecting on the obstacles I faced while conducting research in Ghana, I realized that most of these hurdles were challenges associated with development. Infrastructural issues and lack of available resources are simply demonstrations of the countries limited comparative position. Ghana is a country reaching for expansion and therefore cannot be held to "developed" standards when one is trying to conduct any sort of research project.