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Discovering my Life’s Purpose in Ghana

PAA Participant Sarah Barnaby living it up during her program in Ghana!

Sarah Barnaby was a participant on PAA’s Summer Music and Cultural Immersion in Ghana program. To be put in touch with Sarah to learn more about her experience and see if this program is a good fit for you, please contact us at

This summer, I had the opportunity to travel to Ghana, West Africa with Performing Arts Abroad for a full cultural immersion course at the Dagara Music Center. While I had no idea what to expect, I decided to keep an open heart and fully embrace whatever experiences and challenges came my way. Little did I know that this study abroad program would play such an important role in discovering my life’s purpose.

The main reason I went to Ghana with PAA was to become a better musician and teacher. I have always been drawn to West African music and wanted to learn authentic music to bring back to the classroom. When music and dance classes started, I was blown away with the musicianship and talent of the instructors. Not only were they amazing performers, but they were incredible teachers as well. I fell in love with the gyil and expanded my djembe skills far beyond what I thought was possible. I learned traditional dances and the accompanying music. My teachers even privately taught some simple versions of the songs and dances learned so I could teach it to my elementary students back home. One of the highlights of the trip was the amazing music performance the instructors put on for us near the end of the trip. Drumming, gyil, dancing, and singing were all highlighted and we (students) even got to participate. It was followed by a celebration of everything we had learned, all the friendships made, and everything yet to come. It was a truly memorable night, one I will never forget.

While I was expecting the music aspect of the trip to be incredible, I wasn’t anticipating forming lifelong friendships and experiencing so much during the trip. Whether it was exploring town, batik dying, hiking, going to the art market, hanging at the beach, playing games, traveling, I could go on and on, the point is, time was always spent well. During the study abroad, I came to love living a more minimalistic lifestyle and found myself much happier connecting with those around me in day to day life (something I am not great at in the US). I discovered that I value human connection more than I do material objects and common luxuries afforded in the United States. This discovery, as well as many others, are what made this experience so unexpectedly special.

Traveling to Ghana changed my life. It changed my perspective on the actual value of possessions and money and showed me that people and happiness are worth more. It changed my mindset on how I see the entire world around me. Ghana made me realize that I was living a life I was not satisfied with, but also gave me the courage to change it. Traveling alone to Africa was not at all what I had expected it to be. It was empowering and inspiring, and ultimately gave my life direction. Since returning home, my life has changed in many ways. I have decided to pursue a lifelong dream and applied to the Peace Corps. In the meantime, I will be returning to Ghana to teach English and volunteer in an elementary and middle school. While I don’t know where this road will lead, or know anything much beyond the next 9 months, I am excited to see what life has in store and beyond thankful for the life lessons learned through this study abroad. I would highly recommend diving in and traveling to Ghana with PAA for a study abroad program.

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