Graduations abound for immigrant family

Many people wear caps and gowns at this time of year, but one Fairfield family that immigrated from Africa will have several graduation joys to celebrate by the end of the year.

Kofi Ansah plans to graduate from Miami University in December, with plans to become a heart surgeon. His sister, Afua Ansah, graduates from Fairfield High School at the end of the month, with plans to attend Duke University and become a pediatrician. Meanwhile, their parents, Georgina Ntow and Ansah Ntow, have already graduated after attending Miami University-Hamilton. All of them hail from Ghana in West Africa.

The family came to the U.S. through the Diversity Lottery in 2003, and arrived in America in 2004. After living in Virginia for a time, the family moved to Fairfield in 2005.

“I wanted my kids to come to school over here. It was very expensive to be back in (Africa) and pay for the school fees. So I said, let’s take this opportunity, and perhaps I will win,” Georgina Ntow said.

Afua Ansah, who was elementary school age at the time, found the USA nothing short of overwhelming.

“You have this idea about America. You’re all excited and then you get here and it’s all different. So dealing with the language barrier and not having my (extended) family here was pretty hard,” she said.

Kofi Ansah said, “For me, it was really different too, especially in school. How people behaved was not what I was used to because over in Ghana, teachers have stricter control over the students … (here) students talked back to teachers and stuff. That wouldn’t happen where I’m from. You wouldn’t dare do that.”

But there were positives too, he said.

“Teachers had more time for students. There was greater technological advancement in the United States, so we could use smartboards and computers in class, so those all made a difference for me as a student. I wasn’t used to that in Ghana,” said Kofi.

His father struggled with culture too.

“In Africa, you can greet anybody … here it’s quite different. People don’t care when you greet them sometimes. So this was not normal, because you are giving respect to somebody and they seem not to care about it. But on the other hand, sometimes Americans are prepared to greet you without knowing you. It was a bit of a cultural shift. So with time we have to learn to assimilate to the kind of life here,” said

But concerns about bettering the family far outweighed any cultural differences, because people in Ghana greatly value studying outside the country.

“It has been the wish of every parent to bring their children to study … we want our children to come here to benefit from American education. That is very important,” said Ansah Ntow.

The family brought with them a particularly strong work ethic that helped them realize their goals.

“I remember in the seventh grade, we were given math problems to do. The book had a total of 60 problems, and the teacher gave us 20 to do. I did them all,” Kofi Ansah said. “Hard work was definitely a big catalyst to our success later on in our education.”

Meanwhile, the parents got an education too. In Ghana, Georgina had worked in a bank, and the father worked as an electrical engineer. They wanted to better their situation as well. She went on to get a GED from Butler Tech, and then she applied to Miami University-Hamilton in 2007 to study nursing. Two years later, her husband joined her, pursuing an engineering degree.

Now, Georgina, having graduated in 2012, works as a nurse at Summit Behavior Health Care in Cincinnati. Ansah Ntow already had the equivalent of an Associate’s Degree in engineering, so in the spring of 2009, he enrolled in Miami University-Hamilton. He graduated earlier this month with a bachelor’s degree in applied science and technology.

“Leaving everything back and coming down here, we were ready to start life, and the idea of going to school has paid off. We are grateful to the system in a country where they don’t discriminate. If you are serious, they help you get a quality education,” said the father.

Kofi in particular benefited from a mentoring relationship with Greg Ossmann, the former director of communications for Mercy Hospital in Fairfield. Ossmann and Kofi have known each other for only two years, but in that short time, Ossmann has marveled at the progress Kofi and his family have made.

When they met at the Jungle Jim’s health fair, “Within 15 minutes, (he) was actually offered a job with a translating service — one that Mercy used … had not he shown up, both of us would have missed out on a tremendous mentoring relationship. Half the battle is showing up,” Ossmann said.

Kofi Ansah concurred, saying, “That made a difference in my life because I was able to shadow doctors. I’ve been to events, tailgating with Bengals players. It’s just amazing. Mentoring with Greg has been very impactful, and it’s shaped who I am today.”

Ossmann has benefited from the relationship as well, saying that Kofi was like a son to him, and he plans to attend Afua’s graduation at the end of the month.

“People talk about the United States being a land of opportunity. Kofi, his sister and his parents understand that to the nth degree, because they’re now living that,” Ossmann said.

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