I have always had an interest in West African affairs, history and culture, along with a commitment to ensuring peace and security in the U.S. and abroad. My parents are Nigerian, and prior to my Boren Scholarship, I had traveled to the country multiple times. Although my parents are not Yoruba, the Yoruba language is an important language in the country. When I found out about the African Languages Initiative (AFLI), I thought it was the perfect opportunity to acquire language and cultural skills that would further my professional goals of working in West African affairs. I hope to complete the Boren Service requirement by working for the State Department in the Bureau of African Affairs.
As part of AFLI, I began my study of Yoruba in the U.S. before going abroad to Nigeria. The intensive summer language program at the University of Florida was intense and enjoyable at the same time. Along with classroom study, we went on bi-weekly excursions related to African language and culture. It was motivating to be surrounded by likeminded students and teachers who all shared an interest in Africa. By the end of the 8-week course, I had reached the intermediate level.
I continued my study of Yoruba in Nigeria at the University of Ibadan in Oyo State. I also lived with a Yoruba host family who spoke the language with me all the time. Simply being in Ibadan, where the original Yoruba is spoken, was tremendously helpful. The environment was critical to my speaking and understanding the language. In addition to my classes and host family, I had a language partner who I met with for an hour a day, four days a week. In this immersive environment, there was no way I could not learn something new each day. Culture and language are intertwined, and as I progressed in my language skills, I began to better understand the culture. Besides my family and language partner, I also enjoyed bi-weekly excursions around Ibadan, which helped me to further realize that language learning does not take place only in the classroom.
I would advise future applicants to be sure about the language and country they chose to study. Learning a new language in a foreign country is not easy; it is fun, but it can also be frustrating at times. You must make sure your interest in the language will carry you through rough times. Your commitment and determination must be strong.
Written: December 2013