Dr Alexa Hughes reveals that the one-month job search was a struggle. However, it did have one bonus: an unexpected love of Africa
Dr Alexa Hughes was rummaging through her purse, seeking a lost map to her home and city, when she found the perfect place to land – Africa.
“I was definitely off the beaten track,” Hughes joked.
Hughes, a newly minted PhD student, was on a spontaneous job search trip to Ghana, Africa, when she stumbled across Aku-Wanara, a 4,000-year-old settlement in eastern Ghana, after spending weeks floundering for an idea of where she wanted to settle down after finishing her studies.
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“I started throwing around Ghana, the UK, and the US. So Ghana came to me out of nowhere. I was like, yay! This is a place I want to live.
“I was mulling over the fact that I wanted to move and to be really honest I hadn’t really thought of things like how much money I’d have to work for, what I’d do during the day, where I’d live, what my quality of life would be like.
“I thought that I could probably find a way to scrape by and have a good life. I didn’t think it was going to be the best life.”
Budget, food, travel and language barriers also left Hughes deeply concerned about how life would work.
It was her host friend who introduced her to Liberia, a country north of Ghana, where Hughes recently returned as an expat to volunteer in the civil society sector. Hughes, who graduated from the University of New York with a specialisation in public interest law, was unprepared for what Liberia would throw up.
“My host family had the biggest kite in the sky because they are very passionate about what they do and wanted to share what it’s like there. I love travelling, I love discovering different cultures, so I was about as non-expert as you can get.
“The language barrier is hard … but at the same time I’m speaking my whole life because I’m a lawyer and that’s how I communicate.
“There’s still a lot of politics and corruption in Liberia, but a lot of people are less afraid to speak up. There are a lot of tourists who come there and socialise, and that is huge.”
Worship… Alex Hughes looking at photos of Methodist church in Liberia. Photograph: Courtesy Alexa Hughes
Though she left the US with a bleak picture of life in Ghana, Hughes’s visit to Liberia and her new home in Africa soon left her with a very different impression.
“I left the trip with a completely different understanding of Ghana. I thought I’d left with a cynical view of Ghana, but I got an entirely different point of view.
“I ended up spending two weeks in Ghana, though, and it’s already a place that’s made me feel like I want to explore. It was beautiful, the people were kind, the food was delicious, the climate was great, the city lights were quite amazing, the people I spoke to were very welcoming, and the scenery was amazing.”
Now that she’s back, the hitch for Hughes is returning to the US to complete her final student loans. To pay for her trip she used graduate loans, which have allowed her to live in her current home for the past two years.
“I will still have to repay student loans but I am taking money out of my future salary to do this for a month,” she said.
The search for a living place has continued and Hughes has visited more than 20 countries but so far has only found a flat in Sarago in Ghana’s Eko Atlantic City, an island exclave that will only become a city over the next decade.
“I don’t really have a real plan as to where I’m going. For now I’m just getting back to work and making friends. One thing that I’ve discovered is that I don’t feel like I’m very alone,” Hughes added.
• This article was amended on 12 May 2019 to correct the spelling of Aku-Wanara