A few years ago, any international student arriving at Lakehead Orillia had a very different university experience than they do now. Their homesickness was intensified because there were almost no other overseas students on campus.
Things began to change when Bolu Fabanwo decided to do his commerce degree at Lakehead. “I’ve been fascinated by banking since I was a little kid,” he says. “My parents hoped I’d be a chemical engineer like my dad – he worked for a large oil company – but I’d made up my mind.”
The autumn day Bolu stepped out of a taxi and onto Orillia’s campus, though, was a shock. “I didn’t realize Lakehead was in the countryside. I wasn’t used to such a small population – my hometown of Lagos, Nigeria, has over 20 million people.”
He felt an overwhelming loneliness. Then, as he sat in the silence of his dorm room, his roommate Eric knocked on the door and introduced himself and his parents before taking Bolu around the entire floor to meet the rest of the students. “I became friends with them all,” Bolu says. “That wouldn’t have happened if I’d gone to university in Toronto.”
Once he started making friends, Bolu began transforming the culture of the campus. “He possesses great empathy for anyone who feels alone, judged, or out of place,” says Katie Fraser, international engagement specialist.
“I used to be shy but now I go out of my way to connect with people.”
He helped get the University’s varsity soccer team off the ground and while in his first year, the outgoing president of the Lakehead University Multicultural Association (LUMA) approached Bolu about becoming the new president. Under Bolu’s leadership – and with the hard work of the executive team – LUMA grew from four members to 39 members.
He also inaugurated a multicultural day that soon expanded into a multicultural week. Strolling through campus, students, staff, and professors enjoyed chai tea, got henna tattoos, and sampled snacks from different countries. The vibrant atmosphere fostered greater pride in Lakehead Orillia. “Being an international student at Lakehead changed my life,” Bolu says. “I used to be shy but now I go out of my way to connect with people.”
Bolu continues to be a force to be reckoned with. He’s planning to do a master’s in finance and some job opportunities have come his way. One, at a local bank, is a chance to fulfil his childhood dream. “I’d start at the bottom and work my way up.”
Read more stories about fascinating people and discover how our students, researchers, and over 63,000 Alumni in 97 countries are opening the world. Visit Lakehead’s 2017-18 Annual Report at openyourworld.ca