About This Episode
In this inspiring episode of Beautiful Journey, Host Alya Michelson joins Lola Adeyemo, CEO & Founder of EQIMindset, who embarked on a life-changing adventure from Nigeria to the United States to pursue a university degree. But her journey was about more than academics; it was a transformative experience that revealed unexpected lessons along the way.
Welcome to Beautiful Journey, a podcast about inspiring journeys of women from around the world and their successes. I am Alya Michelson. Why might a woman decide to leave the country where she grew up and come to the United States, school, family, a job, or chosen industry? Or it could be the simple desire to walk around in a bikini all day.
Today, I want you to meet Lola Adeyemo. Lola Adeyemo is a scientist and a professional in biotech. She came to America from Nigeria, first to Texas to get her degree. Besides the school and the program she wanted to attend as a student, Lola told me there is an she chose to emigrate to Texas because of the weather.
I did hear you know a lot that the weather in Texas was very similar to what we have in Nigeria.
There was a lot I didn’t think about before I came. So you have to understand I grew up in the southwestern part of Nigeria. I grew up in a relatively small town, not the big, biggest city in Nigeria. I went to elementary school, in a school where my dad was a professor, a school that went up onto college, I went to the same college, I went to boarding school a couple of miles from my house. So I grew up in a town where, really, my name meant something, where I knew my neighbors were. If I needed something, I knew everybody. And so, for me, it was all about I always told my dad as a young girl that I wanted to go out of the country to further my education. And immediately I finished school, I started looking into that. And then I started looking, you know, for the next opportunity school, I did not think about, you know, like, day to day living. Are you even welcome there? Do you even fit in there? I made arrangements for my school over the phone. The systems were very, very helpful. The international student office I called whenever I had any question I’ll call the International Students Office, I called about my program, I booked appointment, I booked my pickup appointment from the airport. I paid for my apartment, walking distance from the school, right? Like I was about, I’m trying to do these, I’m trying to go to school. And it’s everything I need to do. So yeah, the school picked me up, and I go to my furnished apartment, and the showroom, they are the showroom for international students. And I went shopping to get everything I needed and then started real life with classes.
I think the first time we really don’t own me is that I’m a foreigner in a new country was when I went to the grocery store. And I was I was trying to locate an item. And I of course, you know, when you need help you ask for help. And I asked this lady, one of the clerks confidently and she looked at me
not. I mean, the look was just very interesting, because it wasn’t like, Oh, I’m so sorry. I don’t know what you’re trying to say. It was like, I don’t know what you’re saying. Right? Like, I can’t hear you. And I repeated myself a couple of times. And I ended up walking away. And I remember thinking, oh my gosh, they can’t even hear me, how am I going to survive in this place? And my education was in English. So I never was concerned about the language barrier, right? I’m thinking, Oh, I speak English. This is America. They speak English. But there was a difference. And that was the first time it really hit me that oh, my gosh, I’m here all by myself, left by large family to come into this strange place. And it’s just the beginning. What was your family supportive back home? Was your community supportive? Oh, yeah. My family was supportive. I mean, I don’t think anybody tried to stop me again is their perception of us, you know, you, you, you making decisions that would affect your life, for good, right by choosing to go to school outside of Nigeria is always a good opportunity. Right? So my family was supportive.
My parents were, of course, a little concerned. But I had friends so I had friends. I had college friends. I didn’t have any family here. I didn’t have anybody that was really very close to them that they trusted. So they tried as much as possible to kind of reach out to people get people’s numbers, but I didn’t have anybody not even in Houston, where I went to school. What was your family concerned about? I think their concerns were more around safety because you
In Nigeria, you have to understand the culture is, as a girl, as a young girl, you don’t leave the house, you pretty much leave with your parents until you get married, and then you go live with your husband. So before I moved to the US, I was in a different town working, and I was leaving with my uncle and his family. Right? That’s how it is, if you’re going to another city, look for family, and then you stay with family. Now I’m moving out at this young age to a different country where they can easily come help me. And I’m staying by myself. So it was more for security for you being female? And what did you tell them when they were saying you cannot go? You don’t have a husband? You don’t have a farmer? So what did you tell? How did they let you go? Well, they didn’t tell me that I think I was privileged in that way. My dad, at least a little bit enlightened. He was a college professor is personnel but itself, God is masters and his PhD in UK, in Exeter, and so is aware that going for an education on a student visa, you know, you have the academic system support. And I will say my husband now and I were friends then. But he lived in California. And I don’t think my dad really understand how far away it is that, you know, this person that you don’t know, who is a friend lives in a different, you know, like a different country away. So I remember, you know, in writing numbers and names of all the people I know, in the US, and I’m like, What are you going to do? If you can’t find me, you’re going to call everybody in the US.
