Behind Names by Laci Moore

“Behind Names”

By Laci Moore

In Ghana, names can directly reflect who a person is, who they should be, and where they came from. The first name is given based on the day of birth. The spelling or the pronunciation can change depending on the location or the tribe, according to Edwin Brown, a student I met here at the University of Ghana in Legon. The child then waits eight days before he/she is given their middle name and last. The eight days are very significant because the child is considered a visitor, meaning the child can come and go until the eighth day. According to Kwasi Gyasi-Gyamerah, the Resistant Director of CIEE here at the University of Ghana in Legon, there is a difference between the traditional and contemporary naming process in Ghana. Traditionally, in the Akan region, a child is given their middle name based on who they should imitate or who has been successful in life. The last name is not as significant or needed. Contemporary naming practices tend to give a child their father’s last name but the middle name is still more valued.

The naming ceremony is very important to the older generation and less so for younger people. It begins and ends with prayer regardless of the person’s religion.  The parents are not as involved as the elders or the uncle is in this ceremony. The grandfather places his finger in a glass of water and then places that on the child’s tongue. This is supposed to be the child’s first taste of the truth. Then the grandfather places his finger in alcohol and then places his finger on the child’s tongue. This is supposed to allow the child to tell the difference between what is good and what is bad, between what is truth and what is not. Then the names are presented to the family by the elder. At the end of the ceremony, cloth and other things are given as gifts to the child. I find that this concept is similar to the Wise Men bringing gifts when Christ was born.

Names are very important in many different cultures, and there are implications attached to names that may not be obvious to people who do not belong to the community. In America, names are determined in many different ways. Some people will post polls on Facebook, look for names in a baby book, or name a child after a grandparent or other relative. In my opinion, names are not as valued or thought about as much in America.

If you would like to learn more about the Akan culture and why names are given, I encourage you to further research this topic. One interesting article can be found here:

Akan names


Works Cited

Kwasi, Adomako. “Truncation Of Some Akan Personal Names.” GEMA Online Journal Of Language Studies 15.1 (2015): 143-162. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 24 June 2016.

What Do These Symbols Mean? – Danya Mason


“What Do These Symbols Mean?”

By Danya Mason

As our group has traveled in Ghana, we have noticed symbols, called Adinkra, everywhere. Whether we are attending lectures at the International House, visiting places like Kakum National Park, or gazing at the beautiful jewelry crafted by local artists, Adinkra are ever present in the rich culture here. Naturally, my curiosity grew on finding the origin, deeper meaning, and the importance people attach to them.

Adinkra symbols emerged in popularity at the end of a war in 1818 between the Asante Empire, located in what is now modern day Ghana, and the Gyaman Kingdom, located in modern day Côte D’Ivoire. Nana Kofi Adinkra was the king of Gyaman, but unfortunately, he was captured by the Asantes for replicating the “Golden Stool”, which represents absolute power descended from the heavens to the Asantes. He was soon killed for this offense, resulting in the Gyaman kingdom becoming an Asante territory. Also, Adinkra means “goodbye” or “farewell” in Twi, a common language spoken in Ghana, so it signified the fall of the Gyaman kingdom and Nana Kofi Adinkra. Since the symbols were already a part of life in the Gyaman kingdom, they soon became integrated into Asante culture.

Adinkra symbols hold great significance to Ghanaians now because they are reflective of Asante history and contain great wisdom of how one’s life should be influenced. Though I have come from a different culture, I have found myself to grow attached to a couple of Adinkra in correlation with my life, which are named Sankofa and Gye Nyame.

Sankofa, which has a direct translation of, “return and fetch it,” is an Adinkra focused heavily on learning from the past. An individual must use past experiences in order to learn from one’s mistakes, form a better future, and gain wisdom.

I found this Adinkra, Sankofa, at Kakum National Park.

I found this Adinkra, Sankofa, at Kakum National Park.

