[Audio] Meet Stephen Emoche Agada, a Murray State International Student from Nigeria
Murray State University is home to a diverse body of international students. Stephen Emoche Agada is a graduate student from the Benué state in Nigeria. He says he came to MSU because it had a good ranking and the courses he was looking for when deciding to study abroad. On Sounds Good, Matt Markgraf speaks with Agada about his hometown, cultural traditions and differences, misconceptions and how a member of his family is on the front lines with the Nigerian Army fighting Boko Haram.
Nigeria is a large country, roughly the size of Texas and Lagos is the "commercial town" of Nigeria, Agada says, like New York City. If you want to business to grow in Nigeria, he says, you have to start in Lagos. Still a developing country, Nigeria has seen growth in building, road and education infrastructures in recent years.
Agada studied in his undergraduate years at Ahmadu Bello University, where his mother is a professor. Because of this, he says, it was easy for him to cope in school. There, he studied sociology and anthropology. Now, working towards his graduate degree, Agada is studying public administration at Murray State. He hopes to one day work with the Nigerian government after receiving a PhD.
Studying at Murray State
Having been at Murray State for six or seven months, he says Murray is very welcoming and he's happy to be here. He says it's difficult being apart from his mother, with whom he has a close bond. He hasn't missed a day speaking with her.
Back home, respecting elders is very important, he says. He wouldn't call people older than him by their names - whether it's his father or someone even four or five years older. He says people often refer to each other as 'bro, sis, auntie, uncle, sir or ma.' He says it feels offensive addressing people - like his professors - by their first name in the United States. In Nigeria, you might fail the course if you called your professor by their first name, where they'd be addressed 'sir' or 'ma.'
Also, he says, you cannot reach for an elder's hand to shake it. You can shake their hand if they offer it, but a younger person cannot offer first.
Some other traditions involve not stepping over someone if they have their legs sticking out. Agada says he doesn't know why this is, it may be a superstition. Another is touching someone with a broom, which is considered rude.
Agada's father is retired from the Nigerian Army. He works as an amnesty consultant and doctor with a military hospital. His mother is a professor. They have been married for 36-37 years. He has three elder sisters and a brother. His brother is a captain in the military and his sisters run a cake business.
Fighting Boko Haram
His brother, serving in the Nigerian Army, has been in Maiduguri for two years helping in the fight against the Islamic militant group Boko Haram. He says that the difficulty lies in the unconventional way Boko Haram fights, "springing out" and shooting, sometimes taking the army unawares. "These guys, they are actually prepared to die. They're not scared of anything, they just come and choose themselves to die," he says.
Agada's brother has been shot four times. Stephen recalls a phone conversation in which his brother describes getting shot in the neck and left hand. His brother has been on the front lines every day for two years. "You can imagine how my family is under pressure," he says, adding that his parents spend most of their time praying. He says family friends have died.
He tries to speak with his brother every day, and says when he doesn't hear from him after a while he gets scared. "Because sometimes I just start thinking that the worst has happened." One time, he didn't hear from him for 20 days. Eventually, his brother checked in saying he had to prepare for an attack and is fine.
Agada says since coming to the United States to study seven months ago, no one has ever asked him about Boko Haram. He says "Sometimes, I just feel like 'how come no one has asked me?'" He knows people read news and feels like they should be informed about news around the world. If this conversation does come up, it's with friends or acquaintances from Nigeria and Africa.
Living in the United States, he says a lot of people incorrectly refer to Africa as a country. He says he often has to clarify that Africa has over 50 countries and that Nigeria is one of them.
He says also people assume that African people "live in trees." He says he doesn't know why people think this, "I'm like, okay... people stay in houses." While there are large cities like Lagos, many also live in rural areas. He says in these areas people live "less formally" wearing traditional outfits, which he says is a way to preserve cultural heritage. "If you start moving too much into the formal world you forget a lot about your heritage and at the end of the day you might not have anything to turn back to," he says.
Heritage & Language
Heritage is an important part of Nigerian life. Agada comes from the state Benué. His tribe is the Idoma. There are numerous tribes in Benué and near where he's from there are the Tiv, Idoma and Igede among others. These tribes have local governments within the state and local governments within each tribe. He comes from Orokam village, which is also where his parents grew up.
Even though most people in the tribe speak the same language, there are different dialects. For example, if someone comes from the nearby city of Otukpo to Orokam, the words are different. English is the language taught in school and spoken in the marketplace, he says, but when you go home you go back to your roots. He admits he's not fully fluent in his tribe's language and says sometimes he can't speak to elders without reverting to English. Good morning is "um-ah-chee" in the Idoma language.
In school, Agada recalls learning about the Nigerian government. They also discussed governments in other countries like the United States presidential system to Great Britain's parliamentary system. Nigeria declared independence in 1960 and became a republic in 1963. Since then, the country has transformed from parliamentary to presidential. The military regime ended in 1999. Muhammadu Buhari is the new president and was once head of state in the 1980s.
Agada recommends visiting Abuja, which he says is a very beautiful - albeit expensive - city. It doesn't have the same hustle and bustle of Lagos. Nigeria's largest city can be fun, too, if you're "ready to move." Also, Jos is a nice city worth visiting, he says, for its geographical diversity on the high plains. It doesn't snow in Nigeria, but November to February is known as the Harmattan season, where it gets really cold and dry. He says it was fun to experience the first snow of the season in Murray because he'd never seen it before.
Agada says one of his favorites is Okoho soup. His mother and sisters make it from the fibers of the okoho stick. They add spices to it and he says it's very good.
Agada says he's seen many changes in the country while he was growing up. More schools are emerging and more opportunities for youth to go to school. He says admission was traditionally based on the region where one was from, where preferential treatment was given to someone in the same state. Now that more private universities are opening, he says there are more options for young people. The youth population is very industrious. He says he has at least 20 friends back home who have their own businesses.