ISH vs. Pentagon- Guide for U. Of Ghana International Students on Housing Selection

Kaylin LeMelle- Thomas                                                       November 26, 2010

CIEE Study Abroad At University of Ghana, Legon

University of Ghana, Legon Housing Preferences: ISH vs. Pentagon

There are many differences between living in Pentagon and living in International Student Hostels. Many of these differences are not described in detail in the manual, and therefore it is difficult for study abroad students to make the best choice for themselves.  I live in ISH 2, but I spent the second half of the semester in Pentagon (Block B) for the majority of my time.  I will share some of my personal observations and well as some of the feedback I received from my study abroad peers in both housing complexes.

ISH 1 and ISH 2 are not created equal.  ISH 1 has a generator, so when the lights are out on our side of campus, they are never effected.  ISH 2, on the other hand, has no generator.  ISH 1 also has nicer rooms with titled/carpeted floors.  Some people think the restaurant is better at ISH 1 and others think it is better at ISH 2.  The ISH 1 restaurant is about 30 peswas more expensive but the food arrives a lot faster and you do not have to wait for your change.  ISH 1 almost never runs out of running water, but in ISH 2, you will have to fetch water with your bucket from the outdoor faucet on occasion. All rooms in ISH have a porch on the back.

ISH 1 and 2 have a very international feeling, hence the reason for the name. Although there are some Ghanaian students living in ISH, the majority of the time you will gravitate to other foreign students and will spend a significant amount of time with friends from your program.  ISH has TV rooms and shared kitchens and shared bathrooms.  The porters in ISH 2 are very strict and will almost always complain if you make a lot of noise or if you want to have a room party. ISH 1 porters are very strict about having people sign in, and in both ISH 1 and ISH2, the porters will make sure your visitors leave by midnight.  Some international students watch movies and TV together, but overall there is not one consistent source of entertainment or a fun place to hang out in ISH (besides people’s rooms or common areas).  The great thing about living in ISH is that you meet people from all over the world, including people from all over USA, Europe, and Africa.

Another positive aspect about living in ISH is that it is located next to the Night Market where you can purchase food until 10pm, and can even get bread or egg sandwiches around midnight.  The Night Market is amazing because they also sell fruit, clothes, pots, pans, buckets, DVDs, kebab, spaghetti, and anything else you could possibly imagine.  Whatever you cannot find in the Night Market, you can get at the indoor convenience store located right next to it.

Pentagon, on the other hand, has a very defined culture.  First off, Pentagon has a few stereotypes linked with it.  People say that the majority of the rich Ghanaians at the University live there and that more people own cars in Pentagon in comparison to other dorms.  I am not by any means saying that only rich people who drive cars live there, rather, it seems they are more highly concentrated in Pent then anywhere else. I am not sure if these statements are correct, but I can vouch for Pentagon having a very outgoing, lively crowd. Although these are all generalizations, it is obvious that some of the people who live in Pentagon enjoy taking part in the fun, partying, “hang-out spot” atmosphere there. However, people in Pentagon also get their work done.  There are many large study halls on each floor that are constantly utilized by students at all times of the day and night.  As an international student in Pentagon, you will often be grouped in the same wing with other people in your program, so you will not be the only American in your wing.

Part of what makes Pentagon so much fun is that Time Out is located in Block B.  The Time Out in Pentagon is like a restaurant, bar, and lounge all in one.  They have large flat screen TVs, comfortable couches, a pool table, and fully loaded bar. And, they recently started serving pizzas, which they even deliver to your door (and it is definitely the best pizza in Ghana I have had so far).  There are also more then 3 restaurants within 2-5 minuet walking distance from all of the Blocks, plus several convenience stores.

Another reason why Pentagon is awesome is because every room has its own bathroom, kitchen, and porch within it.  Therefore, you have more privacy and do not have to walk around in your pajamas in public to get food or to use the restroom.  Also, you can easily hire someone to clean the bathroom and porch.  You get your own full size refrigerator, and for an additional fee, you can get an air conditioner.  These small luxuries make a huge difference when comparing life in ISH to life in Pentagon.  However, there are a few disadvantages to living in Pentagon.  For one, the water and power go out more frequently.  Also, there are thousands of students living in the 5+ blocks (buildings) that make up Pentagon.  It would be impossible to meet everyone like you could do in ISH, but on the other hand, if you are friendly and open-minded, you will meet incredible people no matter where you are living.