I hold myself firmly to this Adinkra because if I did not have the opportunity to make mistakes in life, I would learn nothing, I would be shallow to those who make mistakes, and I would never have the chance to be enriched with wisdom. The first experience in life that hit me in this way was when I auditioned to be a drill team officer in high school. The first time I auditioned, I failed and did not make it, which hit me like a ton of bricks. I feel that if I had succeeded with becoming a drill team officer the first time, I would see no flaw in myself and have no reason to better myself. As the next year rolled around for auditions again, I had taken extra dance and leadership classes and reevaluated my approach toward the judges at auditions. Fortunately, this led to my success in becoming a drill team officer.

Gye Nyame has a direct translation of, “except God”, which signifies the immortality of God. The deeper meaning is as follows: nobody lived to see the beginning of time, and nobody will live to see the end, except God.

I found this Adinkra, Gye Nyame, at the International House where we attend our lectures.

I found this Adinkra, Gye Nyame, at the International House, where we attend our lectures.

With closer examination of the Gye Nyame symbol, one can see that it shows a person being held inside the hands of God. I have seen this Adinkra in almost every market that sells art and even on the International House building at the University of Ghana. I feel that the strong presence of God in Ghana parallels with the strong presence of God in East Texas. Though I am thousands of miles away from home, the immortality and comfort of God continues to linger.


For more Adinkra symbols, you can visit:

The Transatlantic Slave Trade in West Africa by Danya Mason


Today, our group attended a lecture given by Dr. Kofi Baku, one of the professors at the University of Ghana. We discussed the impact of the Transatlantic Slave Trade in West Africa, which occurred from the fifteenth through the nineteenth centuries. The following are important, interesting points that enhanced my knowledge in the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

Why is discussing the Transatlantic Slave Trade so important?

  1. It was the last and most prominent slave trade in West Africa.
  2. Its destruction affected the largest amount of Africans, which totaled around 12-15 million people.

How did the Transatlantic Slave Trade begin?

This picture shows the flow of goods and human resources throughout the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

This picture shows the flow of goods and human resources throughout the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

  1. The Transatlantic Slave Trade began when Europeans wanted to settle into the New World to exploit land and resources.
  2. Europeans first utilized natives of the New World; however, many died of sicknesses the Europeans brought over and were also overworked.
  3. Also, a fun fact, the first European country to make an agreement to exchange manufactured goods for raw materials and slaves for New World advancement was Portugal.

What was the average annual amount of slaves who safely made it across the Atlantic?


How were slaves obtained?

  1. Prisoners of war were heavily recycled, meaning some were forced to fight in wars against their comrades, some were sent to the mines, and the rest were sold as slaves.
  2. Slaves were also obtained through criminals and bandits tearing through villages and kidnapping people with intentions of keeping them as slaves.
  3. Another way is through judicial process. An example of this is as follows: chiefs had mistresses, and when the mistresses took an oath of office, the chief would force her to confess if other men had been flirting with her, which, at times, was done by force. Once the mistress confessed, the men would be extracted and ordered into slavery.
  4. The last way was betrayal, where even a close relative could be sentenced. For instance, if a husband did not have enough money to pay for goods, he could sell his wife into slavery to pay for the goods. Once the wife was taken advantage of and the debt was paid off, she was thrown back to her husband.


Below is a link if further interested in the voyages across the Atlantic.

