The University of Texas at Austin
  • A summer in Nigeria

    By Marjorie Smith
    Published: Sept. 21, 2009

    Four undergraduate students spent the summer in Nigeria studying the indigenous Yoruba language as part of the Fulbright-Hays Yoruba Intensive Group Projects Abroad (GPA) Program.

    The Yoruba GPA program is classified as an Advanced Overseas Intensive Language Project and is designed to take advantage of the opportunities present in a foreign country by providing intensive advanced foreign language training.

    Before students can apply to the program, each must complete four semesters of college-level Yoruba language, as well as pass an oral and written exam, said Dr. Tola Mosadomi, assistant professor in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies.

    “I know how prestigious of a program this is, and that is why I am putting my students through the rigor of the Fulbright,” Mosadomi said.

    Students who are awarded the Fulbright-Hays GPA receive round trip airfare from New York to Lagos, program-related transportation in Nigeria, a maintenance allowance for housing and food, as well as the cost of instruction and educational materials.

    Benjamin Durham, undergraduate in African and African-American studies and history, Stefanie Weber, undergraduate in social anthropology and African and African-American studies, Marcus Waters, undergraduate in urban studies and sociology, and Isla Mazuca, undergraduate in journalism, were the four students to participate in the program this past summer. Tressa Westerman, undergraduate in government, was the first student from the university to receive the Yoruba Fulbright Hays award in 2007.

    “If it was possible, I wish I could send everybody to (Nigeria),” Mosadomi said. “I mentor my kids to participate in programs, so I can relate the experiences for my students with the experiences of my children, so I know how significant it is for a student to do a program abroad.”

    Mosadomi said five more students are preparing to apply for next year’s GPA program.

    Student narrative: “The Nigeria that was painted by the texts that I had read was not the Nigeria that I would soon come to experience.”

    Benjamin Durham, undergraduate in African and African-American studies and history, shares his experiences while studying the Yoruba Language in Nigeria.

    My journey to Nigeria began on June 18. In many ways, I expected this trip to not only be an academic journey, but also a spiritual one.

    The classes that I had taken concerning the Yoruba language and culture with Dr. Tola Mosadomi, Dr. Toyin Falola and Dr. Niyi Afolabi filled me with a curiosity that could only be appeased by visiting the space that I had invested so much time into studying.

    Initially, I had reservations that were based on different reports that I had read from various resources, including the Department of State, which were concerned with the security and stability of the nation. In so many ways, the Nigeria that was painted by the texts that I had read was not the Nigeria that I would soon come to experience.

    From the moment our airplane landed in Lagos, I was welcomed into the homes and hearts of many very friendly, compassionate and caring people. It seemed as if my new friends were just as curious about the United States and me, as I was about them and their beautiful country.

    During our first week in Nigeria, there was a nationwide strike of public universities, including the one we attended, Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), in Ile-Ife. While classes were shut down for the students, Dr. Akin Alao, chair of the Institute of Cultural Studies and formerly of The University of Texas at Austin, worked extra hard to make sure we were afforded access to any resources we might need.

    We met a vast array of professionals, from professors to priests, kings to politicians, musicians to actors, activists to members of the military, market women to craftsmen, as well as traditional healers, all of whom were eager to share their culture with us in hopes that we would become vessels of knowledge and would return to the U.S. to share what we learned with the rest of the world.

    I really enjoyed the sense of community and the respect for tradition that I was exposed to in Nigeria. Music always filled the air while a diverse array of color from men and women’s clothes flowed through the streets. One would smell the native cuisine that was sold in a marketplace where people were always smiling. The Yoruba people of Nigeria were so welcoming and friendly.

    This journey made me understand that there are many everyday objects that I use, which I might have once thought of as a necessity, that I now realize are just another commodity that I have become acclimated into believing is something I cannot live without. As Americans, I think our culture has become rather excessive in our consumption patterns. Being afforded the opportunity to live without really instilled a sense of appreciation in me for being blessed with what I have. It also provided me with an understanding of how many little things we take for granted in our everyday lives.

    Traveling to Nigeria afforded me a chance to become a better person by getting away from the fast-paced confusion of the U.S., and truly realizing how fortunate and grateful I am for my family, friends and faith.

    View a slideshow of Benjamin Durham’s experience in Nigeria.

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