From Congo to Congo Square
A Congolese college student finds his second home in South Louisiana
Michael Okito is a native of Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo located in the heart of Africa. Okito, of just simply Mike as he prefers, came to the states shortly after graduating high school to further his education. While knowing all along he wanted to come to the states, Okito set out a plan to earn a degree in petroleum engineering. He searched for universities that best fit his goals comfortably and after researching numerous universities and colleges, he chose Nicholls State University as the place to pursue his degree.
“Nicholls accepted me right away. I came to Louisiana and visited the campus, and I knew right away this is where I wanted to be. I felt very comfortable around here because it is a family setting. I felt like I could learn better here,” Okito said.
For anyone who has ever toured in the union at Nicholls or walked through Donald G. Bollinger Memorial Student Union, one eye-catching attraction may be the colorful banners dangling from the ceiling. Each flag represents a student that attends Nicholls and the country where they were born. Today there are over 50 different banners hanging that represent Nicholls students from across the globe. Mike is the first student to attend Nicholls from his country.
Visiting Nicholls and the Thibodaux area was Mike’s first time visiting the state of Louisiana. Chris Johnson, Mike’s former classmate at Nicholls, was one of the first people Mike met during that first visit, and the two have been friends ever since.
“We actually met each other in a discussion over a FIFA soccer video game,” Johnson said. “Not a lot of my friends around here knew much or anything about soccer, so it was always cool having someone who I could talk soccer with. From there we learned more and more about the similarities and differences in each other’s cultures.”
The culture of Southern Louisiana is something Mike said allows him to feel more comfortable.
“I knew the state of Louisiana, specifically the southern area of Louisiana, was heavily French influenced. It gave me some interest since I come from a French background,” said Okito, whose first language was French.
One thing Mike really enjoys about life in the bayou area is the tasty food. Theodore Carpenter, a native of Sibley, La., has known Mike for four years now since both enrolling at Nicholls around the same time. Carpenter explains how although from two different continents, the two share similar cultural and ethical values.
“We both love food and culture, it seems like Mike is always thinking and trying to find new ways to show people just how close African and Louisiana cultures have always correlated and how it still does today.” Carpenter said.
The hospitality shown throughout south Louisiana is one aspect of life that reminds Okito of Kinshasa.
“People like to make you feel at home around here,” Okito said. “People don’t mind being around you and they try to get to know you. It’s very similar to what I am accustomed to back home in Africa. People may not know who you are necessarily, but they still treat you as their own.”