So they really were excited for me. Or maybe I just chose to ignore the fear. Because again, when I get my mind on doing things by that nose, right, like I just make my plans. You know, I booked my appointment for my visa. And I went to the embassy, and I booked my apartment, right? Like, I’m just like that. So maybe I didn’t really give them a choice. You said that there was that moment in the store when you walked in. And you suddenly realize that you an immigrant that you not from this country that you’re different. I also had this moment in my experience. And for me, that was the moment when I actually went deep to myself and start kind of basically, you know, checking on myself and thinking what’s left for me when I left my country what I am right now, I started being very self conscious with my accent. And I probably don’t speak as clearly as I do now, then to be fair, but still, it’s this awareness of the way I talk that I had not felt before. And I remembered I didn’t feel comfortable like the way I am naturally engaging in conversation with strangers. I wouldn’t do that. When I go to the store. If somebody else is there with me, I let you do the talking. I’ll just keep quiet. I didn’t feel safe to just old conversations with people because I felt like I felt very embarrassed when people say I can’t hear you. I don’t know what you’re saying. It seems like there’s something wrong with me. And so I feel like I shot down a small part of myself. What helps you to find the voice? I think I’m still on that journey.
Because getting into speaking now, maybe my writing helped putting my my thoughts into words. Or writing it down really helped. Because again, I was in school for like 16 months full time. And so the more I got comfortable in my space, of course, I found my voice but there was a different layer of losing my voice that happened when I got into corporate America in a different city again, right. So I started to get comfortable in my school on my campus. I didn’t go to town very much, right. So my apartment was walking distance to school. A typical day for me it was get out of my apartment at 630 pack my lunch, dinner and breakfast pack my gym clothes. So it will be from my apartment to the change and shower, then go to my campus job and go to class. So I really was able to exist in a bubble for a while. But then when I got my first job in San Diego, California, another different city from Houston, right? And then I’m in corporate America, in the biotech world where there’s not a lot of women, there’s not a lot of women my color. So I feel like losing my voice also took you know, multiple steps back because I don’t belong here. I don’t fit in. I just need to know what they want me to do so I can do it. And that’s it.
Lola moved to San Diego after finishing her degree and to get corporate job in
biotech, that transition was not very easy for her like for most in her situation. One thing that made a difference was that her company had resources for employees to connect with each other based on things they had in common. Employees were women, and please her both parents of young children, employees and underrepresented groups in science and tech. Lola told me about how she became aware of the layers in the intersectionality of her identity, as a woman, as an immigrant woman. And as a black woman and a corporate job in America.
