Assistant professor of French Kodjo Adabra displays passion for education across cultures

Before he came to Geneseo, assistant professor of French Kodjo Adabra lived in the Togolese Republic as an activist, because of his actions, he traveled to the United States as a refugee.

Adabra said that when he went to high school and college in the late 1990s, the government was dominated by a dictatorial regime, which led students to speak out against it. Adabra and his peers held many strikes that resulted in arrests and abuse.

“Our efforts were not seen well by politicians because it made the country look bad from the outside,” Adabra said. “Their solution was to intimidate us.”

Adabra explained that students in Togo must pay for their education from elementary school through college. At the time there was only one college and the seats from freshman to sophomore year decreased drastically, which he said caused a high unemployment rate in the country.

“It took a lot of rights away from the students,” Adabra said. “You have the right to get educated, but … being poor and having to pay for school for that long and then … being failed not because you didn’t succeed but because there weren’t enough seats for you to move forward caused a lot of frustration.”

A book Adabra started to write about the regime’s impact on youth caused most of his problems with the government. Adabra said that someone found his book on a computer in a cyber cafe and turned it in to the police. The police destroyed any evidence of the book and brought Adabra to jail where they tortured him.

When it was finally possible, Adabra left jail and Togo to start a new life in the U.S. He first arrived in Maryland to stay with a family friend and later moved to North Carolina and Tennessee to work on his masters and doctorate degrees.

“The transition was very difficult,” Adabra said. “Moving from a country where I used to be a leader and talking to people all the time … to a new culture where I knew no one and couldn’t even speak the language.”

Adabra said he attributes his quiet demeanor to the language barrier he faced when he first came to the U.S. He said that although he had a lot of thoughts running through his head, he couldn’t let them be known to others around him.

A major cultural difference Adabra said he noticed was the way people interacted in Togo compared to the U.S.

“In Africa, you’re never alone,” Adabra said. “Even people you don’t know are family. When I came here … I realized that you couldn’t just go to someone’s house or see someone in the street and just want to talk. Those things don’t exist where I come from.”

In Togo, Adabra said he studied business, but studied French literature in his masters and doctoral years because of his newfound interests in philosophy and “the bigger questions that are not answered.”

Adabra said he decided to become a French professor to encourage students to be successful both in and out of the classroom.

“What made me decide to go into teaching is the fact that this profession would give me the opportunity to deal with the younger generations and inspire them,” Adabra said. “It’s also the happiness and pride I see in someone who I’ve taught grow. To me, that is my success.”