This article was first posted in the 2017 issue of Hamptonia.
Even though her address states that she lives in Bellaire, Texas, Jen Okewunmi considered herself an international student at New Hampton School. She was so passionate about her international background, and the importance of building community, she jumped at the opportunity to be an International Student Leader and support fellow globally rich students in acclimating to New Hampton’s student body.
Jen was born in Nigeria. With her father’s work in the oil and gas industry, she and her family traveled across the world throughout her childhood, most recently living in Angola before settling into Texas. When her brother departed for college at Brown University in Rhode Island, Jen decided she wanted to be near him, and sought out some consistency in her high school experience. Once she started looking at New England boarding schools, New Hampton was an easy choice.
Tell us about where you’re from?
I was born in Nigeria, but I have lived in Texas, Calgary, Indonesia, and Angola.
How did you pick New Hampton School?
In addition to being near my brother, the International Baccalaureate (IB) was important because I was previously at an IB School and wanted to complete the diploma. Once we started looking, New Hampton had it all. After my interview I told my parents, “I have to go here. The other interviews don’t matter.”
Did you visit before you arrived at New Hampton?
Only a Skype interview. Andrew Henriquez ’16 was my tour guide when we arrived a day early and decided to stop by campus because we’d never seen it. Andrew was out running. He stopped and said, “Can I help you find something?” We explained I was new and he generously stopped his run to show us around. I thought, “If everyone’s like this, why wouldn’t I come here?”
What surprised you most about your time at New Hampton?
The opportunities. New Hampton allowed me to grow as a leader. As a boarding student, I thought, “I’ll have nice facilities to live in and just go to class,” but the school gave me so much more. I didn’t expect the teachers to be this caring. Not only the teachers, but the staff and other adults and students. It really does feel like home.
What leadership roles have you played here that you are proud of?
I was really proud of becoming a tour guide. I’ve always wanted to do that. Also becoming a Proctor. I was inspired last year by the girls in my dorm. I wanted to do something like that and be there for other girls. And especially being an international student leader. It was, and is, important to me because it is something I’m able to relate to, moving a lot and then helping other people get adjusted to the US, and just being away from home.
What will you take with you when you leave here?
I’ve learned to seek out opportunities and be genuine, a small action can affect others in a big way. I’ve learned that the world isn’t as kind as New Hampton School. We’re in a bubble here and it’s really nice, but outside, it’s going to be a little harsher. Or maybe a lot. But, we can still take what we’ve learned here and be nice people; open the doors, make small talk with people passing by. Maybe we can slowly change the outside world.
What are you going to miss the most?
I’ll definitely miss my friends. I’ve met a lot of amazing friends from different areas. I am now more aware of other people’s passions. It will be bittersweet to see them go in different directions. But I hope next year I’ll be able to find the type of people that are here in New Hampton.
You’re going to Brandeis University. Why did you pick Brandeis?
I picked Brandeis because, like New Hampton, it’s a smaller school. I’ve learned that being in a smaller school helps me grow. One of Brandeis’ themes is an emphasis on social justice, and it goes hand-in-hand with making the world a better place.
What are you planning to study?
I want to become an orthodontist and major in Health: Science, Society, and Policy. I want to combine medicine and culture. I think it’s the best of both worlds.
We hear Indonesia is your favorite country. Why?
I love culture, and Indonesian culture is so different. Living there, it is a lot easier to see the different sides of the world. We could look out the right side of the window and see mansions, and on the left, see slums and people begging for food. It gave me the perspective that the world isn’t always what it seems. It made me more humble.
Do you see yourself going overseas again in the future?
Yes, definitely. For now, I see myself living and working in the US. Along with becoming an orthodontist, I want to have my own private practice. I’m interested in giving back to communities, doing service. I want to organize a team of orthodontists and dentists to travel to places like Africa or the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica and offer dental care free of charge. If I’m not going to live overseas, I hope I can do that small gesture, and make it go a long way.