Professor of History, University of Lagos, Lagos, Nigeria
Lecturing: Islam in Sub-Saharan West Africa
Host: Le Moyne-Owen College in Memphis, Tennessee
August 2005-May 2006
In our age of global terrorism and international distrust, programs that allow college students and professors to study or teach abroad enrich not only those who leave home to participate in such exchanges, but also the citizens of the nations that host them.
There are risks and challenges, of course, for people like me who venture away from home to study or teach. World events during the past few years have fostered feelings of fear and distrust toward unfamiliar nations and cultures that are real and ever-present. For a Muslim scholar such as I to choose this point in time to come to the United States to teach does pose quite a challenge.
But although scholars contemplating work or study abroad should carefully examine their objectives, methods of scholarship and personal and professional circumstances, they should nevertheless feel confident in pursuing the goals they have set.
Intellectual and academic integrity must not flinch in the face of the fleeting pressures that may confront them in an another country. The search for knowledge must proceed apace, even if cautiously. Those who are committed to the pursuit of knowledge recognize that it is a cradle-to-grave process that may lead one to unfamiliar or even remote countries.
And once professionalism provides the inspiration to venture out, the value of the experience is truly inestimable. Through studying or working abroad, one gains a vast amount of information - practical insight as well as knowledge of one's areas of academic interest. True enough, thanks to a shrinking world it is possible for someone outside the United States to acquire good knowledge of the workings of American society. But the practical insight and experience that a working stay here confers is incomparable.
I have found that the benefits of this unique experience compensate handsomely for the risks inherent in it.
In my family, the profession of history is a tradition, one which I have cherished from a very early age. I love teaching and research , and welcome the challenges and opportunities that I have found in London, Saudi Arabia and other parts of the world where I have been privileged to work as a visiting professor.
Against that background, I welcomed the fresh opportunity to work at LeMoyne-Owen College that came my way as a Fulbright Scholar resident.
Though the experience of two months is necessarily limited, I have found at LeMoyne-Owen a well-articulated concern about providing higher education opportunities for the entire population and a great commitment to the fulfillment of that cause. It is a pleasure to work in such a focused and purposeful environment.
But perhaps what I have loved most in Memphis are the people I have been privileged to meet. Residents of mega-cities are understandably shy of strangers, and city dwellers can be reserved.
More than many other city dwellers that I have come across, Memphians greet people when they meet them. "How are you doing?" is a popular greeting here, reminiscent of the greeting of my own Yoruba people, " Se alafia le wa o ."
At bus stops, shopping centers and small gatherings, Memphians do not wait for formal introductions; they pick up conversations and relate with beautiful ease with others. Almost at every turn, Memphians are ready to lend a helping hand - ready to make sacrifices to ensure that visitors such as I feel at home, even though we are away from home.
And as for the citizens of Memphis and other places that host educational exchange programs, do they not also benefit by welcoming visitors from other nations?
By inviting scholars from abroad - and particularly from an Islamic culture such as mine - into their homes, educational institutions and workplaces, Americans show their government's and citizens' openness and tolerance toward other cultures. They demonstrate this country's commitment to the letter and spirit of its Constitution, and people everywhere should salute them for it.
The whole purpose of the international exchange of scholars is to foster mutual understanding between the participating countries. As the late U.S. senator from Arkansas J. William Fulbright once said, our goal in the world community should be to cooperate in constructive activities rather than compete in a mindless contest of mutual destruction.
As citizens of the world, we may be hard put to find easier or more effective ways of bringing this cooperation about than sharing the genius of the human mind across national borders.
Tajudeen Gbadamosi is a professor of history at the University of Lagos in Nigeria. He is a Fulbright Scholar in residence at the Center for African and African American Studies at LeMoyne-Owen College.
Story and photo courtesy of the Commercial Appeal newspaper, LeMoyne-Owen College.