Eleven Yale graduate students, most from the School of Management, spent their spring breaks in Nigeria meeting many of the country’s leaders in the public, private and nonprofit sectors.

The trip provided a unique, structured opportunity for students interested in visiting Africa and gave Nigerian SOM alumni an opportunity to interact, the trip’s main coordinator said.

In 1999, Nigeria instituted a civilian government with a new constitution after 16 years of military rule. Since then, the government has been working to implement economic reforms and resolve long-standing problems of instability and corruption.

Jide Olateju SOM ’04, a native of Nigeria who coordinated the trip, said it was successful in helping dispel misconceptions which the students, like many Americans, may have had about Nigeria. He said many of the students had safety concerns that were not based on fact, and some backed out of the trip for that reason.

“I realized that there was a huge knowledge gap about how things work in Nigeria — a complete error in the perception of the country,” he said. “I certainly could see a country in transition on certain levels — I think it was a bit of a shock [to the students].”

Monisha Merchant SOM ’04, who had never been to Africa previously, said her opinion of Nigeria changed after the visit.

“My only knowledge of the country was based on articles that I had read in the American press,” she said. “It was great to go in and see the country, experience it, meet people, and get a different perspective on what it’s really like over there.”

While in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, students met with officials from government agencies such as the Securities and Exchange Commission, Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission, Central Bank of Nigeria and Nigerian Deposit Insurance Corporation. In Lagos, they visited firms including PricewaterhouseCoopers, met with entrepreneurs and visited the University of Lagos.

Merchant said the student’s meetings with people who have started businesses in Nigeria were especially interesting.

“It was really exciting to hear their stories, their experiences, their motivations — how much they’ve gone through and what they’ve learned from it and how much they love what they’re doing,” Merchant said.

Olateju said the trip also gave Nigerian alumni a rare chance to network and strengthen their relationships with the University, which will help advance what he called Yale’s goal of becoming a global University.

“A lot of Yale alumni who are Nigerian have absolutely no interaction with the school or each other,” he said.

In addition, Olateju said, he sees a need for Yale to more actively recruit Nigerian students. The country is Africa’s largest exporter of students to American universities, he said, but the students have relatively little information about Yale.

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