Lasting Lessons- Erin Hicks, Maggie Mahfood, and Rebekah Provines

We are all sitting around our respective tables tonight, finishing up last minute packing, and getting ready for our four AM flight to Texas. It has been an incredible month in one of the most beautiful places on earth and we are undeniably grateful for the ability to have had this experience. We have been fortunate enough to have spent this month with three terrific faculty members who have invested their time, a precious and limited resource, into our lives, and we are better people for having learned from them. It is with very mixed emotions that we begin our journey home. The past thirty days have taught us:

  1. How to truly appreciate art.
  2. What it means to be outside of our “comfort zone.”
  3. To slow down.
  4. How to make the small moments count.
  5. How to embrace adventure.
  6. What it means to communicate effectively.
  7. To respect cultural values different than our own.11418270_10153010524286229_1436893778_n
  8. How to navigate public transportation.
  9. How to take initiative in planning independent trips.
  10. What a true Italian meal tastes like.
  11. What good coffee means. Quality over quantity.
  12. The great things that we are capable of.
  13. How to disconnect from technology.
  14. How to connect with the people around us.
  15. That home can be a feeling, not just a physical dwelling.
  16. How to value people’s individual outlook on every aspect of life.
  17. How to get along with a diverse group of individuals.
  18. How to live on a budget.
  19. How to pursue happiness.
  20. What it feels like to be truly content.
  21. How to deal with European washing machines.
  22. What it means to make friends.
  23. About the overwhelming beauty of nature.
  24. How to marvel at the history and beauty of mankind.
  25. The value of trust and loyalty within the Italian culture.
  26. How to love people genuinely.
  27. How to accept and cope with the things we cannot change.
  28. How to endure a nine hour flight.
  29. That travel sparks an untamable curiosity.
  30. What wanderlust feels like.


This list is by no means comprehensive, as it is impossible to quantify all that we have learned here. Every single one of us has had a unique experience during our time abroad. There are lessons that cannot be taught in a classroom. This world is big and begs to be explored, and GATE has given us the opportunity to learn and experience something absolutely life changing. We are forever grateful to those who made this experience possible and look forward to carrying its lessons with us for the rest of our lives.

The View- Maggie Mahfood

It is hard to believe that in less than 48 hours we will be back in Texas. We have each had very unique experiences and been taught lessons that we will continue to learn from and reflect on for the rest of our lives. Before I left home someone said to me, “You are going to have an experience that many will only dream of.” This has been undeniably true. Last night we all gathered to have a final dinner together before we leave this place we have grown to love. We each took turns reflecting on the lessons we have learned and sharing memories with each other. It was so hard to specifically define the best moment of this incredible adventure, but after giving it some thought, I knew which experience had been the most impactful for me. Halfway through our trip, we left Florence to spend three days in Rome. On our second day we had the entire morning to ourselves. At this point in the trip, exhaustion was setting in, emotions were high, and morale was low at 6:30 in the morning. However, five of us managed to drag ourselves out of our blissfully air conditioned hotel room and trek to St. Peter’s in Vatican City

st peters 3

Early morning breakfast before heading to St. Peter’s.

We were determined to be some of the first people in line to climb to the top of the cupola on St. Peter’s Basilica. The temptation to complain was high as we climbed 300 steps and had only made it halfway to the top. We completed our climb within a strenuous half hour. Upon stepping out of the stairwell, my breath was taken away and I felt tears of awe fill my eyes; the climb was more than worth it. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen in my life, and pictures cannot do the view any justice.

st peters 4

An attempt at capturing our view.

Regardless of a person’s religious affiliation or background, the sweeping magnitude of Vatican City is inspiring. It was at the very top of St. Peter’s that I remembered someone telling us that people never asked “How much?” or “How long?” when building the beautiful, historical places of worship that we have seen throughout Italy. The construction of the beautiful churches took resources that, at the time, were scarce and many, many years to complete. It was in that moment that I was amazed at man’s ability to pour out energy into something greater than himself. On top of St. Peter’s in Vatican City, I determined that I would never again ask “How much?” or “How long?” when it came to being a part of something bigger than myself, something special. That bigger thing is different for all of us. If I have learned anything on this trip, it is that people are to be loved and cared about, even when it’s not convenient. Life is to be lived to the fullest, even when we are exhausted. Joy is to be sought after every day and risks are to be taken. We can never hold back and never ask “How much?” or “How long?” when trying to make our world a more beautiful and loving place.

