Every month, Fulbridge interviews Fulbrighters around the world (both current grantees and alumni) to get a sense of what life is like in different placements. This month, Megan Gleason, a 2018-2019 ETA in Latvia, spoke with JohnBosco Chika Chukwuorji, a 2019-2020 Fulbright Researcher from Nigeria studying in the U.S. through the Foreign Fulbright Program. The Foreign Fulbright Program enables graduate students and young professionals to study and conduct research in the United States.
1. What motivated you to apply to Fulbright?
I saw the Fulbright program as an avenue to get high quality training from leading U.S. researchers. In Nigeria, I work as a university lecturer. My primary research interest is psychophysiology [the study of the relationship between a person’s mental state and their physiological responses], specifically emotion regulation and health. In Nigeria, we lack the resources and expertise to use behavioral experiments and experience sampling (daily diaries) in research investigations. Cultural exchange was also on my mind when I applied for the program. Before my journey to the USA, I had not travelled outside of Africa.
2. What is your research project/topic?
I am a visiting researcher at Cleveland State University (CSU) in Cleveland, Ohio, and I conduct research in two labs: the Mood and Emotion Regulation lab, directed by Dr. Ilya Yaroslavsky, and the Aging, Cognition and Emotion lab, directed by Dr. Eric Allard.
My project is about the role of emotion regulation and its accompanying autonomic nervous system responses in increasing the risk of depression in people with histories of childhood sexual abuse (CSA). Evidence suggests that people with a history of CSA have an increased risk of depression across development, possibly because of increased sensitivity to stress as a result of the abuse. This is the project I will use for my PhD thesis in Nigeria.
3. What does a normal weekday routine look like for you?
On weekdays, I usually wake up at 8am. The bus ride to the university takes about 45 minutes. Since I am being trained in two labs, I spend 3 workdays in one lab and two workdays in the other lab. Around 3pm, I leave the lab and go to my personal office. I usually go home around 9pm.
I cook my own food because I found a store in Cleveland (La Borincana) where you can buy most African food items. I would like to eat a larger variety of foods, but the American menu seems to be beyond my budget for now – it is cheaper for me to stick to African foods. For the cost of one plate of American food, you can prepare two plates of delicious African meals. I eat at Indian and Chinese restaurants occasionally and I enjoy their food too.
After dinner, I continue to read, write, revise, or review research papers till around midnight, then I go to bed. Weekends are for my laundry, shopping, going to the gym, social/religious activities, and table tennis games.
4. What are your impressions of Cleveland and/or Ohio?
I find the community life in Cleveland impressive. Apart from the cold weather, I am in love with the city of Cleveland and Ohio.
5. What are some of the ways you’ve become involved with your local community?
I volunteer for the Happy World Foundation [an organization that promotes global citizenship education in schools]. I answer the students’ questions about the people and culture of Nigeria. Through the Foundation, I have interacted with elementary school students in Oklahoma, middle schoolers in Dallas, and high schoolers in Wyoming.
At CSU, I joined the Global Intervarsity Fellowship [a national Christian fellowship for college students], and the African Students Association. I also attend meetings of [my hometown,] Nenwe Peoples Assembly in the USA, and the Nigerian Community in Greater Cleveland. I am also fortunate to live very close to the St Ignatius of Antioch Church in Cleveland, Ohio. Members of these organizations/associations have been very helpful in helping me adjust to the USA.
I also watch basketball games when CSU is playing. One day, I would like to watch a live American football game.
6. What are some stereotypes you had of the U.S./Americans before you came? How has your experience confirmed or challenged those stereotypes?
Before coming here, I thought that in the USA, everybody stayed on his/her own and nobody cared about what happens to other people. This is because I assumed that since people work a lot in the US, they have little time for themselves, let alone thinking about what to do for their neighbor. This stereotype has changed because since my arrival in the States, people have been looking out for me, seeing what they can do for me. My experience shows the USA is not as ‘individualistic’ as I thought.
7. When you say you’re from Nigeria, how do most people react?
In general, people in the U.S. are usually indifferent to my identity as a Nigerian. The only experience which I perceived to be odd was when I was searching for accommodation before my arrival. I was told to check Craigslist for advertised vacant spaces. I saw some rooms that were within my budget and sent about 9 different emails. I was dismayed because I did not receive any reply to my enquiries. I told them I was from Nigeria in the emails I sent.
8. What is something you wish Americans knew about Nigeria?
Morality is determined by choices, not by one’s birthplace or country. There are virtuous Nigerians whose dealings are totally [honest] and they can always hold their heads high wherever they find themselves. My current landlord in Cleveland will not have any difficulty in accepting a Nigerian tenant in future because he describes me as a gentleman.
9. Has your Fulbright experience met your expectations? What will you take back with you to Nigeria?
My expectations have been surpassed by this unique experience. My advisors, other professors, staff and students are very responsive to my needs and they graciously support me. There is no limit to what one can achieve in a [supportive] environment with adequate facilities to work and learn. I have found such an environment at CSU.
10. When you go back to Nigeria, how will you apply what you’ve learned during your time in the U.S. ?
At first, I was concerned about the sustainability of the skills I will gain from my Fulbright experience. Much of the psychophysiological research equipment at CSU is non-existent in the Nigerian university I will be returning to. However, I became hopeful when the director of the MER [Mood and Emotion Regulation] lab at CSU informed me that some equipment/software is more affordable. If I get some funding, I intend to acquire some psychophysiological equipment, software and materials to enable me to train my colleagues and students in Nigeria to use them in their work.
JohnBosco Chika Chukwuorji is a 2019-2020 Fulbright Visiting Researcher at Cleveland State University, where he studies the relationship between emotion regulation and risk of depression in victims of childhood sexual abuse. He is from Nenwe, in Aninri, Enugu, southeast Nigeria. JohnBosco holds a Masters in Clinical Psychology from the University of Nigeria, and is currently working on his PhD in Clinical Psychology. Upon returning to Nigeria, he plans to continue doing what he loves (teaching), and acquire research equipment, software and materials like those at Cleveland State so that he can train his colleagues and students to use them in their own psychophysiological research.