College can be a big adjustment for any student. For international students like Boma Zelma Aminigo, the transition can be uniquely challenging — and rewarding. Growing up in Nigeria, Boma had a certain perception of Americans before arriving at UB. “In Nigeria, if someone comes back from America, we all think they must be rich. Now, I see there’s need everywhere.”
Looking to immerse herself in everything her new country has to offer, Boma found the Alternative Break program as a way to experience new cities and give back through service projects. “I always wanted to do volunteer work and help people, but didn’t really have the chance back home.”
The Alternate Break program allowed Bona to explore Buffalo and other American cities during her academic breaks, learning about various cultures along the way. As a freshman, she worked with Buffalo families through the Buffalo ReUse Center. During a trip to New York, she helped rebuild houses on Staten Island damaged by the Hurricane Sandy. There, she not only learned to use power tools for the first time, she was also inspired by the rebuilding efforts. “We met a man that lost his home in the hurricane, but devoted all his time to helping others.” Most recently, Boma traveled to Cleveland to work with disabled individuals as well as senior citizens living in a nursing home.
With her desire to learn more about the world and people around her, Boma was also excited to take part in the Intercultural Leadership Retreat (ILR), a joint program sponsored by the Intercultural and Diversity Center and Student Engagement. During the two-day retreat, Boma was enlightened by opportunities to find common ground with other students through intimate discussions about identity, culture and values. She appreciated ILR so much that she returned the following year as a peer mentor.
As Boma expands her experiences, her views on the world have evolved. “In Nigeria everyone’s the same. No one ever says the word black.” But when she came to the US, she realized that “someone might just see me and say `that’s a black girl.’ I didn’t really think of it that way.”
Talking with others and sharing her experiences has also helped Boma understand who she is - and made her reevaluate her plan for after graduation. “At first thought I’m going to live in America. Most people who leave Nigeria don’t really plan to go back. America is seen as the promised land.” But she misses her friends and family, and she feels that Nigeria needs a lot of work and development. “If everyone is leaving, who’s going to change the place?”