st peters

Post climb | Full of joy

Wheeling My Way Downtown- Jessica Warren

Living with a handicapped parent for most of my life means that I have adapted to look for certain features whenever I visit a new place. I automatically look for ramps at entrances, I always notice whether or not aisles are wide enough for a wheelchair to pass through, and I always look to see if counters are low enough for a person in a wheelchair to reach. I’m often disappointed at home in the United States when I find that a business has not taken into consideration that some people will need to be able to access it from a wheelchair, but here in Italy I have noticed that handicap accessibility is a bit more scarce than at home. Florence is absolutely gorgeous, but unfortunately, not everyone is able to visit some of the beautiful places this city has to offer.

Most museums that we have visited here in Florence and in Rome have taken measures to make their facilities accessible to the handicapped, including equipment such as ramps, elevators, and stair lifts. However, older buildings such as the medieval and renaissance era churches are still inaccessible to people with physical disabilities. The fact that many structures in Italy have not been updated to include handicap accessibility is no surprise. When every inch of a building was designed by a famous renaissance architect, the question of augmenting the structure to add an elevator or other practical (but not so beautiful) element is a difficult one to answer. On the one hand, preserving the antique beauty of Florentine structures is incredibly important from an artistic as well as a historical standpoint. But on the other, not adding wheelchair accessibility to these structures keeps many people from being able to experience them.

one of the six flights of stairs to my apartment in Florence with no elevator or lift

Centuries-old Florentine churches are not the only structures that are difficult to access for the handicapped. Shops and restaurants in the city often have at least one step at the doorway, and sometimes have sales floors or dining rooms that are situated on multiple levels separated by steps. In addition to this, doorways and aisles in stores and restaurants are often much too narrow for a wheelchair to pass through safely. Though handicap accessibility is by no means universal in the United States, more legislation and regulation of businesses means that most apartment buildings will have at least one handicap accessible unit, and doorways of shops are required to be at least wide enough for a standard wheelchair to pass through. Here in Italy, my apartment building and most of the others I have been in have no unit on the ground floor and no elevator.  Shops and restaurants in Florence and several in Rome require you to walk down a flight of stairs immediately after stepping through the doorway. These stores and restaurants are full of beautiful and unique items and food, but it is unfortunate that part of the population cannot even get through the doorway. Aside from the actual structures in Florence, the streets of the city are complicated to maneuver for a person who uses a wheelchair. This problem is not necessarily unique to Florence; many cities have uneven or cobblestoned streets. In Florence, though, most of the city has sidewalks for pedestrians, but they are too narrow in most places for two people to stand side by side, and definitely too narrow for most wheelchairs.

The opportunity to live and study in Florence has been incredible and I am extremely grateful that I have been able to do this. Our group has seen so many beautiful sites, rich with history and culture. Florence is a breathtaking city, and I am hopeful that a solution can be found that both meets the needs of handicapped people who wish to explore this city, and preserves the history, culture, and beauty of the city.


Dante at Biennale 2015- BeeBee Hale

If you’ve been keeping up with the blog then you’ve already heard about the incredible art show, Biennale, in Venice that Alexis blogged about. If not, just know that this art exhibition is like no other in that it features just one artist from each of the 89 countries involved. This exhibition only takes place once every few years and to have had the opportunity to see it in person was truly incredible. One piece in particular stood out to me as the artist drew inspiration from Dante’s Divine Comedy.

The work itself is a celestial chart depicting constellations constructed from red and yellow taillights against a black background made to look like the night sky. According to one very helpful exhibition worker this is what the piece means: the use of every day, man-made materials represents humanity and its accomplishments, while placing the taillights in the shape of constellations represents humanity’s constant desire to both figuratively and literally reach for the stars. Each of the three books in Dante Aligh-

IMG_9692ieri’s Divina Commedia- Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso- end in the word ‘stelle’ or ‘stars’ and just like the art piece, this is to call attention to humanity looking toward the heavens to find meaning, purpose, and inspiration. Dante’s Inferno, in particular, deals with the theme of human desire and how if we succumb to our baser desires, we might just end up in hell suffering grotesque, albeit creative, tortures for all eternity. Interestingly enough, the Australian artwork has the word ‘desire’ written in three different languages along the top curve of the circular celestial chart. This is to tie in the common thread of desire throughout all humanity despite cultural differences or boundaries.