Some people in Pentagon tend to be fashionable and concerned with appearance. Pentagon does appear to be somewhat like a fashion show, especially on the weekend evenings. But then again, people in Pentagon often dress up everyday, as if they are going out to meetings or lounges. As you begin to visit other rooms in Pent, you will realize that many fulltime students decide to hire a painter to customize their room.  Some people have large, flat screen TVs, pictures, posters, paintings, colored lights, and even fish tanks! ISH is just a dorm, but Pentagon really is like a home, with a definite vibe and culture. Time Out plays music videos and plays a mixture of popular local and international music.  Sometimes people in Pentagon can be loud.  People blast music, throw parties, and have guests visiting at all hours.  However, most people are friendly and considerate to their neighbors.

As an international student, it is normal for you to have a lot of questions and preconceived notions about University of Ghana and the students here.  In general, people are very friendly and will come up to you and introduce themselves on a regular basis.  You will make Ghanaian friends whether you live in Pentagon, ISH, or in the homestays. Although there are many pros and cons to living in ISH and Pentagon, the choice is ultimately up to you.  I prefer Pentagon for its lively atmosphere and for the fun times I have at Time Out, and with my Ghanaian friends in their Pentagon dorm rooms.  But, ISH is also a great place for deep conversations and laughter with international and Ghanaian friends alike.  The one thing I have noticed to be quite true about Ghanaian friends is that they have a good time talking and laughing together, and they do not need activities and entertainment to have a good time.

Pentagon and International Student Hostels (ISH) at a Glance

Pentagon ISH
Room size Generally large but there are some smaller ones Comfortable size
Number of roommates Single, double (four in a room is possible for Ghanaian students) Single or double
Bathrooms and Showers In the room; you have to clean it or you can hire someone to clean for you Shared in the hall, four per floor; cleaned by maintenance staff everyday
Kitchens and Sinks In the back of the room Shared in the hall, two per floor
Refrigerators One large refrigerator per room Big refrigerators in kitchens, shared with everyone
Porches Back door and porch Back door and porch
Air conditioning Yes for an extra fee No, only ceiling fan
Washing clothes You can hand wash it yourself or pay someone to wash it for you (usually hand washed and hung to dry) You can hand wash it yourself or pay someone to wash it for you (washed and dried in washing machines in ISH)
Convenience stores Yes, a bunch close by Yes, one close by
Restaurants A bunch, including Crossroads and Time Out ISH 1 and ISH 2 restaurants
Close to… Main campus, Time Out in Block B The Night Market

Academics at University of Ghana

The academic life at University of Ghana is different from the styles of instruction at Cornell. Personally, I decided to take courses that interested me and that were not large lectures.  I decided to take Intro to Traditional African Dance, Introduction to Drumming, Developmental Studies, Internship for credit, Twi language class, and Living and Learning in Ghana.

I highly recommend dancing and drumming while at University of Ghana because these are unique, once in a lifetime experiences you could never find in the States.  The dynamic of dance class is almost magical.  People from all walks of life are united and share a common heartbeat of the rhythms and dances. Drumming complements dance because in Ghana, you cannot have one without the other. If you are interested in learning about my incredible dance and drumming experiences, go back to this blog entry:

I am sure you are wondering about my other classes and if actually did any work this semester. I chose classes that would allow me to experience the joy and passion of Ghana. I took practical classes that allowed me to explore issues I found important in Ghana.  I studied when needed, but I was by no means stressed or overloaded like I commonly experience at Cornell. However, some of my friends had to fulfill requirements for their majors back at home.  Their academic experience was a lot different from mine.  Most of my friends who took classes in large lecture halls said that the lecturers are hard to understand, can be boring at times, do not engage students, and expects students to copy their every word in their notes and regurgitate facts for the exams.  Rote memorization is a large part of what is expected for large lectures.  Most classes only have a midterm and final, but depending on the class, you may have presentations. Like at Cornell, some classes break into smaller discussion sections.  I knew that I did not want to take any large lecture classes and that I would rather take small, interactive, dynamic, practical discussion classes.

