Colorful Nigeria – Adapting to the Unexpected, by AC4 Fellow, Claudia Schneider

View of downtown Abuja, capital of Nigeria

Nigeria is a uniquely colorful and captivating place, in many regards. You will find rich and poor side by side. Air-conditioned shopping centers sit across from narrow, dusty, labyrinth-like markets. Mansions of the rich contrast corrugated roof huts of the poor. Endlessly sprawling cities neighbor tiny villages hidden in the jungle.

Bustling street life in one of the many suburbs of Abuja

With more than 500 languages spoken in the country, it is a true melting pot. The country is struggling to unite its rich and diverse cultural, ethnic, and religious heritage to pave the way towards prosperity. It is a rocky road towards peace and sustainable development, and Nigeria certainly still has a way to go.

‘Street vendors’, three sisters selling snacks to passengers at a bus stop

Conducting research in Nigeria is not easy. It is a stark contrast to running studies in the sheltered environment of a U.S. university using students or online populations as study participants. My time in Nigeria this summer was a lesson in adapting to the unexpected and being ready to embrace a different work environment and pace.

A common Nigerian sight: Fruit and vegetable vendors at Karu market

Challenges arose which I could not even have imagined. For instance, printing out study materials is a job easily outsourced in the U.S. and completed quickly by a copy shop. In Nigeria it was a challenging, adventurous, day-long endeavor. The actual printing was a several-hour long process each time since copiers are slow, internet connections are bad, computers are old, and resources like ink, staples, and electricity are sparse. Getting to the printing place was a 30-minute journey that involved taking a ‘taxi’ (which are shared cars functioning like busses that have pre-set but unmarked stops) to a junction and then shifting to a little ‘keke’ (a three-wheeled open vehicle). What I did not know was that the taxi would drop me on one side of the highway and in order to reach the spot where all the kekes were waiting for customers, I had to cross a 10-lane highway which, at the time, Nigerian drivers converted into at least 14 lanes– not an easy task! And, even more so, as I made my way back with a box of 200 questionnaires on my arms! While this mini-adventure certainly had a fun and exciting components, it was also challenging to deal with such unforeseeable obstacles when running on a tight schedule and coordinating study activities.

The lesson I learned was that flexibility is key and that one needs to be ready at all times to adapt to the unexpected when engaging in field work. However, there is also much to be learned from a slower environment that puts more emphasis on social relations and face-to-face interactions. While meetings in the U.S. are scheduled by the minute and once the time is up people will be itching to leave and carry on their work; we carried out productive, long sessions with the team in which everyone was ready to spend all the time it would take to complete the task at hand in a non-hurried fashion. Overall, my summer in Nigeria conducting field work was a challenging but also enriching experience that made me grow in many ways as a researcher, leader, and student of the world.

Meeting at the Nigerian Prison Service Headquarters to discuss details of the field work.


Author: Claudia Schneider, a 2017 AC4 Graduate Student Fellow, is pursuing a Ph.D. in Psychology at Columbia’s Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. This summer she travelled to Nigeria for her project focused on A Social Psychological Intervention Fostering Pro-social Motivation Towards Ex-Prisoners for Sustainable Peace in Nigeria. More on her research driven project can be found here.

Photos: taken and provided by author, Claudia Schneider.

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