One of the greatest things about this trip is that the knowledge we have been gaining in class is very applicable to the places we’ve been visiting. In Dr. Streufert’s class we read selections from Dante’s Inferno and even on a non-school funded trip to Venice, my friends and I saw a modern artwork that was referencing Dante. It just goes to show that everything we are learning about, even if it’s a comedy from the Renaissance period, remains relevant in the art world and is still affecting different cultures and people around the world today.

People and Perspectives- Rebekah Provines

Now that the end of the trip is in sight, I have had time to think back on what I have experienced. I could rattle off all the fun places we, as a group, have been, and all the memories that go with the journey. However, Italy has given me more than just that crazy time we climbed seventy five flights of stairs for the view or the times we ate at our favorite restaurant down the street more than four times in a week. Italy has given me a different perspective on life. It is not just the slow pace of day-to-day life or the great food, but it is the people.


The Italian people have a very innocent way of life and by innocent I mean trusting. I can order a café and a pastry, walk outside, eat it, and they trust that I will pay for it when I finish. In the States, you pay before you receive due to the lack of trust. The people are also very kind as long as you attempt to speak Italian. They will laugh at you in a loving way but then help you find whatever it is that you need. Once you talk to a local for a couple minutes you feel a connection with them that is pure and genuine. I have befriended a lady named Clarissa at the local food market. I love to buy produce from her because she teaches me Italian as I teach her English. She doesn’t speak any English and my Italian is very poor. However, together we have created a friendship.


Another way Italy has changed the way I look at life is through the enriching history. I have seen all the pictures of the Colosseum and the Forum in texts and online, but whenever you have two professors with a never ending wealth of knowledge about ancient Italian history the experience reaches a whole new level. Instead of looking at a rock sticking strait out of the ground, I am learning that it is a Doric column that was once part of the temple of Hera (a Greek goddess). It is simply amazing to look out over an ancient civilization and walk exactly where its citizens did. Italy has been an amazing experience and I know that all the lessons I have learned will help me in my future travels and throughout my life.

Florence: The Original Fashion Capital – Alayna Sims

When you think of fashion, everyone loves to shout out Paris, New York, or even Milan. In all of my years studying fashion, from designing to modeling, those were the names that were written about the most. So, you could imagine my surprise when I was informed that the fashion industry actually has roots planted here in Florence. While we sat in one of the lectures given by Enrica Guidato here at Santa Reparata, I was exposed to so much about the Italian influence of the fashion industry, that it is impossible for me to believe anything else. My favorite part of the lecture was finding out that Coco Chanel was apart of the invention of capri pants! This lecture had taught me to view the industry that I loved more globally rather than locally. I took over two pages of notes, and I feel that this lecture sparked my curiosity to study fashion with more of a global focus now.

Another event that blew my mind was getting to see the costume gallery at the Pitti Palace. Getting to see how fashion has evolved throughout history had made me feel as if I was actually in those time periods!

I thought I had loved fashion before, but being in Florence has given me so much inspiration, that I can’t wait to get back to the states to sketch and design so many new looks! What’s even better than the haute couture is how fashionable the Florentine public is.

Everywhere I turned there was some woman dressed in Miu Miu or some man with a Valentino 3-piece suit with a Louis Vuitton duffel bag. It’s as if all of these people can get designer clothing at dollar store prices! By just people watching, I learned that the Italian people take pride in their appearance just as much as they do…well everything else! You can tell that the Florentines know where they live, and they strut down the streets of Florence with purpose and style, as if the town is their runway. If there is anything I learned about being in Florence, it is that the people wear the clothes, the clothes don’t wear them.

