Immigrant UT student hopes to share lessons with home

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Like many UT students, freshman Arinzechukwu Nwagbata has his sights set on becoming a doctor. But, unlike his peers, he shouldered responsibility for his community at an early age. 

He used his handyman skills to craft glasses for villagers in Nigeria, whose smiles he still remembers to this day.

“Their joy affected me,” Nwagbata said. “That’s when I knew I wanted to do medicine.”

In 2013, Nwagbata’s father died because of diabetes and poor hospital care, leaving him with the responsibility of caring for his mother and siblings. 

“In Nigeria, the first son takes over when the father dies and provide for the family,” Nwagbata said. “I was 16 then, and it all came down to me.”

To support his family, Nwagbata dropped out of school and worked multiple jobs, including jobs as an exterminator and a shaman. As the latter, Nwagbata made herbal medications to relieve scorpion stings and snake bites. 

Nwagbata’s dreams of practicing medicine came closer to reality when his uncle in the United States adopted him and his younger sister in 2014, making them American citizens. Nwagbata said he did not have trouble fitting in at an American high school, but he did have to contend with a communication barrier.

“I couldn’t understand most of my teachers clearly, but I’d seen lots of Hollywood movies, so I got used to the accent quickly,” Nwagbata said. 

Now studying biochemistry, Nwagbata plans on becoming an orthopedic surgeon because he enjoys the focus and precision required, and he wants to put the job’s high salary to good use.

“I want to build a hospital in Nigeria and engage in philanthropy,” Nwagbata said. “We can send (Nigerian) medical students abroad to study.”

He hopes his efforts will inspire doctors to serve their communities as he once did.