ORONO, Maine — It was a tough decision for a teenage boy to make — to leave home for another country without the full support of family and friends.
“I had lots of people who said, ‘No, you can’t do it,’ and they were very skeptical. It shook my spirit a bit,” said Ogheneovo Dibie, who decided three years ago that rather than attend college in his home country of Nigeria, he would strike out for the United States.
Yet Dibie and his brother Oghenetega — known as Ovo and Tega — will be in attendance Monday for the first day of the fall semester at the University of Maine, which opens along with the University of Maine at Augusta’s University College of Bangor, Husson University and Eastern Maine Community College, all in Bangor. Classes also begin Monday at UMA’s main campus in Augusta.
Ovo, 21, is a senior at UMaine; Tega, 17, is starting his first year.
As a youngster in Nigeria, Ovo first started thinking of leaving there for a number of reasons. He wanted to major in computer science, and he knew technology in Nigeria lagged behind other countries. He didn’t want to go through Nigeria’s federal university system because of frequent faculty strikes.
He also considered the religious instability between Muslims and Christians, especially in northern Nigeria, near the Dibie family’s hometown of Kaduna.
Mostly, Ovo wanted something new.
“I just felt staying back home, going to school, would be boring,” said Ovo, who grew up in what he described as an upper middle-class family. “I wanted to explore the world and meet new people.”
Ovo was accepted to Western New Mexico University and spent the 2006-07 academic year there. That’s where he saw snow for the first time in his life.
“It was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen,” he said, a wide smile spreading across his face. “Class was canceled and for the rest of the day we played in the snow, had snow fights, we went tubing. It was so exciting.”
After deciding during his first year that he wanted a more research-focused setting and a larger student population, Ovo started looking at other schools. UMaine popped up during his Internet searches, and realizing his first experience with snow wasn’t too bad, Ovo decided to apply.
He was accepted and offered a scholarship. He started at UMaine in fall 2007.
Meanwhile, Tega was still in Nigeria, missing his older brother and thinking he too wanted to continue his education abroad.
Although by that point the Dibies realized their eldest son had made a good decision to move to the U.S., Tega’s plan wasn’t readily accepted by his peers.
“When I told my best friend I wanted to study in the U.S., he said ‘No, you’re not going to make it there,’” said Tega, who also was offered a scholarship to UMaine. “He told me not to bother. Because of that I had to break up my friendship with him.”
It seems the Dibie brothers made the right decision. Ovo, a computer science major, had a 2008 summer internship with Apple in California. He plans to begin work with George Markowsky, the chairman of UMaine’s computer science department, on his senior capstone project. Tega wants to major in computer engineering.
Both brothers plan to stay in the U.S. to earn graduate degrees and work in a computer-related field before returning to their home country.
“I look at Nigeria and I know there’s a lot of loopholes and problems that I should solve,” Tega said. “I got an opportunity, so I should go back and help out. I look at America, it’s already good, and I want to make Nigeria good.”
Despite Ovo’s success and Tega’s promise, the brothers are still teased at home. When Ovo visited Nigeria last winter, an uncle joked he was “The American Dream.”
The ribbing hasn’t deterred either brother. And it likely won’t deter the Dibie legacy from continuing at UMaine.
Ovo and Tega believe it won’t take much convincing for their 14-year-old brother, Ogheneruona, to leave Nigeria for Orono.
“Convincing? Nah, he’s already coming,” Tega said. “He always said he was coming to join his brothers in America. He’s always saying he wishes he could be there. I don’t think we’re going to [have to] convince him.”