I joined the employee resource groups, I joined committees at work different from my day job different from my role. And I found spaces that helped me helped me thrive, have me find people that are having similar challenges to what I’m having, right, people have felt the same thing I felt. And I realized, okay, it’s not just me, it’s not just me, and getting comfortable in my own voice. And in my skills. It’s a longer process when you’re in corporate America. And I think I became an employee resource group member, I became an employee resource group leader, I ended up being the one that would try to advocate for other people. And then I officially joined, I was officially asked to join the diversity, equity and inclusion team. And that’s very broad, right? My responsibilities were very broad. And I realized I’m really just concerned about the people and the kind of spaces that they have, right? Employee Resource Group just fits something that was missing for me. And I wanted to help other people feel that. So when I started my own company, it’s that focus, how can I help more people within corporate America and work system feel safe, and be able to show up fully, and it’s easier to be passionate when you think of something that helps somebody else? For me, I think the more I do this, the more I find my voice, you know, because when it’s happening to me, it’s easy to just feel like oh, you know, it’s just you don’t be a baby, you’ll be fine. But when you see it happening to other people, you see people not able to show up, and then having conversations and realizing for immigrants. It doesn’t matter what country we’re from, that feeling is very similar when you are coming in and into corporate America is such a narrow space as well, because there’s a lot of support for like immigrants. Well, there’s a lot of conversation, I wouldn’t say there’s a lot of support for immigrants in America overall. But then when you get into corporate America is almost like the privileged immigrants kind of feeling like who who, you know, your life is good, you’ve got a job in a corporate place. What else do you have to worry about? I also talk about intersectionality. Separately, because the more the levels of under representation that you have, it’s a compounded impact, right? It’s not just oh, you’re a minority? It’s how many layers? How many levels of this? Do you have an outdoorsy compound to, you know, silence you to impact you the way you work. So for me, it was you know, being a woman being black in America. You know, the biggest thing for me when I came in was being a woman, because I grew up in Nigeria, and gender inequities is, I would say, is the one that has the largest impact for me, I didn’t see a lot of women, you know, in corporate workplaces, a lot of the women around me in the small town that I grew up, you know, were staying at home, or they had their small businesses. We didn’t even have a lot of corporate organizations in my town. So for me is, you know, female role models. And that expectation that the society adds that you don’t even need to go to college, right? Or the biggest compliment I heard when I was young was you’re so pretty, you know, and somebody would say, Oh, you’re going to find such a good husband, you know, so it’s comments like, that’s kind of the space I was in. But I did have, you know, my family, very educated. My father’s siblings are the medical doctor, we have another professor, I have those role models, so I knew it could happen. It was possible. But then coming into corporate America, coming into America overall, being black at another layer, and then being in the corporate workplace and then being a parent. It almost feels like you can’t breathe, you can catch a break because every layer add something different. I hear the child voice behind you. Oh, you can hear oh, that’s pretty loud.
Yes, I have three of them. So that’s my two year old. I had a very funny conversation with my older girl recently. We celebrate our ancestry roots in our family, but together with this, I felt like I belong here. I do associate my
Self was America. I’m American. And it turned out that for my children, I’m a complete foreigner. I’m just curious about conversation between you and your children. It’s funny, so my son just online just online a couple of days ago, they’re still pretty young. My daughter is six. So she has no idea. But I remember two or three years ago, when my son was making a comment about the school, I really liked the school. And then I said something about my school. And he said, Oh, did you go to my school to when you were little? And I was like, oh, no, you know, I was driving. And I just said, no, no, my school is far away in Nigeria. And it’s like, you went to school in Nigeria. I thought only grandpa stays in Nigeria. And I said, No, you can remember the mom came from Nigeria. And she’s like, so you’re not from the US.
And so, you know, and I realized, Oh, I guess I just assume my kids know, and how do I have this conversation and explain to them and so for him, it was,
he was really surprised that I’m not from here. But I speak my language, my dialects back home. And so he knows that. This is Nigeria. That’s what he calls it, even though is one of more than 100 languages.
So I don’t think they grasp it yet, but they definitely feel like they are from here. Yeah, the word immigrants doesn’t doesn’t even. Yeah, they can’t comprehend that yet.
Okay. Is there a stereotype that surprise you? And how do we combat stereotypes with analysis it? Oh, the stereotypes. So the favorite ones, which I actually added the introduction of my book as well is when somebody at work asked me if I’m trying to bring my family here.