I highly recommend the Developmental Studies Track for people who are curious to learn about every aspect of common day Ghana and the development of the country.  The class is very hands on and practical. It is accompanied with an internship that is also for credit.  We learn about several aspects of Ghana’s development, such as education, health, infrastructure, urban vs. rural issues, sanitation, social services, politics, and gender issues.  If you are interested/in love with Ghana or development studies and want to learn as much as you can about a variety of topics, I highly recommend this course.  The readings are all very interesting and the tests are very easy (all you have to do on exams is write about the class lectures, readings, and incorporate your own ideas).  There are two exams and two or three papers.  The final paper is on your internship and it is 10-15 pages double-spaced.

I really loved my internship at the West Africa Aids Foundation and I learned and contributed so much during my time there. I have become good family friends with the doctor (my parents met her during their time visiting me in Ghana this semester) and I plan to come back and intern at the WAAF clinic in the future.  In Ghana, there are a lot of opportunities to come up with your own innovative ideas, and you are encouraged to do so. For example, I started the WAAF Ambulance Fund to raise money to get a van to transport patients to and from the clinic in emergencies.  Please read more about my incredible internship experiences at this blog entry :

My director taught a 2-credit seminar class called Living and Learning in Ghana.  This class was small (only 6 students) and they were all from my program, CIEE.  We learned a lot about Ghanaian culture and we learned that with cultural competence, we could bridge gaps between our home culture and Ghanaian culture. Through open, honest discussions we targeted some differences and challenges we were experiencing, and we formulated different ways of viewing situations and understanding each other.

In addition to taking 5 classes and interning at WAAF, I also volunteer at a daycare center.  Some of my friends volunteer in schools and in orphanages.  There are a lot of volunteer activities around and all you have to do is tell the coordinator for your program that you are interested and he/she will write you a letter of recommendation. You can read more about my overall experience (and all the reasons why I do not want to leave Ghana) at this blog entry:…-permanently/

I hope this provides more insight about academics at Ghana. If you are interested in other specifics, contact me directly.  If I cannot answer your questions from my own experiences, I can put you in touch with one of my friends who can.

Peace and Love.

Preparing for Re-Entry into USA

It’s funny how I thought I would get homesick while in Ghana. In reality, there was not a single day this entire semester when I felt like going home or I missed USA at all. Now, I am slightly worried about how I will adjust to being back in NY and back at Cornell. I have to get used to being on my own again and being surrounded by constant competition and stress. However, there are particular aspects of my feelings and experiences that I do have control over.  I think I learned a lot from being in Ghana. I learned to be more laid back, to live comfortably but not extravagantly, to be satisfied with life, and I learned what it is like to enjoy each day.  I have learned ways of eliminating stress and I learned that I can chose to have a positive outlook and state of mind regardless of the situation I may find myself in.  I learned not to worry about people, things, or situations that I cannot do anything about. Rather then being constantly bombarded by my friends’ issues and choices, I have learned to take a step back and not allow their issues to become my problems.

I feel a lot more focused and level-headed now that I have lived in Ghana for 4 months. After speaking to some American friends, it is clear that we have really grown as individuals and have taken out the time to discover ourselves during our stay in Ghana.  We have really developed clear career and social-life goals that we plan to stick to.  It is inspiring for me to realize that I have the potential to do whatever I want in life.  I needed to take a step outside of my usual, hectic life in NY in order for me to really see the larger picture.

You only live once. Life is all about happiness, fulfillment, making a difference for others, and love. Every time I speak to my African friends or to my friends who decided to relocate permanently to Ghana, it is clear that the deep human connectedness (that I often write about) is in its actuality, the true meaning of life. Also, there are so many opportunities here in Ghana to open your own non-profit, youth center, business, health clinic, or make a significant impact in any field of interest. In NY we are competing so much because we are so overcrowded with specialists and our individual impact on society is often overlooked or diminished since there are so many educated professionals concentrated in a small area. We need to spread our knowledge and potential to other areas where people are under-served. We should embark on missions to empower the people from the grassroots level, encouraging them to reach their full potentials and make a difference in their communities.  There is so much that can be done outside of New York City and outside of USA. The world is open to possibilities.

It is clear to me now that the reason why I will not experience reverse-homesickness when I return to NY is because I know I am coming back to Ghana. I understand it may take 10-12 years for me to complete my educational goals first, but I will eventually return and get a job and a house here in Ghana.  I am grateful to have met so many amazing people through the CIEE program, on campus, and also from around Ghana. I plan to keep in touch with all of my friends and I will visit again during my vacations.

Peace and Love. Take a deep breath and experience the joy of life <3 <3 <3