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Erik Owusu: ‘I want to go back to Ghana and use my acquired knowledge to make a positive impact’

‘I’m Erik Owusu, I’m 20 years old and I’m a student of the bachelor’s programme Urban Studies in The Hague. I was born in The Netherlands, but I’ve lived in Ghana for almost 7 years. Because of this, I was able to see a lot of different cities, cultures and social structures. That got me thinking: what if I could look further into all these things?’

Changing paths to Urban Studies

‘When I was younger, I wanted to become a professional soccer player. Back in Ghana, I used to play with my friends during lunch breaks and I was quite skilled. Apart from that, at the back of my mind, I thought if anything I’d be working alongside my dad. He works in machinery, for construction and mining industries in Ghana. I thought I’d study something related to his work so that I could work with him in the future. That’s also why I initially started with the bachelor’s in Earth Sciences at TU Delft. I quit, however, after almost finishing the first year as it wasn’t really my thing. When I decided to apply for Urban Studies instead, my parents were a bit sceptical. The study programme was new and they assumed that Earth Sciences guaranteed me a good future, whereas Urban Studies wouldn’t be as profitable. Luckily, they went with it in the end, since I was an adult capable of making my own decisions. Looking back on it, I’m very happy that I took this turn.’

Acting like strangers

‘Urban life is a very topical subject; cities become bigger and bigger each day. Urban Studies is about cities, people and basically everything that has to do with us and our daily lives. Social interactions between people and within society interest me the most. I feel that there are many things “wrong” in our current society. For example, people tend to act “normal” and move past each other in order to fit into society, instead of opening themselves up by smiling and radiating positive energy to others. I think most people avoid doing this because they would have to do something they normally don’t and they’re uncomfortable with that; they become anxious and awkward. But I think it shouldn’t be like that. When I reflect on myself, I see myself as a friendly person and I always try to move social boundaries between people. I feel that if people don’t act like strangers, it would be much easier for new people, and society, to meet new people and find their way in a new environment. If I were to write a book about it, I’d call it “Act like a stranger”. It would explore how and why people act like strangers – and how to change that. Because I think that most of the time, the smallest things that we never really knew about actually make or could make the biggest differences. You just have to know about them.’

What I like to do in my free time

‘In my free time, I like to dance: I’m into hip-hop, R&B and other recent kinds of urban dancing. Dancing is one of my hobbies and  I plan on going to a dance school next year. I make dance videos that I post on my Instagram (@erik.kofi). In terms of my social circle, I hang out here and there with some people from my studies. Urban Studies is small, so we know each other well because we see each other almost every day. The study is very multicultural, a lot of the students live or were born in different places and they have different ethnicities and nationalities. I’d say we are an interesting mix of all kinds of different people.’ 

By the time I can call myself a true urbanist...

I’d like to go back to Ghana someday to use my acquired knowledge in a positive way: I want to help the Ghanaian people with their urban planning. In Ghana, the main goal for the people is to build their own house. But the thing is, they just start building everywhere and leave the unfinished houses because they don’t have enough money to finish them. Without being aware of it, this affects the whole neighbourhood and its future: if you don’t think about the planning of a certain place, factors might come up that you didn’t anticipate. For example, what if there is a place with a lot of housing but there are not enough facilities around? That’ll make it difficult for people to live in that specific area. Most of my family still lives in Ghana so this would be a project that would lie close to my heart. I always try to achieve what I want and do what I say I’m going to do, so I hope I can make this idea into a reality.’

In the Humans of Humanities series, we will do a portrait of one of our researchers, staff members or students, every other week. Who are they, and what do they do? You can find more portraits and information on this page.

Lieselotte van de Ven
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