Omotayo Akingba’s big journey in the US began with his decision to go to a small college. The Nigerian — who grew up in Swaziland and South Africa — chose to pursue his bachelor’s degree in business administration — at the College of Idaho. Total population: approximately 1,000.
He knew that here, in the college’s beautiful, residential campus is located in Caldwell, part of Idaho’s vibrant Treasure Valley, he wouldn’t just be another face in the crowd to forget. He would be a face people would get to know — and he’s right.
Below we talk to him to learn more about how he’s connecting with the campus community, life in Idaho, and his favourite classes at college.
Is there a personal story behind your interest in business?
At first, it was because I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Studying business was more the direction I was going for because of its impact on my life — everything is business-implicated.
The fact that we exist just to work and trade with each other is the one thing I really resonated with. I think the business environment is somewhere I can utilise my people expertise.
What made you choose to study this at the College of Idaho?
I come from an institute from the United World Colleges (UWC) where, once you graduate, you get sponsored by the benefactor to colleges around the world. The College of Idaho was on the list and it was exciting to see a small one there where I would feel like I wasn’t just another number. I’m also a fan of the outdoors (like camping) and nature.
What do you like most about the US and Idaho? Do you miss your family?
Homesickness is not constant, it ebbs and flows. There are times where you feel really homesick but there are times where I know if I went back home, I could only spend a week around my family because they irritate me.
I also travel a lot which I think has been really exciting. I’m trying to visit all 50 states here and I’ve been to seven so far.
What state was your favourite?
California, because there’s so much cool stuff there and people are nice. I like to see a greater variety of physical appearance but people who think differently. No shade on Idaho but it’s predominantly white, full of farms and very homogenous.
What have been your most outstanding classes so far at the College of Idaho?
So, I’ve had some really good classes with great professors here. I think the standout ones were probably with a now-retired professor. I took my public policy class with him.
I’m majoring in business because I wanted to understand how those two intersect with people. I’ve also taken a couple of really interesting history classes like the history of Latin America.
It’s not that I learned something new but it’s been the fact that I’m understanding better and thinking more critically. I noticed I’m more inquisitive especially when it comes to smaller things.
For example, the other day I was saying, how a lot of pet owners declaw their cats and I was wondering the way in which we treat animals is interesting. How do we differentiate ourselves from these animals? How do we differentiate ourselves across socioeconomic factors?
I think I owe that to the classes where my professors have forced or encouraged me to think critically and always question.
You mentioned you’re working as well, tell us a bit more about working and studying at the same time.
I’m part of the student development experience at the college where I basically ask for donations for the college. The only reason I’ve had this job for the longest time is that it’s the easiest one on campus.
I got very used to rejection at an early age in my childhood so being on the phone is easy for me. The fact of the matter is, with the job, I’m able to afford other necessities that my scholarship doesn’t cover like textbooks, toiletries and so on.
Walk us through the rejection you faced before.
I didn’t grow up rich so during school, there was a level of social rejection from an early age. Also, being Black in a very racially diverse but obviously white-dominated area was something I dealt with.
My parents tried to get me out of public school in South Africa so I could go to a private school but in the early 2000s, they were 50% white and I began to see myself as non-white. Then I came to Idaho and that’s when I felt distinctly Black.
That has stemmed from multiple areas of rejection: my skin colour, the country I come from, and all those things. I’m Nigerian but I grew up in South Africa so xenophobia was also an aspect of rejection.
However, all of that really taught me to value myself and my own self-worth a lot. It borders on narcissism sometimes and I’ve been trying to humble myself. Being bullied and all those other things have really made me empathise with people.
Share a little bit about your hometown with us.
I was born in Nigeria but I didn’t live there because my dad got a job in the Kingdom of Eswatini (known as Swaziland) very early on. So, when I tell people I’m from Nigeria it can be a bit misleading — I was born but never grew up there.
After 10 years in Swaziland, we then left for South Africa and we moved around a lot. It’s a little cheesy but I like to say I take home with me because I get to choose my family everywhere I go.
That’s probably why homesickness isn’t hitting me too much because I’ve been away from home since I can remember.
What about the food in the US compared to home. Do you have any favourites?
I’ve had an issue with food since I got off the plane. It’s very American, I don’t know how else to put it — a lot of fried, greasy food. I don’t know if I’ve had as much fried food as I have here and very basic.
There’s not a lot of flavours — oh, you can have a burger today and tomorrow you can have a cheeseburger. Maybe I’m exaggerating a little but I feel like it’s all the same.
I’ve been missing my mother’s cooking a lot recently so that’s probably adding a little bias to my opinion. The food’s not terrible, our cafeteria does a really good job at having an international section (which is mostly just Asian food). I do a lot of home cooking but it’s hard to find ingredients, especially in Idaho. However, my sister is in California and I visit her often.
My least favourite would definitely be eggs. I like scrambled eggs but it’s when the yolk is still intact, it’s so weird. Omelettes are fine but sunny sideup? I will literally start puking. A boiled egg? Oh no, I’m dead.
My most favourite would probably be Mexican food, I’ve been really getting into a lot of the Mexican restaurants and I enjoy having “tacos” (small hand-sized corn or wheat tortilla topped with filling). I’m a huge meat fan so you will always find me getting lamb or steak or something.
What plans do you have after graduating? Further studies or entering the workforce?
So, I’m getting my bachelor’s now and during the summer I interned for eBay Incorporated which was really fun. They thought I did a good enough job and offered me a full-time position next year so I’ll be in the finance department working for the next two years.
Afterwards, I’m thinking (still in novel stages now) of coming back to school and probably getting a doctorate or something. Not entirely sure yet though, plans could change.
Congratulations! What advice would you give other international students who want to study in the US?
My biggest advice would be to relax. I was very anxious about how I would cope and handle everything and I realised that fear and anxiety really stopped me from experiencing things during my first year.
Especially things like just going out or hanging out with people because I thought I needed to get all this stuff done. It’s a lot of pressure on international students to go abroad, be successful, make money and make your family proud. These are good goals but it takes away from the experiences of college.
International students don’t give themselves enough leeway to enjoy those things because of this. I think the important thing is to relax and get acquainted with what you can and can’t do and how you can mitigate the gap between those two.
Lastly, let’s finish up with three fun facts about yourself.
This question is so hard, I don’t even know if I’m fun enough to answer that. The first would be that I love horses and it’s only been about four weeks ago that I got to ride one for the first time.
I love rugby. Lastly, I have lived in six countries now: Nigeria, Swaziland, South Africa, Ghana, Mozambique, and the US. Okay, I’ll add another fact. I’m not the biggest fan of chocolate at all. However, I love Black Forest cake because it just tastes so good.