ITORO UDOFIA

The Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, Smithsonian Institute and Study Abroad in Ghana

Throughout my college experience I have been fortunate to focus on different topics that are of great importance to me, such as theater, youth development, creative writing and the African diaspora. In the beginning, I was not sure how I would combine these things together. Thankfully, with the guidance of my adviser Louis Wilson, we created a special studies focusing on precolonial and colonial Africa. The special studies helped me understand the black experience in a larger context. I spent that year harvesting and processing all the new information I was acquiring.

After that, I decided that I needed to work "in the field" and learn from those who were working in a more hands-on environment. I had the opportunity to intern at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage at the Smithsonian Institution during the fall semester of 2007. I worked with Diana N'Diaye, a curator known for her extensive research on the African immigrant populations in various parts of the world. At that time, she had conducted much research on first-generation African immigrants in Washington D.C. and I was organizing her research in the archives. I realized that there was little research done on the children of these immigrants. It seemed important to start hearing the stories of these children who, undoubtedly, were weaving themselves into the North American fabric. I spoke to my adviser and she encouraged me to do an independent research project which would extend the African immigrant story to the stories of their children.

I began working with African immigrant youth who spoke openly about how they identified themselves in North America. One highlight was when I worked with a group of high school students who wrote a play about fleeing war-torn countries and the issues that rose from their situations. I helped direct the play which was performed and well-received at the annual African Immigrant and Refugee Foundation Conference at Montgomery Community College.

The next semester, spring 2008, I went abroad to study in Ghana. I conducted another independent research project that enabled me to continue my love of working with youth. I worked with students ages 8-17 and my project focused on youth participation in traditional storytelling. I spoke to the students about their feelings concerning storytelling and many expressed the sentiment that the traditional stories did not relate to their life experiences. Together we worked to use the format of traditional storytelling to engage their stories and experiences.

Itoro Udofia is a senior major focusing on literature, theater and diaspora studies.