At the University of Ghana, each department nominates one student each year to travel abroad to study. For the 2012-13 year, James Nti-Omane was nominated.
“I was thrilled because I saw it as a challenge — a challenge to know different people, to see different cultures, to immerse myself in a different environment,” Nti-Omane said. “When I found out, it was January and I would be coming in August, so I could not wait for August to arrive.”
The trip from Ghana to North Carolina was not only Nti-Omane’s first time in the United States, but it was his first time on a plane. It was also his first time leaving Ghana.
Nti-Omane has adjusted to life in the U.S., partly because of his love for academics. His passion for accounting is enormous, as he describes the subject with care and reverence.
This knowledge and appreciation is not lost on Linda Poulson, associate professor and chair of the Department of Accounting at Elon. She is Nti-Omane’s intermediate accounting professor, and has come to appreciate his enthusiasm.
“When he answers questions, he doesn’t just answer the question,” Poulson said. “He understands the concept more deeply than just the answer.”
Coming from Ghana to America
Before coming to Elon, Nti-Omane lived in Accra, the capital of Ghana, a small, coastal country in West Africa. Ghana is the birthplace of former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and, as Nti-Omane points out with a smile, the country that beat the United States in the past two World Cups.
Back home, Nti-Omane attended the University of Ghana, also in Accra. There, the classes were more like lectures, with hundreds of students in one room, listening to professors give lessons on favorable variance and burden rates.
“You could just hide in the classroom and the professor would never see you,” Nti-Omane said. “Or you could never show up to class and only come to take exams.”
Before going to college, Nti-Omane lived in Accra while his father did farming work in rural Ghana. Not a farmer by trade, his father previously worked as a teacher and a principal of a school outside of the city. After retiring, Nti- Omane’s father fell in love with the land and decided to stay there and spend his days growing cabbage.
Busy days filled with music
A standard day for Nti-Omane is no different from any other business student.
“I’m very impressed with his knowledge of accounting because he appears to be light-years ahead of the rest of the class,” Poulson said.
Nti-Omane’s schedule looks pretty ordinary at first glance: accounting, marketing, finance and computer systems. But there is one class that sticks out — Piano for Beginners. Nti-Omane practices alone whenever rooms are open in the Center for the Arts, sitting and playing along to recorded songs and matching notes and chords by ear.
“I’m taking the piano class to learn formal piano, to learn how to read it, to learn how to look at it and still play,” Nti-Omane said. “So now I’m just playing like how I played back at home — by ear.”
Nti-Omane’s brush with piano comes from playing in churches in Ghana, where the music is more choir-based and the pianist’s duty is to follow along with the voices. But since coming to Elon and attending Grace Reformed Baptist Church with other students, Nti-Omane’s seen the more hymn-like music played and the skill required by the church’s pianist.
“She’s in rhythm with the singers, she plays beautifully,” Nti-Omane said. “I always sit in the front row just to look at her.”
To be able to play in the local church, he studies and practices whenever the chances arrive.
Practicing for long stretches of time, Nti-Omane can repeat one song over and over until he feels confident he’s mastered the material.
“I feel like I’ve learned a song if I’ve got- ten the chords and I can add my own style to it,” Nti-Omane said, demonstrating by adding flourishes in between notes to a song he’s recently rehearsed.
While Nti-Omane enjoys learning new skills with the piano and playing for his church, at the core of his piano playing lies his true intentions — a way to get away from work and the hectic aspects of life and focus as he plays Christian spiritual music.
“The primary reason for playing is to have a quiet place somewhere by myself to play those kinds of songs and meditate on the words,” Nti-Omane said. “It’s a spiritual booster.”
Life at the end of the year
Nti-Omane gets to contact his friends and family in Ghana every now and then. Phone calls are expensive, but he can still connect via Facebook and email with a laptop he received from the DodekaLithon Society, an anonymous Elon charity.
After he finishes his schooling, Nti-Omane said he plans to work in an accounting firm in Ghana.
“I’m already in the process of trying to make a connection for him,” Poulson said, referring to contacts with an Elon alumnus who was a partner with a major accounting firm that has offices in Ghana.
So far, Nti-Omane knows for sure that he wants to go to business graduate school after he finishes his four years of college. And he has already set his sights on one university for his extended studies — Elon University.