A Young Black Girl from Nigeria Becoming … Project MyStory

Coming to the USA Part 1 – Life as a Nieman Kid

UAlbany Student, Ayo describes her journey from Nigeria to the USA, to UAlbany, and what she has found out about herself along the way.

Hello again!

Now, I would like to reflect on the first time I came to the United States. This was in August 2008. My mother was selected as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard, and I accompanied her as a Nieman Kid. That was my first international trip and as fate would have it, it was to the USA, a country so many desire to travel to!

Image and description of Ronke Olawale from the Harvard Nieman Fellows Class of 2009 Page

I still remember our ride from the airport, Boston Logan, to Dunster House, one of the undergraduate dorms at Harvard. Everything, and everywhere looked so different – and amazing to me in Cambridge, and the Dunster House. Everywhere was lit at night, which was not always the case in Lagos where electricity was often cut-off. Cambridge was quiet and organized, with a small crime rate unlike Lagos – Nigeria or even other cities in the USA. This was home for me for nine months.

Living in Dunster House is still vivid. Dunster House is an undergraduate dorm and so there was no dull moment. I had never lived with so many people around, so it still felt different but I became more comfortable. The area was always busy, with students coming in and out but everyone went about their business, almost always in twos and threes. There was a main entrance area with the House Manager’s office, leading to students’ rooms, but our 2-Bedroom, fully furnished apartment was behind the office. Our interactions with students were limited since they, just as us, went to their classes in the morning. When we got back, we were mostly in our apartment chilling and if my mom was out we had a babysitter helping with homework or doing activities to keep us busy.

My family and I got to eat three times every week with the students at their cafeteria. I loved eating with the students, even though we didn’t always share a table since there were already 3 of us, my mom, my brother and me. There was a variety of meals to choose from, whether it was breakfast, lunch or dinner. You could choose to make your meals from scratch and the staff would always do it. There were also different kinds, and colors of drinks, and juices but of course, no alcohols. Everyone had their meals placed in a tray. You could find in someone’s tray, three different colors of juice. There was a lot of waste too. I remember asking my mom if that was how they eat in college. When my mom had her events, she paid the Harvard students who helped babysit my brother and I. Two of these babysitters are still some of the kindest people I have known in this country. They read books and played games with us. I found the place to be a safe for me as a young girl. Looking back now, I feel lucky and count it a privilege.

We have two Nigerian-American students as friends. The one who lived in the dorm took me and my brother out to play in the courtyard a few times, while the other took my brother to basketball games. Though I wasn’t thinking of college, it was fun just being in the space with the students even though I did not talk to most of them. For school, I attended Martin Luther King Jr School. The school was diverse as most children of international students at Harvard University, including Nieman kids of 8 other international Nieman Fellows also attended the school. We had a cultural day when I dressed in my Nigerian attire, and other students dressed in their national attires including Ghanaian, Russian, South African, Indian, Japanese, and Chinese. This event was an exhibition of diverse cultures that enrich the US cultures. I think people should be proud of their cultures, and others should be willing to share these experiences, including clothes and foods from their heritage without shame.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School Image

The greatest part of our year in Boston for me was meeting and playing and going on tours with other Nieman Kids. On our first day together, which was the reception on August 28, they served lobsters. They were so huge – I had never, and still have not seen such big sizes of lobsters anywhere else outside Boston. But they helped serve small portions for us kids. We were all kids, and we were all friends. No discriminations. We shared our toys, played together in the courtyard at Lippmann House where the Nieman Fellowship office is. We had our own events and they sometimes had babysitters to watch us at the fellowship house when our parents needed to do their own things. We traveled to Maine, Cape Cod and New York. In Maine, we stayed with a host family for two nights. We cooked and ate some meals together, and also traveled on a boat. I have a lot of pictures from this year, including one with the Nieman Kids and the program curator, a copy of which hangs on the wall at the Nieman Fellowship House. My copy will always be a prized possession.  

We hope that you are enjoying Ayo’s journey to the USA and to UAlbany. There are many twists and turns.
Your opportunity to share: If you have lived or studied abroad, please share a bit about your first experiences in the country/countries? How have those moments prepared you for your academic journey?


Established in March 2015, Project MyStory is a community building effort to help students better acclimate to UAlbany and to work more effectively toward their goals. We began in UAlbany’s Academic Support Center (ASC), where you will see many of the posters featured above. We are now co-housed in ASC and in the Center for International Education and Global Strategy (CIEGS).

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