"Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."
These famous words by JFK mean a lot to Americans, but they also apply to Nigeria's National Youth Service Corp, a.k.a. NYSC. Established in 1973, the NYSC was a way for the country to move forward after the Nigerian Civil War -- a way to reconstruct, reconcile, and rebuild the country into a united front, with the youth leading the way. With more than 250 ethnic groups comprising the country's population, it was important for the government to establish an institution that would bring different cultures together to emphasize the spirit of "oneness" in all Nigerians, irrespective of social background.
So for three weeks, in every state, hundreds of thousands of college graduates gather in designated camps, set up like military bases, to go through what I consider a kind of social boot camp. Immediately following boot camp, you are assigned to a post in your field of expertise for one year, sort of a long internship, while doing community service every week. From the feedback of friends who have gone through NYSC, I can adamantly say everyone's experience is unique.
Am I up for the challenge? It depends. There are some friends I've talked to who have survived NYSC, despite the challenges, and keep me pumped and motivated and ready to go. There are others who are telling me ways I can get out of it. At the end of it all, my trepidation boils down to anxiety about the unknown.
No person can fully prepare me for NYSC. On the eve of my departure, here are five "cons" -- that is, aspects of NYSC I'm really not looking forward to -- and five "pros" that could make the experience all worthwhile.
Five cons to NYSC camp:
1. 4:30 a.m. wake-up calls: I am all for physical training, but I'm not sure how functional I'll be at that hour.
2. Man'o'war parade drills: There isn't enough sunscreen in the world to convince me that turning 10 shades darker just to march in 90-degree weather in the dead heat of the day will help me become a better citizen.
3. Food: Most establishments that have to serve thousands of people at once deliver food that's way below five-star quality. (One exception was the Olympics; the food in Athens was really good.) For NYSC, I expect to have my juicy fruit, crackers and granola bars ready to go.
4. Accommodation: This includes open-spaced rooms packed with up to 40 people, old-fashioned bucket bathing with no hot water, and sanitation that would not meet Mr. Clean's standards. Help!
5. The beginning: As with every new challenge, the beginning is always the toughest, and although I've been counseled to have an open mind, is it too much to hold on to the good ole' days of working at ESPN, enjoying a hot shower daily, and my fabulous bed?
Five pros to NYSC camp:
1. Friendships: For someone who spent the better part of her life outside the borders of Nigeria, it's a great opportunity for me to meet people my age and to network.
2. Inter-platoon competition: This ranges from sports competitions to dance-offs and beauty pageantry. Expect me to battle it out on the basketball court and stay far away from the catwalk. Do I smell a comeback?
3. Mami Market: There is one thing that everyone who's been through NYSC agrees on: After a long gruesome day in the sun, it is a great place where a person can unwind and relax over some cold drinks with some newly found friendships.
4. Friendships: Yes I know, it was first in my list of pros, but I believe it's worth noting twice.
5. The end: I came! I saw! I conquered! As a former competitor, I think there is nothing greater than overcoming my self-doubt and proving to the naysayers that I can make it to the end.