Chatting animatedly over coffee, Olabanji’s demeanor resembles that of a philosopher. He is curious, inquisitive and downright dialectical when addressing particular issues. An ardent reader whose collection spans politics, religion, philosophy and economics, his conversations are a thing to look forward to. Coffee with him will leave the cup unattended to because you will be busy talking. Although he is warm and kind-hearted, he does not suffer fools gladly. He is not the type to beat around the bush or hide behind some pretense. He says it as it is.
Prior to coming to South Korea, Olabanji served as a trade economist at the ‘Directorate General for Foreign Trade’ in Belize. He worked in that position until 2017 when he was accepted into the Korean government scholarship program to do a master’s in public policy at KDI School. Unlike the majority of students here who take a year to do their masters, his scholarship granted him two years of study. When I met him, he was just a few weeks away from finishing his program.
Olabanji has been a poster child of all-roundedness at KDI School. He has had a hand in anything imaginable at the school. You have probably seen him speaking in the school’s PR videos or open house forums. Maybe he checked you into the dormitory or led you around while serving as a dormitory assistant. Perhaps you attended one of the school’s writing workshops and found him facilitating. He might have even edited a paper for you when you sought help from the school’s Writing Center. Yes, he is a jack of all trades and interestingly a master of all.
When we were about to sit down for this article’s interview, his expressions resembled those of a successful football manager who is about to leave a club; content with all his achievements but beginning to get nostalgic of all the memorable moments he will have to leave behind. He has received more than what he came for to a point that he is no longer certain on where to exactly position his career going forward. In the middle of our conversation, Olabanji mused, “When I came to KDI School I had a goal in mind. And that was attaining flexibility. Even though I was still going to expand my knowledge in trade, I had the idea that this graduate degree would grant me the option to be in more than one office when I return home. Flexibility is what my mind had conceptualized then but that is no longer the case. My horizon has shifted. You see your friends doing massive things and that moves something in you.” Suffice to say, his horizon has broadened.
Being the hive of activity that it is, KDI School has caused him to interact with variety. Variety in the students represented, variety in his study of disciplines that cover economics, statistics, management, e.t.c, variety in the different cuisines that are served at the school’s two cafeterias, and variety in the many extra-curricular activities that the school hosts on an annual basis, the list goes on. Last year, he participated in two activities that expanded his knowledge and skill set to unprecedented levels: the Euro-Asia Summer School and the KDIS-World Bank Global Delivery Initiative (GDI) Case Study Program. The Euro-Asia Summer School, an educational program that seeks to enhance students’ knowledge on global governance, took place mid last year. He and a few other KDIS students participated in it, attending their education sessions at Seoul National University, KDI School, and Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium. On the other hand, the case study program emerged out of the ‘Government Reform Case Writing Practicum’ master course he took in summer. The program trains and equips students with the know-how to write case studies and then picks a select few to go mine case studies in their countries, then write about. Being a selected author, Olabanji travelled to Nigeria to interview BudgIT, a civic organization that tracks government projects to help raise the standard of transparency and accountability in government.
Having a hand in many activities at KDI School has not always been rosy though; taking part in many KDIS activities came with certain challenges. He became a dormitory assistant at a time when renovations were going on at the dormitory and that implied extra responsibilities. The student reporter position and his editorial work at the ‘Writing Center,’ took a bit of a toll on him. And balancing the work with classes proved slightly harder, but he got the hang of it as days passed by. That experience led him to realize that he was capable of doing much more than he thought he could.
He is satisfied with what he has done and achieved so far: “Not only have I been in positions of service but these opportunities, especially my editorial work, have helped me to better see errors in things. Your eyes change over time you know. You learn to critique your own work.”
Reflecting on his experience, Olabanji’s final piece of advice for those who want to be writers or serve as student reporters is: ‘To be a good writer, you must read extensively.’