I have always found the international work environment appealing, mostly for the opportunity to collaborate with interesting people all over the world – but also to travel and experience new cultures. It was, therefore, another good turn on the “road since Wageningen” when I got accepted for an internship with WorldFish in Egypt. I remember different people had all kind of advice for me when I told them about the opportunity, and one thing stuck out – stereotypes and prejudices gained from a global media that thrives on bad news.
My internship was in a research station in Abbassa, Egypt - a small town in the Nile delta region, close to the Suez canal and renowned for its agriculture. I was to work with a group of scientists on a sustainable fish food project. The project aims to support the sustainable intensification of fish farming in low-income countries where pond aquaculture is the predominant system. This is done through researches that seek the most efficient method of utilizing the resources of the pond systems while ensuring efficient utilization of added inputs. I was beyond excited by the prospects it offered and would not be deterred.
I remember my first impression of Egypt as soon as I got out of the airport, it was another city that doesn’t sleep. I mean I am from Lagos, Nigeria, with undoubtedly the busiest nightlife in the global south, but Egypt gave another meaning to nightlife. It wasn’t just young adults and the working class moving around in search of entertainment, but also kids out in the streets, opened restaurants serving warm kebab and other night food, electronic stores displaying the latest gadgets – it was like the concept of day and night was flipped backwards. I finally confirmed my suspicion when after a week of my arrival, a friend invited me to join them for a soccer game at 11 pm!
Expectations and outcomes
My internship was great and met my expectations in terms of content and outcomes. I got the chance to learn from some of the best aquaculture scientists on the continent. Professionally, it was a great opportunity to expand my network. More so, I got to practice the knowledge I had gained from taking courses in Wageningen. My responsibilities included writing the experiment protocol, conducting the experiments, preparing samples for laboratory analysis and reporting regularly to supervisors in Egypt, WUR and WorldFish headquarters in Malaysia. One of the “challenges” of being an international student – I think – is that feeling like you carry the weight of representing your identity on your shoulders all the time. In the Netherlands, I felt like I represented Nigeria but in Egypt, I added the extra weight of WUR. But I did carry that weight proudly and it was fulfilling. Besides the science, the favourite part of my daily activities was walking to the pond sites to feed the fish. I took the opportunity to soak in the ambience of nature and bond with the fish. There is something calming about walking close to a pond and seeing all the fish get excited at your arrival. And ever since I returned to the Netherlands, I miss doing that the most.
What meant Egypt for me?
However, Egypt was a lot more than just research and science. Egypt was fun, an eye-opener and a huge lesson in the benevolence of humanity. During the weekends, I travelled to Cairo to do touristy things. I saw the pyramids, visited the museums, walked the ancient cities, drank from 500 years old water fountains, ate Koshari in diners that boast of hosting some of Egyptian finest poets in the past, took train rides and got lost on some, and most importantly fell in love with the people and their kindness. As I returned to the Netherlands, I reflected on how much Egypt has taught me never to believe the stereotypes and always give people the benefit of doubt, taught me to take the road wherever it may lead when the opportunity calls and be the best version of myself always.