Chinonyerem Olumba was awarded with a distinction in Information Systems Management (MSc) from Sheffield University, United Kingdom, in the 2018/2019 academic session. The 27-year-old Nigerian from Imo State shares the secret of her success story in a foreign land with JAMES ABRAHAM

Chinonyerem Olumba

Did you have your early education in Nigeria?

I came to the UK in 2018. Before then, I studied in Nigeria. My undergraduate studies were completed at Federal University of Technology, Owerri in Imo State.

So, why did you choose to go to a foreign university?

I chose a foreign university for several reasons – personal and academic. First, I wanted a change from the mode of instruction I was used to from studying in Nigeria and I enjoyed travelling so I naively thought about it as an extended vacation. Also, I considered reputation and quality of education. I soon realised that being on holiday in a country and living in that country were very different scenarios. Also, I specifically chose the UK because it was only a six-hour flight away from home. I could complete my studies within a year and the language of instruction was English which I was already familiar with.

What is your experience as an African student at Sheffield University, UK?

I had a great experience studying at the University of Sheffield. I have been involved in several activities in my role as International Student Ambassador which involves sharing my experience as an International student with prospective students. I chose Sheffield because it was not as popular as London or Manchester and so, I assumed it would be the best place to focus on my studies and excel as I would have less distractions. I am glad I made this choice because not only are the people of Sheffield friendly, the city turned out to be full of pleasant surprises. My university has a high number of international students, so I never felt out of place.

At what stage did you realise you had what was required to perform exceptionally in your studies?

I would say I always knew I had the potential to excel. I believe everyone has the potential to excel. What turns that potential to reality is exploiting it. My mum always drummed it into us in typical African parent fashion. You were always expected to be top of the class or face reproach if you did otherwise!

I was not the best student as an undergraduate and I narrowly managed to graduate with a second-class upper degree. Subsequently, I made a promise to myself that if I ever decided to study further, I would prioritise my time to ensure that I achieved my academic goals while having enough time for fun activities and travel.

The motivation was always to make myself and my parents proud and to be proof that school is cool.

Are you in touch with your old colleagues back home?

I have several friends who are back home and I am keenly interested in mentoring students back home to excel academically. I even have a brother who is still in school in Nigeria.

What do you consider as the factors capable of hindering students academically in Nigeria, as many of them excel abroad?

I would say factors which are limiting students back home are a lack of responsibility, transparency and resources. The lack of responsibility is on the part of the student. Most students are not genuinely interested in pushing themselves to the max. Most often, they are just interested in passing their courses regardless of the grade achieved. This might be due to a false narrative being proffered by public figures that education is not important. Students usually do not realise this until it is too late. Your popularity might make you millions (of naira), but it is your knowledge that would keep you a millionaire and this is where education comes in.

Also, there should be more transparency in the school curriculum. Marking guides can be made available to ensure students tailor their efforts towards what their tutors expect.

Finally, more study resources should be made available to students. While in the UK, I had access to several resources; both tangible and intangible that contributed to my success. I could spend as many nights as required in the library preparing for an exam and if I decided to study from home, I had access to online resources.

What was the focus of your MSc dissertation?

My MSc dissertation was on ‘The role of mobile phones in the social inclusion of women in Nigeria’. I chose this topic because I am passionate about technology and in the welfare of women. Not many Africans have shared African stories. I believe in using technology to improve lives and processes and thus it was only natural to want to investigate how mobile phones have led to the inclusion and empowerment of women. I looked at mobile phones because more people owned phones than laptops and people who owned laptops in developing countries reportedly using their phones more often than their laptops.

How easy was it to graduate with a distinction in a foreign community?

I would say it is never easy being the best out of an excellent and academically sound group of people whether black or white. However, it is achievable. I received the Dean’s Award for academic excellence and for demonstrating social responsibility in extracurricular activities. I also worked as an International Student Ambassador and Faculty Representative so I had to manage my time very wisely. I also had to work late at night and remind myself of my goals whenever necessary.

What would you say are your success factors?

I would say my success factors are trust in God to continuously walk with me, trust in myself to be accountable and driven and in the universe to reward my efforts with success.

Also, involving myself in school activities and maintaining an open mind developed my interpersonal skills and helped me work well in teams, which are requisite factors for success.

What advice do you have for young girls out there looking to excel internationally?

My advice to all the young girls out there is to have an open mind and always seek to broaden their horizons. Do not get pigeonholed or smothered by imposter syndrome. You deserve to be recognised for your intellect as well as your beauty and culinary skills. It does not have to be one or the other. You can excel in all aspects of life and you will be a happier and more fulfilled individual.


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