By: John Mabilangan, Columnist
Photo by John Mabilangan/ The Towerlight
Bolanle Kelechi Ola, commonly known as Bola, is a graduating senior studying MB3 (molecular biology, biochemistry, and bioinformatics). Born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria, she was no stranger to multiculturalism. Her father was Yoruba and her mother Igbo, which are two geographically distinct cultures in Nigeria.
“Even though it was all in Nigeria, both Yoruba and Igbo have significantly different languages, cultures, belief systems, and traditions,” Ola said. “All of this was shared under one household which was pretty cool to grow up with a mix of both.”
In Nigeria, Ola attended Trinity International College, a boarding school in Ofada, where she would learn, study and sleep during the week, until it was time for her to go home on the weekends.
“It was pretty strict,” said Ola. “We wore uniforms, we couldn’t wear jeans and shirts to school. There were a lot of strict rules that we had to follow and the education was also hard because you don’t necessarily learn, more like you had to cram to pass the exams.”
Boarding school was a struggle for Bola due to the aforementioned strict rules and the challenging curriculum she faced. She eventually developed a dislike for school. Originally, she had planned to continue her education in Nigeria, until one day, she visited the United States.
“A couple years back, I went to the U.S. to visit some relatives living in the U.S., for the first time,” said Ola. “During that visit, my aunt took us around to the different tourist sites in Maryland. I even got to check out some universities here, too.”
After seeing America, Ola suddenly began developing thoughts of studying in the United States. With the support of her mother, Ola was able to convince her father to offer his support in her study abroad ambitions. Ola came back to the U.S. in 2016, where she spent her first two years in community college.
“In short, the reason I came here was education,” she said. “Not like it was bad in Nigeria, but here it was better. The rules were less constricting, and there were more opportunities and more things to discover. It was fresh and new to me and I fell in love with it.”
Upon finishing community college, Ola was able to receive a scholarship that enabled her to transfer to Towson University.
“The facilities were nice and new, and what I really like was the cultural diversity” shared Ola. “People from different cultures and backgrounds was something I was already used to, so I really appreciated coming to Towson and seeing all the cultural diversity.”
Though the diversity of Towson was comforting to Ola, it also posed situations in which she found herself needing to adapt.
“It was nice seeing all these people and all, but it was getting used to the social environment that was the hardest” she said. “In Nigeria, usually if you greet someone ‘good morning’ or ‘good afternoon,’ we would often have some small talk about the day and how things have been. But people here just say ‘hi’ or nod and just keep on walking. Also, having an accent really hinders me from speaking up sometimes, since people might misunderstand me. Over time my accent has improved, but also I decided to care less about the accent and say what I want to say.”
Aryanna Andres, a Towson University student, is a co-worker of Ola’s at the International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO).
“She’s a very hard worker and is very driven in what she sets her mind to,” shared Andres.
Rachida Koudjra is both a friend of Ola, and another International Student at Towson University.
“Bola is a very simple person and easy going,” said Koudjira. “She has a good work ethic and an ambitious personality, and I respect her courage and ambition to reach her dreams.”
As Ola’s journey in Towson nears its conclusion, she often reflects on her own ambitions as well as on the support she has received on her journey.
“I have to say my friends, my coworkers in ISSO, and my family were really supportive” said Ola. They remind me to work hard and reach my dream. I want to go to med school and some day go back to Nigeria to help the economy there. Until then, I don’t want to disappoint my parents, my friends, my coworkers, and myself.”