Originally from Imo State in southern Nigeria, Chukwudi Achonwa has lived and worked across the Niger River in neighboring Delta State for more than 20 years. His home is in a city called Warri, which is not far from the Gulf of Guinea.
His entire life, Achonwa had never traveled outside of Nigeria.
That was until this May when the Saint Leo University online student – and now alumnus – boarded a plane and traveled for nearly 24 hours to arrive in Florida to attend commencement at University Campus.
Despite jet lag, Achonwa couldn’t get to campus quickly enough. Arriving several days early, he was eager to meet faculty and staff, to walk the grounds, and to see first-hand the university he had come to love.
“While in Nigeria, I always imaged how the school would be,” he said. “When I arrived at the campus, what I saw was beyond my imagination. I was so thrilled.”
Focused on earning a degree
For the past four years, Achonwa’s daily routine had been focused around a single goal: earning his business degree in accounting.
After a full-day’s work at WOG Allied Services Nigeria Limited, a directional drilling company, he would come home and spend time with his wife, Nancy, and their three children, Chinwe, Kachisidi, and Chukwuebuka, over dinner. After a brief nap, he would then devote several hours to his studies.
Achonwa may live in Nigeria, a country that in many respects is vastly different from the United States, but he chose an online degree program for the same reasons as any other busy adult.
And the ability to study on his own time, so that he could continue to work and have time for his family, while pursuing his educational goals.
Drawn to Saint Leo’s Catholic heritage
Achonwa has worked for WOG since 1991. While the company’s customers are from Nigeria, they are affiliated with a wide range of countries. So when Achonwa started thinking about going back to school, he knew he wanted a degree that would enhance his credentials internationally.
“A degree from a Nigerian school can’t be compared to a degree from an American university,” said Achonwa. “Even if I had a PhD from a Nigerian university, if I came to work in the United States, I would have to take refresher courses. To be internationally recognized, you need to study at an American university.”
With young children at home and his family dependent on his income, resigning from his position to pursue a degree in the United States was not an option. Searching the Internet for online degree programs, Achonwa discovered Saint Leo. Having attended Catholic schools growing up, he was drawn to the university’s Catholic heritage and Benedictine-inspired core values and decided to enroll in the bachelor’s program in business administration with a concentration in accounting.
Time management: a global challenge for adult learners
As a member of the Ibo tribe, Achonwa speaks Igbo, but since English is the official language of Nigeria, language was not a problem for him with his courses. What was challenging, however, was an issue that knows no international borders and confronts every adult online learner: time management.
Achonwa used his break time and lunch hour to read assignments and write discussion responses. Taking a nap in the evenings enabled him to be awake for live chats with faculty and classmates during U.S. business hours. Connecting with professors was especially beneficial with difficult courses such as macro and micro economics – or when network issues interfered with his studies.
“Electric power, in general, in Nigeria is not steady and the Nigerian network is not reliable. So whenever network problems prevented me from getting my work completed, my instructors were very understanding and gave me more time. Even when the network failed during one of my final exams, the instructor kept the exam open so that I could take it when power was restored.”
Commencement: the “ultimate” reward
In addition to understanding faculty, Achonwa says he found consistent support throughout his educational journey from his Saint Leo advisors. “When I started the program, my first academic advisor, Angela McKoy, energized me and kept my spirits up,” said Achonwa, “and my latest advisor, Renalda Merzius, helped me to finish strong.”
His experience was so positive that he intends to start a graduate degree with Saint Leo, an online MBA in accounting. He wants to prepare for the qualifying exam with the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria so he can practice accounting in Nigeria as well as the CPA exam to practice in the United States.
For a brief time in May, however, Achonwa basked in the Florida sun – and the happiness of achieving his initial educational goal.
“I had to come,” he says. “It was the ultimate step, the culmination of everything.”
Why did you choose Saint Leo?
Other posts you may be interested in:
Image Credits: Saint Leo University Communications; William S. Speer