“I Will Follow You Back to Your Country”

By Adlina Atikah Amran

“Be on standby to fly out to Nigeria at any time,” read the text sent by my boss, the Managing Director of COMMUNICATE.

We had been tasked with organising an Open Day for the Government of Nigeria following the end of the Nigeria Economic Growth and Recovery Plan labs, providing end-to-end services from content creation for the event’s communication materials to event management.

The moment I received that text message is when the weight of the project pressed on my shoulders. Up until that point, I had already successfully fielded the curveballs from the project and I always knew there was a possibility I would have to participate in some engagement on the ground. Yet I still felt that I was not prepared to fly to Africa. My tummy did a few somersaults and I started having sleepless nights up until the day of my flight.

Amidst all that panic I took a step back and thought to myself – what was I so afraid of? What was it that made me so worried? I doubted that it was the work itself, as it was something I was used to doing and I have a fantastic team to support me.

After much introspection, I admitted to myself that my biggest worry was change. I admitted that I was not ready to adapt to an unfamiliar environment and manage communications for the first foreign clients I had worked with. Ironically, I serve an organisation which champions change and transformation, but there I was, afraid of change.

Try. Do not be afraid to try.

“Every mountain top is within reach if you just keep climbing.” Photo of Aso Rock in Abuja, Nigeria, by Adlina Atikah Amran

Following my self-diagnosis, I decided that my anxiety-ridden days should not prolong, and I needed to break out of that cocoon and face my reality. I fully embodied the transformation ideology and took this as an opportunity for career and personal elevation. I put my game face on and prepared myself to make that 20-hour journey to Abuja, where the Open Day was being held.

The next few days before my departure were a challenge for the COMMUNICATE team as we worked with stakeholders in two time zones. We would be perched in front of our laptops from 9am to 6pm Malaysia time, and then 9am to 6pm Nigeria time, which is 7 hours behind our local time. Working double the work hours, our days literally never ended.

It was also a race against time as the work involved the production of physical deliverables which require special printing. Our days revolved around cycles of writing, designing, editing and reviewing, up until final approvals.

Finally, the time had come for me to board that flight. My team and I flew in 10 days prior to the event and received a warm welcome from our Nigerian counterparts, which eliminated 70% of the worries I had. Frankly, I felt foolish for worrying so much before my departure. The work was the same…but different in many ways. It required adaptation on our end and clear and concise communications from both parties to make the work, work.

The experience was an eye opener and it taught me to be exceedingly detailed and clear in my instructions and explanations, to never assume and to trust the people I work with. There were, of course, hiccups along the way, some so complex I felt like we would never find a solution. Most of the issues we encountered were expected but there were some which I was absolutely not prepared for. The smallest of them being…the inconvenience of not having access to an A3 printer and a car at 11pm on the night before the event.

Nonetheless, with the combined effort of all parties and despite the complexities we encountered, COMMUNICATE was able to help the Nigerian Government pull off its first Open Day.

So, who followed me back to my country?

I returned from my 10-day trip to Africa, my first foreign work assignment, with a wealth of experience, wisdom and courage to transform. That is what followed me back to my country.

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you are.” Photo by Adlina Atikah Amran

The biggest lesson I learned was that no matter what comes your way, never be afraid and trust your capabilities because if you do not believe in yourself, who would? If you ever need help, do not be afraid to ask and learn from others who are more experienced. Mistakes are inevitable, but that should not hinder you from doing your best. You should always own up to your mistakes and make them right.

Fast forward several months later, and my experience in Nigeria has proven to be invaluable to my career and personal development, plus it makes a great conversation starter!

If you ask me, I would do it all over again.

(True story: I was running around the event venue making sure everything was going to plan when out of the blue, I heard someone speak as I zoomed past him at the main entrance. In a deep and low voice just loud enough for me to hear, he said, “I will follow you back to your country”. What he said gave me chills, but I just laughed it off and for my safety, hung around my team for the rest of the event!)