And the way he said it, the way he phrases was like, it took me a minute, because I’m like, What do you mean? Am I trying to bring my family here? Like, my parents can come here whenever they want? And he sounded surprised. And I said, yeah, they can visit whenever they want, but they don’t want to leave here. And I think he was kind of, you know, caught off guard, like, so there’s somebody that lives in Africa, in Nigeria that doesn’t want to come to the US, and was like, everybody wants to live in us. What do you mean? It’s like, No, my dad especially does not want to leave in the US. It comes to visit because of me, but they won’t you want to relocate here. So yeah, I think people just assume that everybody here is asylum or refugee and you are taking something from them. Right, which you are, but it’s a different kind of feeling for people to grasp that we’re actually comfortable back home. And it’s my choice to be here. I could have stayed. How do we combat the stereotypes? I don’t know, by continuing to talk about this by bringing people by changing the narrative. And what am I trying to tell people is that I’m more than my name, and more than I want you to hear take time to know me. I need people to listen to this kind of conversation and realize the danger of just assuming things about immigrants because you hear their name or because you hear an accent. Be curious. Be curious. I love that. Yeah. What do you think communities can do to welcome immigrants and make the transition easier? Again, there’s a lot of narrative that is out there that the negative narratives are very dominant. So maybe having programs that create awareness programs that celebrates you know, diversity, and makes it okay to be different, because being different means you’re unique. You know, being different means that you bring multiple things to the table that other people can’t celebrating the uniqueness. Like when I talk about managers, and iron is sort of like the conversations that are going on now with parents is like, as a mom, I feel like a pretty good project manager, because I’m managing my kids schedule and my life on my work. Instead of looking at, oh, you’re a parent, that’s a liability. Looking at it as that’s an assets. You have to be pretty organized, like amplifying those aspects of being different. That really brings value to our communities that makes the community richer. That gives us more it’s like language barrier. I always tell people now I know more languages than you do. I read and write Yoruba, which is my local dialect. And I also speak English right? So when you look at my English, if you think there’s a problem, well, you have to understand I’ve got two of them in my brain, right?
That’s way better. So amplifying the positives, instead of just the negatives that the media keeps hyping.
and helping people to up their narrative because I give people the benefit of doubt a lot of times I’m like, well, they don’t know. Right? Don’t take it personal. When I was in college, I once had somebody asked me, Where do we live in Africa? Like, literally asking me, Where do we leave, I’m like, in arms. And then I was thinking about it, that’s probably all the image they ever see. Right? And that’s the narrative that has been fed to them through someone or through the TV, I you share about your accent today? Oh, I think I’ve gotten over that.
Just because now I do speak, I still, you know, depending on the kind of space I’m going into, if I’m going to a very white male dominated space, that fear that nervousness, that self consciousness is still there. But I’ve learned to appreciate the fact that I speak differently. But I also speak clearly, you know, so I can never speak like you do. But I also struggle to hear you sometimes. Right? What what do you tell them? How do they receive you, I get clear on my message when I’m going there. Because if I’m there, and I’m there to talk about something, I’m the experts to you. So I signed myself up.
And if you’re bringing me to speak, I am an expert in this topic. So you’re here to listen to me to you will pay attention, right? If I was there, you know, when I was working in corporate, if I was there, as a minority in the room, there’s a lot of getting ignored, right? There’s a lot of you say something and people pat you on the back and they move on. And you know, coming out of that, of course, it’s still a journey, I’m still on that journey. But I think as an entrepreneur is now standing in my identity, as I continue to find my voice is reminding myself I’m here, because I have something that you don’t. And that’s why you know, my takeaways for immigrants is it starts from our identity. Right? We can try to be like everybody else everywhere, we’re always going to change but it starts from who am I? Who am I? Nobody can take that away from you, once you stand in that. And then as you go into different spaces, your nervousness is going to vary depending on who is in the room, right? If you’re in a very diverse space, you probably feel more confident. If you’re in a very homogeneous space. You know, your confidence goes down, especially if you’re a woman, right? There’s all of these self doubts and questions, but remember, who am I and why am I here and lean into that? Because you’re never going to be like everybody else. You know, you’re just you.
That was my conversation with Lola at EMI about her beautiful journey. Lola is a scientist and a biotech professional based in San Diego. She also is a speaker and consultant and a small business owner. Her book is thriving in intersectionality. Immigrants belonging and corporate America are now available on Amazon. You can learn more about Lola and her company EQI mindset at www. lawless speaker.com You can hear more beautiful journey stories at my website, alyamichelson.org/beautiful-journey or subscribe to the podcast feeds so you don’t miss an episode. And if you are someone you know would be a good person for me to talk with, I would love to hear from you. You can find our contact form at alyamichelson.org. This podcast is produced by Amelie jJuniors, Sara Fee and Inside Voices Media. I’m Alya Michaelson and thank you for listening.
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