A Semester of Discovery

Ignoring the scorching heat and stinging sunburns, Tigist Menkir ’14 strolls through the vibrant street markets, admiring the colorful ankara fabric of bubas and kabas, traditional Nigerian dresses.

Menkir went to Nigeria for the second semester of her junior year, from the end of January to early July.

Throughout those six months, Menkir spent time with her father, who works at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture.

The previous summer, Menkir had interviewed staff workers of IITA, such as the security guards, the environmental scientists and the director general, to produce a video documentary of the research compound.

During her filming at IITA, Menkir also had the opportunity to briefly meet Olusegun Obasanjo, the former president of Nigeria.

“It was a thrilling experience, meeting so many kinds of people who made IITA,” Menkir said. “This was ultimately the main purpose of the video: to not only educate others about IITA’s function and progress in agricultural research for farmers in developing areas, but also to learn more about the people who work to make IITA the way it is.”

After seeing her film, the bioscience director of IITA gave Menkir an internship to document the lab procedures, such as gel electrophoresis, bioinformatics and DNA extraction. Menkir filmed the documentary in a video format that would be both informative and instructive for new employees.

“I enjoyed my days at the internship running down the hallways, past the Extraction Room to the Liquid Nitrogen storage, with my camera tools,” Menkir said. “Although it was a tad taxing, it was also fun to redo shots again and again of the technicians, because I would always get an entirely different and more developed document of their actions.”

In addition to her internship and documenting at IITA, Menkir also attended school in Nigeria and took rigorous supplementary online courses.

With six other girls from IITA, Menkir took a bus from the secluded research compound to the American Christian Academy, which is located in a more populated area of Ibadan, the capital of Oyo State.

“I would walk in the bus and enter a world of debates, gossip or in some days, complete silence,” Menkir said. “I could discuss with my Nigerian friend about her experiences as a Nigerian model, or hear my friends explain certain ‘Americanisms’ they found interesting.”

Every morning, Menkir and her junior and senior classmates gathered before school for “pep talks” and personal interaction. Menkir’s initial fears and anxiousness were immediately dispelled, she said.

“As soon as I saw all the smiling faces and waving hands, I felt much more at ease,” Menkir said. “Most people I came to know were so affable, open, tolerant and enthusiastic that soon this overall joy factor rubbed off on me, and I began to smile much more often.”

And though none of her fellow classmates were taking AP exams, when Menkir left her test room in early May, friends and schoolmates welcomed her with claps and cheers.

“I was a little tense and worried, but then I would receive such overwhelming support,” Menkir said. “From these experiences, I have come to develop a more relaxed and less stressed approach to dealing with my worries, or what I seem to think are ‘troubles.’”

And although her classmates all spoke fluent English, Menkir had some initial difficulties overcoming lingual barriers when she encountered her friends’ Nigerian Yoruba slang.

“It took a while for me to get accustomed to common phrases of the area, English and Nigerian, such as ‘wahala’ or ‘don’t vex,’ but I began to understand the gist of the discussions,” Menkir said.

“By having friends of a multitude of nationalities, backgrounds and interests, I learned how to accept, embrace and enjoy the various ideas and outlooks which they brought with them,” she added. “From my part, I was able to share my own cultural beliefs and attitudes with my school community there.”

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