“The Fulbright Scholar Program is real people-to-people contact. It certainly provided that for us, and it really gave us an up-close look at another country and its cultures,” said Phillip Horton, a computer science professor at Covenant College. “You would like to see people learn about our country one-on-one, and Fulbright finds that avenue. It gets you close to people and gives people the opportunity to know them and them to know you.”
Although Horton had previous experience working in Nigeria, he was not without apprehension when he accepted a Fulbright Scholar award and decided to not only to spend a year in a foreign country, but to also take his family—wife and 7th and 10th-grade daughters—along with him. “It’s scary to pull your family out like that,” he explains. “You are not sure how they are going to react.”
Finding a good school for his girls was key. It wasn’t long after being at Hillcrest School that the girls began flourishing in Nigeria. As for Horton, University of Jos’s solid relationship with the Fulbright Program and the Fulbright Scholars, along with his contacts from his previous time in Nigeria helped tame his concerns.
“When I went back for the Fulbright award, I knew that there was a nucleus of people who had an interest in information computing technology (ICT),” Horton said. “I think it was an advantage for me to have previous contacts, so I was able to go in and work with people and assist people from some prior knowledge and experience,” he continues. The Fulbright Scholar believes that his efforts to tailor his proposal to the specific needs of his host university helped him make the most of his experience in Nigeria.
“The time goes by so quickly. There’s so much to do, and you get there and there’s only so much that you can do,” he explains. “If you are not focused, your efforts tend to be watered down.”
Having an enthusiastic and supportive dean was also of great help for Horton. The dean had read Horton’s proposal and was 100 percent for it. “That was just so exciting for me,” Horton said. “He was so happy about what I was proposing and said ‘This is what we’re doing and I’m going to be your first student.’”
Horton’s project consisted of workshops and seminars designed to teach educators about information computing technology and its use in the classroom. There were two series of workshops. The initial series was an introduction to the technology conducted in small groups of eight to ten, while the second series took a more in-depth look at how to use technology in teaching and research, especially from the development perspective.
In all, Horton trained 85 academic staff in the faculty of education at the University of Jos.
“I felt it would be more effective for me to work with the faculty than with students,” said Horton. “If you teach a hundred students, then you’ve taught a hundred students. But if you teach a hundred faculty, then you’ve taught a hundred times more.”
Horton said he was glad for the opportunity to work in the area of technology at a time when the Internet was coming to fruition at Jos University. “When I came, I brought 10 computers and set up the first network that the University of Jos had,” said Horton. “And I did training classes for other people around the campus. It was a unique thing to contribute to.”
What was most important for Horton was being part of a strategic plan for the future. “I think the universities are critical. I think that’s where the future of our nations are,” he said. “University of Jos recognized how much the Fulbright Scholar Program contributes to their university. They see that this is a contribution that America is making to them. Their door is open. They have a good track record and they know the Fulbright Program and Fulbright people.”
Having a supportive home university, Covenant College in Georgia, was another important component for Horton’s successful Fulbright Scholar experience. “We require all of our students to have a cross-cultural experience of some kind, so it was only logical for faculty to do so likewise,” said Horton. “It’s just as priceless for the college to allow me to have a year-long term in Nigeria.”
When Horton returned to the United States, he made numerous presentations to faculty and students about his experience. “They expect and almost require of me to share what I have learned,” said Horton. Both the faculty and the students were always excited when he gave his Fulbright Scholar presentations.
Horton continues to keep regular contact with his colleagues in Nigeria who continue to seek his advice and assistance in obtaining resources. “Nigerians are very friendly and very giving people,” he said. “If you come into their home, they always want to give you something.”
Many of Horton’s Nigerian colleagues were trained abroad, so they were aware of Western standards of higher education and were familiar with the resources. ”There’s a fairly high level of awareness of the United States and the U.S. education system,” said Horton. “What they may be a little confused about is what African-American means. For them, you’re either African or you’re American. A black person in Africa to them would be an American, not an African-American.”
The Fulbright Scholar experience is one that neither Horton nor his family will forget. In fact, Horton’s 17-year-old daughter went back to Nigeria with Horton for one of her friend’s graduation. “It really is a life changing experience for children and something that they will never forget,” he said.
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