Fall College Series
By: F. Kojo Kyeremeh and Kwasi Ntem-Mensah
The Ghanaian American Journal introduces Kofi Adofo Ansong from Manchester, Connecticut. As part of our Fall College Series, we took a look at the extraordinary accomplishments of two Ivy League Freshmen with Ghanaian heritage, to see how their families and communities have impacted their lives. Last week we featured Kevin Adusei of Worcester who attends Harvard University. The second part of our coverage takes us to Yale University, where we sat down with Kofi Adofo Ansong to see what motivates him.
GAJ: Tell us a little bit about your educational foundations, where did it all begin?
Kofi: I attended Verplanck and Keeney for elementary school, then my mom heard about the Hartford Magnet school system and was told by her friends that the classics education that Classical Magnet provided would open doors for me. While I was starting Classical, though, my older sister Arnelle was starting Hotchkiss, a boarding school which provided her with many travel abroad opportunities. Sure enough, I also applied to boarding school for high school, but instead of following her path exactly I decided to attend Phillips Exeter Academy, a boarding school in New Hampshire.
GAJ: How was your experience at Exeter, a predominantly white prep school?
Kofi: Exeter is a mostly white school, while Classical Magnet was more diverse, so it was tough dealing with that. But Exeter provided me with a great high school education and many opportunities to pursue my interests, and the lack of diversity made me appreciate diversity more than I did at Classical. There are important values to be drawn from both institutions, and they have helped to mold me as a person.
GAJ: How has your family dynamics helped you get this far?
Kofi: My family values education; and academics are prioritized in our home. My father always told me about how he valued school as a kid and hoped to instill the same passion in his kids. My mom nourished my love for reading by taking me to the library every week during elementary school. The Manchester library system made it easy for my mom to get me excited about reading. During the summer, they reward kids for every five books they read, so I would read as much as possible during break. My two older sisters helped me out as well. I remember my sister Arnelle, who is now at Stanford University in California, played “teacher” with me when we were young. she’d teach me the math she was learning, and I’d read her school books along with her.
GAJ: What made you pick Yale University; was that always your dream school?
Kofi: I always thought the Ivy League and similar caliber schools were great and many students at Exeter attend them. During my junior year, I began to think about what college to attend and Yale was prominent in my mind because it is world renowned, yet also close to home, which is a nice perk.
I applied and got accepted to Yale early action, so I knew pretty early into my senior year that I wouldn’t have to apply to any more schools.
GAJ: What is your major at Yale? Or are you still exploring?
Kofi: I am still exploring. Currently I am taking many classics courses, and next semester I plan on taking statistics and linear algebra in addition to my humanities courses.
GAJ: Tell us a little bit about classical education.
Kofi: A classical education revolves around studying the Ancient Greeks and Romans, I have particularly focused on learning their languages. Studying the classics and the western canon has enhanced my thinking skills, boosted my vocabulary and has helped me understand politics better on a theoretical level. Of course, the fact that institutions like Classical, Exeter and Yale prioritize the classics so much has excluded great thinkers from perhaps Ghana or from many other nations, nevertheless Greek and Roman thinkers have been the most accessible to me and have made me smarter.
GAJ: How are you adjusting to life on the Yale Campus?
Kofi: I am still adjusting. It’s very different from Exeter, but Yale is more diverse, since Yale pulls from a more diverse and international body of students. People also respect each other, and students encourage each other to pursue their various interests.
GAJ: Tell me how the Ghanaian culture and community has impacted your upbringing.
Kofi: The Ghanaian culture is one you cannot escape from because it’s very pronounced. My grandmother came to live with my parents before I was born, she taught me Twi though I unfortunately forgot it, but her and my parents’ stories about their harsh upbringings have made me very thankful for the more leisurely life they’ve provided me with. My family celebrates Thanksgiving with my dad’s siblings and it’s nice to see the cultural dynamics at play at our table. I’ve also enjoyed the Ghanaian community in my church. It’s quite awesome being around so many Ghanaians during the holidays or church, and it’s during those moments especially that I am most thankful to be a Ghanaian.
GAJ: I am glad you mentioned the Ghanaian influence on a very American tradition. Thanksgiving. I guess Ghanaians have a unique way of putting our spin on everything, perhaps that’s how we can adjust well to different environments and situations.
Do you consider yourself more as a Ghanaian or American or both?
Kofi: Definitely both. My Ghanaian heritage has very much guided, shaped, influenced my life in America. It’s hard to separate the two identities from the person I am now, so I consider myself a Ghanaian-American.
GAJ: You mentioned that you don’t speak Twi fluently. Does it bother you that you can’t speak Twi, though you study and speak other languages?
Kofi: Yes, it is frustrating at times, but I will make up for it. I plan to visit Ghana before I graduate and experience first-hand the culture that’s made me who I am. It’s pretty funny but somewhat upsetting that I‘ve been to Europe several times, that I know Latin and Ancient Greek, but I have never visited Ghana and know very little Twi. I hope to change this in the next few years.
GAJ: I saw you in a traditional Kente cloth at an engagement ceremony. I was quite impressed because it was the first time I saw you in a Kente cloth, and you wore it on your own volition.
Kofi: I see the Kente cloth as a very special Ghanaian fabric and I have seen my Dad and Uncles wear it, so I wanted to try it. My oldest sister Crystal began a few years ago to wear and appreciate Ghanaian clothing and she encouraged me to try it, and my dad was also there to teach me how to put it on. It was quite an experience, it felt like a rite of passage.
GAJ: That’s quite humbling to hear, I hope others can feel more confident to express themselves and showcase their Ghanaian identity.
Most parents are afraid to let their children go out and explore different things. How did your parents overcome such fears, and what’s your advice to other parents who have such concerns?
Kofi: I give my parents credit for having the confidence and foresight to send me away to boarding school. They both are into the idea that what doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger. While that to an extreme isn’t good, I believe forcing kids out of their comforts zones helps them deal with adversity better and exposes them to many kinds of people. In addition, being exposed to different things help you identify and figure out who you are.
GAJ: What are some of the concerns that you see in our community and what is your advice to other young people who read this interview and dare to dream as you did?
Kofi: One of the issues I see is kids passively going through their education, an issue that involves both parents and children. Parents should both know what their kids are studying and encourage them to explore many of the various fields in academia besides the typical nurse and doctor professions. That way, kids can find something they really love and are eager to pursue. Students should strive to pursue things beyond getting good grades, because there is so much more to learn and experience beyond the classroom.
GAJ: Thank you for sharing such great advice, I am sure our adults and students would gain a lot from what you have shared with us. Thank you for taking the time to speak with GAJ.
Kofi: On a personal note, I like to thank The Ghanaian American Journal (GAJ) because I appreciate what you are doing for the community. It’s important that we learn about our culture, and gain a better understanding of ourselves as Ghanaians living in America to better appreciate the impact we can have as a people.
The common thread in both of the stories from these two young men is active parental involvement and love of reading. It is incumbent on us as parents, family, and community to become more involved in the lives of our children and community. The old saying, “It takes a village,” still rings true today.
GAJ thanks these fine young men for allowing us to share their inspirational stories.