When You Can’t Blend In: A Conversation About Molly’s Research and Time in Nigeria

While I’ve been in Nigeria, I noticed how different my experience is compared to my Fulbright peers. For one, out of the Black people in my cohort, I’m the only one who isn’t Nigerian-born, making my experience unique in that I often get called “akata” and receive a lot of questions about my ancestry. I’m also not white, and my skin tone and features are nearly the same as most of the Nigerian’s here-so I don’t really have the same security concerns as someone who stands out in a crowded space.

There’s also a huge geographical difference among our cohort. Some of us are in very big cities, while others are in small towns or even more rural areas.

I decided to have a conversation with one of my friends and fellow Fulbright scholar, Molly, who is living in a very small town conducting fascinating research.

Here’s her story:

Welcome Molly! Can you tell our readers a bit about yourself?

Thanks for having me, Kala! I was born outside of Philadelphia, and lived there until I went to college in Lancaster, PA. I graduated from Franklin and Marshall College in May 2016 and studied Cultural Psychology, which was a self-designed major in the concentrations of Anthropology, Psychology, and International Studies. After completing my degree, I moved to New York City to do epidemiology research at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC), where I studied ways that one’s lifestyle, environment, and genetics contribute to the development or progression of cancer. I had the opportunity to work directly with patients and their family members, which confirmed my interest in clinical care and furthered my desire to pursue a career in medicine. This next chapter in Nigeria is a combination of many of my passions and I am so excited to be here!

Why did you choose Nigeria for your grant?

My grant application to Nigeria was largely grounded in previous scientific work and collaboration between MSKCC and Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital. About a year into my time in New York, I got involved with the Global Cancer Disparities Initiative at Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK), which aims to improve outcomes for cancer patients in sub-Saharan Africa. Their work in Nigeria was especially interesting to me because many cancers in Nigeria, specifically breast and colorectal, look different than they do in the US. To explore this further, we created a risk factor questionnaire which evaluates lifestyle habits (nutrition, medication use, physical activity, etc) in Nigerian cancer patients and community members. My role in the next few months will be to validate the questionnaire, and to begin to administer it to patients.

Awesome! Can you describe your new home and environment?

I am living in a small apartment on campus with a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and sitting area. It’s quite comfortable for one person, especially when the power and water are working! I generally lose power/water a few times during the day/night but I’ve gotten accustomed to plan ahead for these circumstances. The environment is lush, green, and very beautiful. The OAU campus is very large and most of my neighbors work at the university or are visiting professors.


Molly with her hosts in Ile Ife

How has your overall experience in Nigeria been so far?

I’ve been very lucky to have had a great transition to Nigeria so far. My host has been very accommodating, and has introduced me to many people within the community. Though the pace is much different from life in New York City, I’m still able to find comfort in my daily routine. I’m really excited about all of the meaningful work that is happening at the hospital, and have thoroughly enjoyed getting to understand the research and clinical structures.

Describe your experience as a White person in Nigeria?

So far, I have not met another white person in Ife, so I definitely stand out. I often get a lot of stares or curious looks, especially when I am off campus. People are quick to call me Oyibo, which is slang for “white person”, whenever they see me. I get a lot of questions about how my skin reacts to the heat, the products I use in my hair, and if I can tolerate spicy food.

That must be interesting, how does that make you feel?

It makes me feel even more aware that this is the experience of many, many individuals all over the world. They are questioned about their appearance, and not always in a curious manor. I am trying to be with that awareness, and recognize that this is not an individual experience.

What has been the most rewarding part of living in Ife?

The most rewarding part of living in Ife has been working with the oncology research group at the hospital. Many cancers here are diagnosed at late stages, which can often be very difficult to treat in a limited resource setting. It is the hope that the study I am working on can establish modifiable risk factors in a Nigerian population, placing emphasis on prevention, awareness, and education of different types of cancer.

What has been the most challenging?

The most challenging part of the transition has been how dependent I have to be on my friends and colleagues for everyday tasks such as buying food or housing supplies. I’m not supposed to leave the campus by myself, so I have to plan my time around if somebody else is running an errand or going to the market. On the few occasions that I’ve tried to do something independently, I’ve been charged very inflated prices or been incessantly asked for my phone number which can be a challenge. This reliance on others is definitely an adjustment from my independent lifestyle in New York.

 What’s been your most notable moment of growth lately?

I’ve noticed a change in my perspective on my life here, which seems like a significant moment of growth. When I first arrived, I remember being overwhelmed by so many little things – driving to work, buying food, showering – but I now feel like I’ve settled into a good routine and lifestyle. The tasks and projects that used to bring me worry or anxiety are now just a part of my everyday life, and that feels like I’ve grown and adapted!

Thanks Molly for your insight! It’s always great to hear other people’s experiences! More to come!




One thought on “When You Can’t Blend In: A Conversation About Molly’s Research and Time in Nigeria

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  1. That’s a highly illuminating interview. What an experience it must be for all of you, albeit in different ways to live, learn and amongst the Nigerians.


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