First Impressions vs. Life As a Temporary Local: How My Florentine Experience Has Evolved Over Time by Alia Pappas

Somewhere along the way during our stay in Italy, my GATE friends and I became temporary locals of Florence. Having been here for almost a month now, I’m finding that my perspective of the city that all of GATE 15 now calls home has changed since our plane touched down on May 20th.


Upon our arrival in Florence, my roommates and I remedied our jet lag with a nap in our apartment and then set out to find some dinner. We quickly realized that we didn’t have to travel very far to find it. Turning the corner of our block, we were met with the sight of a piazza sporting restaurants, cafes, and a stunning cathedral that would remain nameless for many days until we became more familiar with our neighborhood and discovered it was called Santa Maria Novella. At this point, we were in the “honeymoon phase” and the pizza that we ate at a restaurant that I now realize caters to tourists seemed like the best we had ever eaten. Our immediate impression of Florence on that first night was that it was a city that was exciting and beautiful, which was only furthered as we walked around the block for gelato and then back to our apartment to the tune of street musicians playing “Beauty and the Beast.” At this point, we were giddy and nervous, and every moment was a lifelong memory waiting to happen and we were eager to receive each one.

Alayna Sims, Becky Dixon, Penny Dutton, and I enjoying our first dinner in Florence next to Santa Maria Novella.

Alayna Sims, Becky Dixon, Penny Dutton, and I enjoying our first dinner in Florence next to Santa Maria Novella.

For our first few days in the illustrious Firenze, my roommates and I discovered the city and made a few tourist faux-pas. I remember us searching for tourist destinations with our noses pressed to the pages of maps, jittery at the possibility of pickpockets and trying to avoid annoying waiters beckoning us into their restaurants. In our apartment, I remember being nervous about living without an air conditioner and fearing that the infamous mosquitoes would eat me alive.


The mosquitoes did eat me alive, and Vape (vah-pay), an Italian brand of mosquito repellant, has since become my new best friend. Despite this one negative, however, my extended stay in Florence has opened me up to a plethora of positive experiences and realizations. Meeting locals and discovering more of Florence are the two things that have most helped me to integrate into life in the city. One of the most prominent locals that I have met is actually one of the aforementioned “annoying” waiters that kept trying to persuade my roommates and I to eat at his restaurant. We have had to pass by “the best restaurant in the world” every day, so we have become friends with this waiter, getting high-fives from him on our way to take our midterms. He and other locals have helped me to better understand the Italians’ lifestyle and customs, which I have discovered that I love, especially walking arm-in-arm with friends and enjoying the slower pace of life here.

Becky, Penny, and I walking like Italians through the streets of Siena.

Becky, Penny, and I walking arm-in-arm like Italians through the streets of Siena. We do this all the time in Florence, too!

By exploring the city, I now walk with confidence and, although I remain aware, I am no longer terrified by pickpockets. I have come to rarely need a map and have found many restaurants and grocery stores to frequent. Sometimes, when I am walking to these places I even find myself growing a little annoyed with the lost tourists, but I remind myself to have sympathy for them because I know what it is like to be in their place. One of my shining “local” moments was when one of these tourists asked me for directions and I was able to easily give them.


Although I have grown accustomed to life in Florence, some aspects of it never get old. I still smile when I hear “Beauty and the Beast” outside my apartment, even if I have every note memorized. Florence is still just as beautiful and captivating as ever. When I first arrived here, I thought that every little experience was worth documenting. Today, I think the same. I have learned so much on this trip, such as how to be more accepting, patient, innovative, and caring. I never want to forget this life-changing experience of living in Florence, my home away from home.

My wonderful roommates and I in front of the Duomo. Florence wouldn't be the same without them!

My wonderful roommates and I in front of the Duomo. Florence wouldn’t be the same without them!