Indiana State University Newsroom

Nigerian student unexpectedly finds home at Indiana State

October 7, 2015

Lola Akinlaja understands the importance of the ‘State' in Indiana State University.

Without it, she never would have made her way from her native Nigeria to Terre Haute in August of 2012, after her SAT scores were mistakenly sent to Indiana State despite her intention to attend Indiana University-Bloomington.

"Coming to ISU has been eventful," said Akinlaja, 21, who graduates in December with a bachelor's degree in chemistry and plans to attend medical school to become a neurosurgeon. "When I found out I was accepted to Indiana State I thought, ‘OK, I'll come check it out and transfer after a semester. Once the semester was over, though, I loved it. My teachers were amazing. This is a beautiful place."

Born in Nigeria's capital city of Abuja, Akinlaja graduated from high school in her home country at age 15 but waited three years to come to the U.S. for a higher education."This isn't how I pictured my college years, but I've loved it so far," she said. "Coming to the U.S. was a second option for me. My first choice was to study in Nigeria and come to the U.S. later, but I decided to try this out and went online to search for schools."

College isn't just the place where you go to get a degree though, and Akinlaja quickly discovered Indiana State has a lot of opportunities.

"In class I'm being built academically by professors who are concerned about you understanding the material, not just going through the motions," she said. "I was a mentor at the international student leadership training and I work for the Center for Global Engagement, both of which have given me the opportunity to become better and more comfortable talking to people and work with people who are different from me."

Her knack for languages has come in handy for her on-campus job with the Center for Global Engagement, where Akinlaja assists international students like herself.

"When I meet new people I almost always know how to say something in their language, even if it's something small," she said. "I'm good at interacting with people who are different from me which will be valuable for when I'm a doctor and have the opportunity to work with so many different people. I'm grateful that I've come to Indiana State and have had the opportunity to start doing these things before I even graduate college."

She gives much of the credit to the Center for Global Engagement for keeping her roots at Indiana State.

"That place is like home for me. Being far away from home, the Center for Global Engagement is our home as international students, where they understand that we're far from home and get homesick," Akinlaja said. "Working there has exposed me to so much of what they do to make sure that we feel home here in a new place."

Akinlaja is one of the lucky international students who returns home during Christmas breaks each year. Her parents have also come to see her at least once a year since she came to Indiana State.

"I have mixed feelings about graduating because I look at everything that ISU has to offer," she said. "I'm amazed by everything they organize for students and make it a priority to involve students on campus. I hope my next school has as much."

Her possibilities are endless now that she's had the chance to live abroad and Akinlaja is excited about what lies ahead.

"I love my country and I don't think I want to spend the rest of my life away from Nigeria, but I do want to travel a lot," she said. "The U.S. has become a home to me too because I've met so many people here. Going into medicine, I want to work in underserved communities, which are in the U.S. as much as they are in every other part of the world."

In spite of the distance, Akinlaja's Sycamore spirit has rubbed off on her younger brother who, at 15, is finished with high school and interested in coming to Indiana State.

"I've told him to hold off and wait till he's older because America is huge and the culture is very different from ours," she said. "From the way people dress to how people address each other, it's all different in the U.S. and it would be a lot for him to come here so young, especially if I'm not here."Quickly after arriving in the U.S., Akinlaja realized there would be an adjustment period.

"No one had ever questioned my English speaking skills until I came here. Even the immigration officer at the border asked me where my accent was," she said. "I traveled a lot in Nigeria and never really stuck with an accent. When I meet new people here they can't understand why I speak English so well, but English is the official language in Nigeria and we're taught in English at school."

While she has taught people things about Nigeria, Akinlaja has learned much about the world from the people she's met as a Sycamore.

"Before I got here, I never thought about how this experience would expose me to so many people and experiences and I've done it all just by coming to ISU," she said. "These have been some of the best years of my life. I got to do chemistry research and travel to national conferences in Texas and Colorado and present my research. I've been able to interact with the community through drumming dancing classes and Global Nights, which give me the platform to show people my culture. I do have challenges, but overall the experience has been wonderful and I'm grateful for it."

Writer: Betsy Simon, media relations assistant director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-7972 or