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Archive for June, 2010

A glimpse of Ibadan

Through this blog I have been in contact with many new friends, many of whom are Yoruba people from Nigeria. One of my new friends, Tetteh Pecku, sent me a link to his photos of Ibadan, his hometown. I am so pleased he said I could post a few on my blog for everyone to see. E se pupo! These should give you an idea (admittedly a vague one, but an idea) of what Ibadan looks like.

These three images will have to do for now but you can be sure that when I get there I will be snapping away with the four different cameras I’m bringing.

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On Friday, June 11–three days before I was supposed to leave for Nigeria–I received devastating news: my summer study abroad program at the University of Ibadan is cancelled. The feelings of shock, denial, sadness and complete disappointment I felt were overwhelming. Abike, another girl in my program told me over the phone as I was driving home from saying goodbye to all of my friends in Madison. I almost had to pull off the road. I felt everything I planned for for semesters slip away in a matter of minutes. Earlier that day I had received an email with a description of the host family I would be meeting a couple days later–Abike’s news did not seem real because we had no answers. Answers did not come until four days later when my Yoruba professor, Antonia Schleicher sent us an e-mail with a semblance of what had been going on behind the scenes.

The major players in the equation that led to the cancellation are the University of Wisconsin and National Security Education Program. NSEP sponsors the Language Flagship, which is the fellowship the seven other students and I have that was (and someday will be) sending us to Nigeria. Like I said in the video, members of NSEP and UW administrators had a meeting on Friday June 11–the same day I received info about my host family–where UW said it would not send any UW students to Ibadan under UW auspices because they felt the situation there is unsafe. There are a few perplexing things about this decision. First, why did they wait until 3 bloody days before to decide? I still don’t have a good answer to that question, but I am investigating. Also, there is the question on why UW had the power to do this. Since May, we knew the year-long program in Nigeria was not a UW sponsored study abroad program because they said they did not have enough time to evaluate it. We were all set to withdraw from UW and go to Nigeria planning to transfer credits from University of Ibadan to Bryn Mawr College, then to UW. The plan was legitimate and UW even said it would work fine. So then why now are they telling us we cannot go because of safety concerns when we would not be insured by UW anyway? NSEP really wants to see this program happen and so they made an agreement with UW that essentially says ‘OK, we’ll cancel the program for now and give you a month to do your investigation into University of Ibadan to determine that it is safe and people live well there.’ So depending on what UW says come July 16 we could be on a plane to Nigeria within a couple weeks or be waiting indefinitely for NSEP to figure out a way to get us there through another university.

I was depressed at first and unable to find happiness. A week later, I am doing much better and my spirits are high. I’ve reckoned that another few months in the U.S. is not all that bad.

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My name is Cara. In Nigeria, people will call me Títílayò (pronounced Tea-tea-lie-oh) or Títí for short. I am 21 years old. I study journalism and Yoruba language and culture at University of Wisconsin-Madison. I am days away from leaving the U.S. for a year to pursue these two areas of study at the University of Ibadan, one of Nigeria’s best universities. I am going with six other UW-Madison students, all of whom have been taking Yoruba with me for the past 2-3 years.

To reiterate what I said in the video, I’m going live in Ibadan, a big city about 150 miles north of metropolitan Lagos (hence the name of my blog) for one year. My head is spinning with all little things I still need to purchase, friends I want to see and American amenities I want to soak up before I depart. Some of you know me and what my trip to Nigeria is all about, but for those of you who don’t–or for those who know but still can’t wrap your head around the fact that I will be in Nigeria for a year–let me explain how I got myself into this.

When I arrived in Madison for freshman orientation, I had no idea what I wanted to study. Before sitting down to sign up for classes, my orientation group heard an African professor speak about the richness of discovering new languages, especially African languages because UW has the best program for African languages in the country. He encouraged us to check out the First Year Interest Group Program (FIG). FIGs are classes first semester freshman can sign up for to make the transition from high school to college easier. They are two or three prescheduled classes that are all interrelated and consist of the same 20 students. Sitting at the table with my peers, I wrestled with the plethora of political science, psychology, literature and spanish classes available to take. Nothing really excited me. My mind kept returning to the FIG called “The African Cultural Expedition” that included a Yoruba language class, a Yoruba culture class and a global cultures class. I felt like this FIG was my calling. I had been to Angola in high school to do teacher training workshops and help build schools and NGO called RISE International raises funds and materials to build. The idea of studying something that I would not be able to do any other time in my life and that would enable me to function independently in Africa one day captivated me. In Angola, I picked up speaking Umbundu pretty well, I thought, Yoruba shouldn’t be too difficult. I knew that signing on to take Yoruba would be something that would change my life forever. And how it has. Now, six semesters, four 20-page papers in Yoruba, and hundreds of vocabulary words later I am going to Nigeria to utilize and strengthen my Yoruba skills.

In Ibadan I will live with a family. I don’t know anything about the family yet, but I am thankful for this arrangement because it will be more of a cultural and language immersion than living in a dorm would be. The year in Ibadan is broken up into three sessions. Over the summer, the students in my program and I will take intensive Yoruba language classes which will amount to 40+ hours a week of instruction. In the fall and spring we will attend a few classes at the University of Ibadan and do an internship in our area of study. All of my Yoruba teachers at UW are from Nigeria and tell me about all the opportunities I will have to do journalism internships. I will most likely be working at the University’s radio station (speaking all Yoruba of course), or a TV broadcast station in Ibadan.

The reactions I get when I tell people I’m going to Nigeria for a year vary. Everyone is initially astounded to hear me say a country other than Spain, Italy or one of the more usual study abroad countries. Many look at me like I’m crazy. They are totally confused and dumbfounded at why I would ever go to a country like Nigeria where the only news from there that reaches the U.S. is about fighting, corruption and unrest in the oil-drilling areas. Some people think Nigeria is Nicaragua and feel like idiots when I tell them I’m going to Africa, not Central America. After I give the whole spiel about me speaking Yoruba people are very encouraging and excited for me. For them and everyone else I say thank you. All your words of support and skepticism invigorate me; they keep me realistic about the weight of the trip and experience I am embarking on.

It’s one week away. I’d better finish packing…

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