I have just returned from the US Consulate in Lagos for the pre-departure orientation of the new departing scholars of the several dozen Fulbright programmes in Nigeria. All of them have been chosen after keen scrutiny and fierce competition, and will now be spending varying number of weeks in the United States in the coming weeks. The shortest of the programmes end in two weeks while the longest lasts up to ten months. All fully funded, with health insurance, travel allowance, monthly stipend, transportation and a lifetime of networking opportunity. There were a total of 53 Nigerian grantees this year, and they were chosen from nineteen partner Universities in Nigeria. We’re told that there are also about 11 American Fulbrighters in Nigeria for this year. But they weren’t at the Nigerian pre-departure orientation, for obvious reasons.
It felt good to be back in that compound after one year. It was also of some pleasure to find that half of the departing FLTAs were those that were turned down last year when we all made the shortlist. Their persistence has paid off, and they are now heading out in a few weeks. A happy reunion. I had about forty-five minutes to talk with them about my experience and answer all their questions. The questions were some of the same I had last year: Do I need to take plenty Nigerian food along? Will I be able to use my Nigerian phone while abroad? Just how many Nigerian type clothes do I need to take along? Will I be able to survive on the stipend and still make some savings? Among several other questions. There were some other fun ones too: Should I date a white person? How do I go about it? How cold is a cold weather? How will I live without my Nigerian telephone for one year etc. It was a fun gathering. I have asked them to keep in touch while they’re abroad. I won’t tell them about this blog just yet.
I also made a very wonderful discovery: I have become the second president of the Union of Campus Journalists of my old University to become a Fulbrighter. I was surprised. I was happy. I was warmly intimated with an almost forgotten past when I found out that the other Fulbright Alumni brought to speak to the departing folks was none other than Sheriff Folarin, the president of UCJ from 1994-1996. I knew him while I was the president of the student club between 2002-2004. He was a lecturer in the department of History. Now he’s a PhD holder, lecturing at a University in Ota. A sign of progress, and the leadership building capabilities of that then-just-a-minor-University Journalism club. I also discovered today that another past president of the club (1993-1994) Laolu Akande is the New York bureau chief of the Nigerian Guardian. Now I have to find him when next I find myself in the Big Apple. The point here is that before the Fulbright, there was the UCJ – that now-not-so-little University club of young student journalists that provided an early intimation for me and for its many products now all over the country in different professional capabilities for a life of service and adventure.
The press was then eventually invited into the meeting, and they got to ask questions of the departing travellers, and us the returning ones. One question that the guy from Radio Lagos Mititi (who made me speak unadulterated Yoruba for the first time in months) and the woman from Radio Nigeria both asked me at different times, without seeing each other, was “Since you have been back, what have you done to positively impact the country?” Good question, right? Not really. I’ve only been back for two weeks. And I’m not the Messiah. But now I know that there is an unwritten expectation to become something positive, immediately.
And so it begins.
Cheers to the new guys.