Firecracker Toyeen: My College Park Experience (4)

My College Park Experience is a 6-part series (if you missed the previous ones, click herehere, and here). Here, I’ll be writing about the many things I experienced in my 2-year stay in graduate school. I went from broke-ass Toyeen to Toyeen rolling dollars. I was once verbally abused and kicked out of a carpool, I forged a meaningful friendship, got rejected for a dream job, and experienced the shock of finding out you pay to receive phone calls in the US.

Now that I have got your attention, let’s begin the ride.

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The first time R took me to the store to shop for groceries and other household items, I was overwhelmed by all the options available for every single item. There were about 10 options for eggs! There were several options for chicken, milk, fruits, and vegetables. I find it difficult to make decisions when faced with too many options and my response to R whenever she asked me what option I wanted to opt for was always “the cheapest one.” R would go on to tease me mercilessly whenever we went shopping by asking me for the option I wanted.

In my first semester, I wanted to attend a Nigerian church since I wanted a mode of worship that was most familiar to me. I looked up the closest Nigerian church online, called the number listed, and spoke with the pastor of the church explaining that I was a new graduate student from Nigeria. He offered to pick me up for service on Sunday and all through the ride to church, he kept telling me about how a lot of his members had to work on Sundays and that explained why his church looked like it had only a few members but if I kept coming, I would meet the other members. People of God, please ask me how many of us were in the church that day? Four people, including me! The other 3 were the pastor, his wife, and another guy. I attended service for 2 more weeks and we never exceeded 5 members including the pastor and his wife. After the 3rd week, I began giving excuses for not being able to attend church whenever the pastor called me and he eventually stopped calling. Months later when I started another church and was narrating my experience to an African girl I met there, she laughed hard and told me she had also attended the church a few years ago and the pastor had told her the same story yet they were never more than 5 on any given Sunday.

I later joined a fellowship on campus called CoC and eventually started attending the church affiliated with it. The experience was different from what I was used to but I stayed there the entire first semester mostly because the older couple who picked up myself and other students always served us a full-English breakfast every Sunday before church, and food was very important to a broke student like me. The fellowship also gave dinner to students every Friday night and that’s when I found out oyinbo people eat rice without stew, and oyinbo salad consisted of vegetables like tomatoes and spinach strewn together and eaten with ranch dressing which I hated.

The professor who taught the wireless course, and whose pre-requisite I failed, was exactly like some of my UNILAG elect/elect lecturers. He dictated notes in class and was always too fast. Oftentimes, I had to find other people’s notes to fill in the missing gaps in my notes. He barely explained what he taught and whenever he did, I never understood his explanation. Luckily for me, my Ghanaian friend, J, loaned me the textbook she used for the course and told me I just needed to understand the weekly assignments he gave and I would do well. But I had come too far just to cram and pass and I decided I needed to understand the course at all cost. I frequently turned off my phone and wifi to avoid distractions and spent hours studying and trying to understand a few pages of the textbook and my notes, and solving all my assignments myself. My efforts eventually paid off as I was able to tutor 3 of my classmates in the course and score an A, while some of my classmates performed poorly, and others were caught cheating.

The professor of the business course assigned us weekly assignments involving an advanced use of excel which I loved. I, however, under-estimated the mid-term exam and scored 73/200 while the class average was 79. I cried and vowed to make up for it in the final exams. I took all my home works very seriously going forward and would email my professor or go to see him for any clarifications I needed. I ended up scoring 84/100 – second only to the highest score which was 86/100 – in the final exams which earned me an A-, to my professor’s greatest surprise. He told me he had never seen anyone turn around their grades as I did and this compliment made my head swell. I enjoyed the lectures in my 2nd wireless class and did well in the mid-term exam where I scored 93/100. I must have under-estimated the final exams as I devoted more time to my other 2 courses and ended up getting an A- instead of the easy A I could have gotten. I stormed out of my professor’s office in anger after checking my grade and seeing my GPA was 3.8/4 and not the 4.0 I planned to get. 

