In villages like Atibie, in the heart of Ghana, Africa, career paths are clear-cut: Men are typically farmers, women are potters, and sprinkled in between are a few teachers.
And then there are some like Kwabena Abrah who, as a youth, dreamed of traveling to America to become a doctor.
More than three decades and 5,245 miles later, the 47-year-old Annapolis man recently came a step closer to his goal, winning a full scholarship to the New Jersey-based Ross University School of Medicine at an age when some are saving for retirement.
"My age is not anything that is hindering," said Mr. Abrah, who hopes to inspire others. "I think it is helping me."
The Hilltop resident and father of three received one of 15 Eliza Anna Grier Minority Scholarships given annually by the school. He'll spend 16 months studying at the school's campus in Dominica, West Indies, before spending a semester at the Miami campus and being placed at a hospital in the states.
Named after a prominent, Civil War African-American doctor, the scholarship covers more than $110,000 for tuition and supplies, according to school spokesman Andrew Serenyi.
Scholarship recipients must demonstrate academic excellence and be nominated by members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Mr. Serenyi said.
Mr. Abrah was nominated by Reps. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., and Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md.
He began classes last month.
Mr. Abrah's journey to America, however, began in the '60s, deep in the African bush. It was there that his interest in medicine was first piqued by his father, Yaw Appah.
"My father was an herbalist, a traditional medicine man," said Mr. Abrah, who joined him in the forest gathering herbs, roots and tree bark, which he would crush into healing rubs or boil to form a medicated brew.
He also excelled in school, often ranking first in his class.
When he wasn't studying, Mr. Abrah often accompanied his father at the local Seventh-day Adventist-run hospital, where they would discuss medical matters with the largely American volunteer staff. It was then that the young Mr. Abrah began forming his goal: He, like his father, would be a doctor.
"I got some motivation from them," he said. "But you have to start from A before you go to B."
That meant gathering money to continue his education - no small task for Mr. Abrah, whose father had 16 other children to care for. He eventually became ill and died before his youngest son, Mr. Abrah, was 15.
Soon Mr. Abrah had to support himself by selling firewood and small animals he caught, earning enough to put himself through primary school. He later worked as a farmer and hospital assistant while taking medical courses at nearby schools.
He married Grace Abrahin 1987 and they went on to have three children: Akua, 14, Kwame, 13, and Adwoa, 10.
Then in 1995 he won a visa lottery and landed in Virginia.
"I wanted to go to the University of Ghana, but at that time there was instability of our political system," he said, explaining that the school would often be closed for years at a time.
Eventually, word of mouth led him to Anne Arundel Community College, where he received an associate's degree in science in 2000.
"He really was very diligent in his efforts and really was a serious learner," said Sandra Knode, a psychology instructor at AACC."I'm happy for him."
Mr. Abrah graduated from the University of Maryland Baltimore County in 2003 with a 3.57 grade-point average and a bachelor's degree in biological science.
He plans to specialize in psychiatry, gynecology or surgery.
For his wife, Mr. Abrah's latest move is bittersweet. Not wanting to take the kids out of school, she'll be apart from her husband for most of his schooling.
"He prayed on that even before he met me," she said of his aspirations. "I have no choice than to give him the go ahead."
Her husband hopes to finish by 2008.
"Age is a concept, " he said. "It's not anything that can prevent someone from doing whatever he wants to do."