Elijah Dikong is a visiting assistant professor in Michigan State University’s Department of Statistics and Probability. Dikong hails from the West African country of Cameroon, but has spent a considerable amount of time in the United States. The Big Green talked to Dikong about his education background and cultural differences he has observed in American both within and outside of the college environment.
The Big Green: What made you want to teach in America?
Professor Elijah Dikong: Everybody wants to come here. America is the number one country in the world… probably in everything. I say probably because I think there are some things that other parts of the world put America maybe second or third. First of all, I did my Ph.D. and I wanted to gain more experience teaching here. When I had my PhD, I went back home [to Cameroon], worked for two and a half years; but I really wanted to come back to benefit from the scientific group in my area, and expanding my knowledge, and not to forget the American Dream.
TBG: Where did you get your Ph.D.?
Prof. ED: Florida Institute of Technology.
TBG: And how did you end up here [at Michigan State]?
Prof. ED: See, when I went back home… there [were] two full ride scholars, from [the United States] who came to teach where I was teaching in Cameroon. They were just fascinated with my work-the devotedness, the seriousness- I’m using the words that they themselves used. So, when they were leaving. I chatted with them and asked them if they could invite me over to their institution. Well, they promised when the got back they would talk to the chair of the [statistics] department, so when they got back they put me in contact with the chair of the department. I was invited for two semesters, but I had the possibility to stay for three years. But they started to have budget problems; because of that I moved over to Southern Illinois University. They too started to have budgetary problems, so they couldn’t support my scientific work, and I then moved on to Michigan State University. I applied with the Department of Statistics and Probability, I came for the interview, everything went smoothly, and here I am.
TBG: From what you’ve observed, can you describe about how collegiate students in America are different than collegiate students back home?
Prof. ED: It was very evident to me. One of the first things I [noticed] when I started teaching here. Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s a good chunk of American students who are very serious. But, if I take the whole group, I’m really disappointed. If I take students in my [home] country, they’re very serious, very concentrated, very devoted. Now, you find some American students who are like that, again, don’t get me wrong. But, if I take the whole group of students [in Cameroon] in terms of seriousness, devotedness, they are the top and with limited resources. Here, there is almost everything and most of the students don’t want to take advantage of [it]. Now one other thing I noticed between American students and the students in my home country is that, you know, the students in my country are very respectful to their professors. [In Cameroon] you don’t call your professor by his first name; I know that is a culture here. Or…what I’ve noticed sometimes: a student gets into my office, doesn’t even greet me. Can’t say ‘Hi’ or ‘Good morning’. Just bumps into the office: ‘I’ve come to take that quiz that I didn’t take.’ To us, it’s like an insult. But, I’ve learned that that’s the society, and it doesn’t bother me, but initially that troubled me a lot. [In my country], you come into your professor’s office, it’s ‘Good morning sir’ or ‘Good afternoon’, you ask what you’ve come for. You don’t just get in and you start telling the professor why you’re there without greeting, or at least acknowledging him, his position, and so on.
TBG: Are there any other cultural differences you’ve noticed outside of the collegiate environment? Like food or strange little things?
Prof. ED: Food is very evident. In my country it’s totally different. Here, you eat a lot of fast food, you know, burgers. I think about five years now I still have problems eating burgers.
TBG: You’ve been in America for five years now?
Prof. ED: Yes, close to six even. I still have problems with food, typical American food. You know, I go to the Trowbridge, the nearest city [that] will have some African food stores and get some African food and come home and cook. I eat American food, but it’s not my priority. I have American friends, they visit me, you know, and I enjoy barbequing. But in terms of food, if you were to ask me if it were possible for me to bring all my traditional food from Cameroon over here, I would do it.
TBG: Slang is probably a big difference as well.
Prof. ED: You mean like slang used by Americans? Yeah, I’m getting used to that. Initially it was tough, ‘cause a student would talk to me and I would not even understand. Now, they are not conscious that they are talking to a professor, they want to maybe be a little more formal. They use more of the ‘street slang’ of language. The one difficulty I had when I came back [to America], our society [in Cameroon] is slow-paced, so we don’t speak fast. Americans speak fast, they like shortcuts. Like I always say ‘I’m going to’, you say ‘I’m gonna,’ -something like that. Now I understand that.
TBG: Now, overall how would you describe your time in America? An enjoyable experience?
Prof ED: Oh yes, yes overall. I don’t regret coming back here, I love it. If I have the opportunity to still teach here as long as possible until I start having grey hair, then I will go back home.