I attended a career fair in my first semester but nothing came out of it. Internships were a big deal as they formed a necessary part of your education and served as the American work experience you needed to secure a full-time job. I was initially fixated on an internship from a Telco but at the beginning of the second semester when I was yet to get an internship, I became open to any job. A lot of good companies recruited from my school and I was able to secure interviews with 2 of them – a QA role at Microstrategy, a software company, and a Technology summer analyst role at Goldman Sachs. I wrote a badass cover letter that I’m still proud of to date. The interview for the QA role was a very weird exam which I failed. But for the Goldman Sachs interview, I surprised myself. I was among the few people in my class who got called for the on-campus interview. My course adviser/lecturer already told us that “everyone likes a happy puppy,” meaning we should be excited and enthusiastic at our interviews. Me: “say no more.” During my interview, I switched to my extroverted personality and turned on my charm full-blast, and got my interviewers laughing in no time. I wasn’t surprised when I got the email asking me to come to New York for the final interview.

I didn’t own a suit and didn’t have $200 to buy a new suit just for an interview (I wore a blazer and a skirt for the on-campus interview) and a friend was gracious enough to send me her suit all the way from California while I paid for shipping. In the email sent by the human resource manager about the second stage of my interview, I was asked to choose my preferred mode of transport to New York: by air, train or bus. Being a learner and wanting to show that I was not a wasteful future employee, I foolishly chose the train. R dropped me off at the train station and I boarded the train to NY. I badly wanted to get the job because Goldman Sachs paid interns very well, almost as much as full-time hires, and I wanted to live in NY during the summer. I arrived at the hotel that was booked for me and it was massive and beautiful. I was shown my room and it was a one-bedroom suite with the words “welcome, Oluwatoyin Alawode” displayed on the TV screen. I was told that I could order dinner from anywhere and get reimbursed for it but I was way too nervous to eat.

I arrived at the venue for the interview the following morning and saw several candidates from different schools – I was the only one from my class. We were given an introduction by one of the staff and told to mingle with some of the staff present and ask whatever questions we might have. My networking game was zero at the time so I just went to the breakfast table and stuffed myself with as much food as my stomach could take. My interview venue was in Jersey City, I and others were taken to the venue via a very nice ferry which we were told was only commissioned the previous day and we were its second set of occupants. 

There were 3 stages of interviews and it would have made a much nicer story if I said I killed all three interviews but alas, that wasn’t to be. At these interviews, I wasn’t asked personality questions that I could bamboozle my way through like the campus interview, I was asked specific technical questions that you either knew or not which I mostly did not know.  At the end of the interviews, an Indian girl from Columbia university walked up to me and we got talking as we walked to the train station. She asked me how the interview was and I said it wasn’t great. She said it wasn’t great for her either and that made me hopeful that at least I could be the one-eyed man in the land of the blind. How my classmates got to know I was interviewed by Goldman Sachs is beyond me but one of my Indian classmates kept pestering me to find out if I had heard back from Goldman Sachs and never failed to inform me about her friend in a different department who was offered the role.

Weeks later, when I hadn’t heard back from the recruiter I emailed her and she responded saying they’d get back to me with either an acceptance or a rejection. That’s how I turned to prayer warrior and kept begging Baba Firecracker to have mercy on me and let me get the job, seeing as I needed the experience and the money, and vowing to do him proud if I got the job. 

Fast-forward to mid-April, I got a phone call from Goldman Sachs informing me they would no longer be proceeding with my application. If I told you it didn’t pain me, I would be a liar. To have come so close only to fail is quite painful. By this time, a large percentage of my classmates had gotten internships with some in places as far away as silicon valley, California. The following month, May, marked the beginning of Summer, and most good companies were done hiring their summer interns, yet, there I was without a summer internship.

To be continued…