This is the beginning; a start to experiencing all things new, which is my immersion into country culture, one full year off the beaten track—the familiar. An opportunity to take in new sights and sounds, and maybe more…
I have my only begun to experience life as an Atlas Corps International Fellow, without the constant guide from HQ, and away in another city from most of my other fellows. I likened my journey from Nigeria to Paris to Washington to Charlotte to San Francisco to travelling two round trips to London. It is a huge country. The people are warm, throwing a small warm smile in my direction, a nod of acknowledgment and briskly walking away.
Beleaguered by tourists; I remembered in Washington, it was hard at times to get directions to places. They were as puzzled as I was and admitted most times that they were visitors, including Americans from other states. I wrote a friend of mine in Nigeria who schooled and lived in New York for a long time to share and she replied: “It happened to me too!” The map should be my shield, but I am a learner by action; can’t remember long veined red and blue lines on a print or Google map unless physically there and visually mapping my own landmarks.
But it is part of my experiences: my first trip to the US. Another fellow, Isaiah Owolabi, suggested that we collaborate to make a guidebook of our experiences to help other fellows coming on board in the future. I thought it was a great idea. We will see how that turns out.
My immersion into US country culture has been about partly challenging assumptions, for instance that my expertise refutably places me in a vantage position, especially since I co-run a company back in my country, and have led people for years. But in time I saw the danger of being blinded by my assumptions, and choose another approach. To learn, mentally, I assumed a blank slate, tabula rasa, and with humility I am learning to follow in order to grow, so I can lead better—isn’t that the aim of my fellowship? I know it is not for lack of foresight, intelligence or inferior knowledge, but only so that my learning is unhindered.
But I have had amusing experiences here. I laugh heartily each time I am corrected about my choice of words (after all, my country was colonized by the British): “It’s not chips,” I was told, “its fries.” It’s a hat, not a cap.” Even my MacBook has turned on me without prompting: it’s changed all my British-spelled letters to American. My double “LL” such as in travelled is now traveled with a single “L” and my ”s” has become “z” in my correspondences: “realise” and “realize”. But I am delighted to discover how much I can relate US politics and history with that of my country, and enjoy listening and comparing the tricks of politics.
I look forward to more discoveries as they unfurl. I wonder what the total of my experiences will be when my fellowship comes to an end, and what I can contribute to the guidebook.