Interview with Similoluwa Ayinde, ACLP Secretary
Updated: Jul 30, 2020
Please tell us about your background (birth, parents, childhood...)
I was born in Rhode Island but spent my early childhood in Lagos, Nigeria. Nigeria really shaped me to be who I am today, it was there that I learned my values and developed my traits such as determination and passion for those around me. I learnt to give freely and seize the day. I remember my childhood in Nigeria as being full of love and joy — everyone, even your friend’s parents, were pretty much your parents. They would help you and love you the same way your parents would. I also remember a lot of laughter and parties — when my friends celebrated their birthday. There would be famous characters on Tv such as Barney and Elmo and as we grew older we had famous artists coming to parties. I really want to emphasize the good that came from my childhood in Nigeria as I know that the media does not always portray people’s real experiences. My parents were both born in the UK but have lived in Nigeria pretty much their whole lives.
How would you describe your K-12 experience in Nigeria and Canterbury (and Rhode Island?)?
It was at St Saviours school Ikoyi, in Lagos that I completed my primary education. I was taught by both British and Nigerian teachers and i really enjoyed and appreciate their different experiences. I feel its always good to take an interest in teachers and colleagues and learn from their experiences. I honestly looked forward to going to school everyday I feel there was a good balance of work and play. Our teachers were good and understood that different students had different ways of learning. We had classes including but not limited to french, literacy, math, Physical education, ICT, Religious studies, Humanities etc. At break time, I remember going out to play football (soccer) or Bulldog on the field with my friends. We had a lot of variety when it came to after school activities- my favorite was dance class, Mad science, and Brownies. Every year we had Sports day which was a friendly day where all students would participate in sporting activities as their friends and loved ones cheered them on. We also had our annual Fun day - where the school was full of different rides ( similar to an amusement park ) we also had elephants and other animals we could play with. There were raffles, food and so much more. Additionally, we had book day — a day where we would celebrate books and reading by dressing up as our favorite characters. Looking back at it, i had an awesome primary school experience.
When I was 11, I went to a boarding school called the Junior King’s. It took about two weeks to adjust to the boarding school lifestyle and being away from home. But the weird thing is that being away from my mother actually brought me closer to her. I can confidently say that since starting boarding school my mum became one of my best friends in this world. I eventually learned to enjoy the boarding life - I changed my perspective. Rather than think I was away from home, I started to think of my boarding school as an opportunity to meet new people and learn about their different cultures. But most importantly I started to see boarding school as a never-ending sleepover. At Junior King’s I took new classes such as Spanish and Latin, made new friends and tried new sports such as Netball, Hockey and Cricket. I was also exposed to different activities such as Rollerblading, skating, tobogganing and so much more- Every weekend the boarding students would go on a trip ( to keep us busy). In my final year at Junior King’s, I was the head of girls boarding where I strived to bring love and community to the boarding house.
When I was 13, I moved on to the senior school - King’s School Canterbury. It was at King’s that I took my GCSEs in English, Spanish, French, Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Latin, Greek and Astronomy and later took my Alevels in economics, Maths and Spanish. As you can probably tell, I pick up languages easily. King’s was an awesome opportunity that opened many doors for me, as I captained my Netball and rounders teams. In my final year of King’s, I was also made the head of my boarding house ( Jervis).
How do you believe your African background shaped your educational experiences?
Coming from a Nigerian family, I was always determined to do the best I could in every area. I was taught not to make excuses for performance; for instance, if I had a bad day or exam, I was taught to think about how I could do better going forward rather than dwell on it.
How do you believe growing up in/having experiences in different countries shaped you?
I would say it definitely broadened my horizons and ways of thinking. It gave me perspective and an understanding and a sense of appreciation for different cultures and opinions.
Why do you think that cultural identity is important? Sense of belonging - knowing where you come from and the values that come with that. A home that cant be taken away from you.
What personal and professional accomplishments are you most proud of in your life so far and why?
Howard E Mitchell 2018 Winner.
This was a really big achievement for me because I had to write an essay on someone who has influenced me. Before writing this essay, I always believed that I was not a good writer but I actually wrote a very powerful and moving essay. And this gave me confidence in my writing.
Nigerians at Penn
Last year, I was the Marketing Chair of NAP and although I was new to marketing at that time, I was ambitious. Rather than just creating flyers, I tried my best to figure out how to make promotional materials and was successful. Through my role as marketing chair, I was able to bring more people to our events.
This year I am the president of Nigerians at Penn, and I really wanted to get our members closer to each other and make our organization more of a community. I started an IGTV series called NAP TV where we celebrate our members (usually 2 at a time) by getting to know them through funny questions etc.
Marketing Chair for the Black Ivy League Business Conference.
I managed the Instagram and Facebook pages which involved creating content to influence students to attend the conference. While I already had some experience with marketing, this role gave me the opportunity to dive more into the content creation and graphic design role of marketing which I really appreciated.
How did you get involved with ACLP?
I got involved with ACLP through my job with the Penn Community Outreach Library Services. Ancil George, my boss, thought I could make a real impact while volunteering at ACLP and he was definitely not wrong!
What is your favorite thing about working with ACLP? Have you encountered anything surprising or that you didn't expect?
I love working with the students that attend our sessions. They really are interested in the volunteers and what they are up to outside of the sessions and it’s really nice talking with them. I also love working with the students because of how smart they are. They think about things in really unique ways and ask a lot of interesting questions.
Your bio mentions that you've studied four languages and believe that languages can connect people. How do you use these languages (or others) in your studies or your daily life? How do you see language as being related to culture?
I think I use it to understand people and their cultures/identities and the way they think. I feel languages connect people of different cultures. It’s a way of communicating with people you wouldn’t be able to otherwise and create memories.
What do you hope to do when you graduate from the University of Pennsylvania?
After graduation, I hope you work at a company that has many brands as a brand manager where I can use the skills and concepts I have learned both in my marketing and management classes as well as the various organizations I am involved with at Penn.
What would you tell your younger self, for example in middle or high school?
The future can be uncertain sometimes, but when in doubt remember where you come from and hold on to the things that drive you. But most importantly, never be afraid to ask for help.
What advice would you give to a student of African background in the US or other parts of the world?
Keep your head high — many people from Africa have done a lot of great things and you can and will do great things too if you put your mind to it.