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Culture Shock: Nigerians in America

From their Bed-Stuy apartment, a local couple is building a bridge across the Atlantic Ocean

When Bed-Stuy resident Abi Ishola-Ayodeji, 31, was completing her graduate degree in broadcast journalism at CUNY, she and a group of other students as a part of school project started a podcast named “Culture Shock,” about the challenges of new immigrants in America.

Abi was born and raised in the United States, but her family is from Nigeria. With the podcast, she was able to explore the complex challenges and subtle differences people like her own family experienced while trying to adjust to American culture.

“I wasn’t born there, but I have been to Nigeria a few times, met my family there... So there are things I do and I carry from my parents, and I didn’t realize it until I went back that, ‘Hey, this is where I get this,’” said Abi.

Abi enjoyed working on the show so much that even after she graduated and went on to work as a broadcast producer, she decided to keep the idea for the show going.

She joined forces with her husband, Kunle, 34, who is also Nigerian, and began recording the show right from their living room under the same name, “Culture Shock: Nigerians in America.”

“I realized, every time I go [back to Nigeria], they don’t really understand what life is like for us here. You know, a lot of times they think things are easy, wonderful; it’s America! So I wanted to connect with people back at home and show them what we’re going through,” said Abi.

The couple recorded a few episodes of the half-hour show, then pitched it to Splash 105.5 fm, a private radio station in Nigeria. The station, which is located in Ibadan, 1.5 hours outside of Lagos, tried out two episodes. Six months later, the station called them back to tell them they wanted to pick it up.

In July, the show will have been airing for three years, reaching a whopping 4 million people in the southwest region of Nigeria.

The weekly show features interviews with Nigerian musicians, doctors and other professionals living in America. They also pick a hot topic each week and express their views on the latest goings-on.

“For example there was a really bad plane crash that happened recently in Nigeria, and we talked for a while about that. Or we might pick something like Rihanna and Chris Brown are back together, and how do we feel about this,” said Abi.

They post weekly questions on their blog and Facebook and Tweet about it to get audience response, and then add their two-cents on the show. But mostly, they talk about life for Nigerians in America -- the great aspects and the struggles-- such as the opportunties for success, but also the challenges of getting a job.

“My name, for example,” said Kunle. “When I apply for jobs, I feel like one of the reasons I never got a call back was because of my name. People can’t pronounce my name, cannot spell it, so I feel like I’m being automatically erased because of my name.

“Also, in Nigeria, it’s all about friends and family and being really close. But here, it’s all about work; that’s it. Everything is work work work, no family. It can feel really lonely,” said Kunle, who currently works in marketing and sales.

The show is in English, the primary language of Nigeria. But they do speak in some Yoruba slang, such as the use of the word, “Kilonshele,” which is the new trendy way to say, “what’s up!”

The show runs on Fridays at 8:00 p.m. in Nigeria and can be listened to live from www.splashfm1055.com. Also, Abi and Kunle post each new episode on their website on Mondays at www.cultureshocknigerians.com.

When the couple visited Nigeria recently, some of the employees at the station were so in awe of them when they arrived, they took them around town and treated them like royalty. The manager of the station also had them on as guests of their popular morning show, during which time many of their fans phoned in to express their admiration for the American radio hosts.

“We were shocked to find out we were celebrities there,” said Abi, laughing. “We were like, ‘Wow, you like us? Okay!”

For the Ayodejis, celebrity status was the last thing they were seeking. In fact, for a long time, Kunle didn’t even tell his parents. His mother found out about the show from an aunt living in Nigeria who heard him on the radio:

“My cousin one day went over to his mom’s house and turned on the radio. They heard us and my aunt was like, ‘Oh my god, that’s my nephew!’” said Kunle. “So she called my mom here in the States and told her, ‘Did you know your son is on the radio?’”

“My mom was shocked, but she was happy, and she wanted to know more about it, and I kind of brushed her off like, ‘Uh, it’s just a show, don’t worry about it,’” he said, almost blushing. “It’s just not something you want to talk about with your parents.”

Still, the couple remains humble and excited about the waves they’re making across the Atlantic Ocean and the ease with which technology has afforded them to do so.

But more than anything, the show gives the couple a chance to be reflective, exercise their socio-political voices and actively engage with an entire community of people they know nothing about, yet at the same time, know so very well.

“We want to let people back home know, that yeah, it’s a struggle in Nigeria. But you come here, and you’re going to be met with struggles too,” said Kunle. “We just want people to able to relate to each other through that one thing that links us, which is culture.

“Because no matter where we go in the world, we’ll always be Nigerians.”

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