From the beaches of Ocean City at Senior Week to the shores of China's Pearl River in Zhuhai, one recent Lutherville grad has a lot to do this summer.
Oluwarotimi "Rotimi" Lademo, a St. Paul's School graduate from Lutherville, will be spending this summer studying in China after earning a prestigious government scholarship.
Lademo, 18, received a scholarship sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The highly competitive program seeks enthusiastic students to participate in a rigorous, overseas language program.
Lademo will be living with a host family for six weeks in the town of Zhuhai, in the Pearl River Delta in Guangdong Province. He and 14 other American students will be studying the Chinese language at Zhuhai College of Beijing Normal University.
The group is meeting at Columbia University in New York for an orientation on July 5, and will leave for China on July 8.
“The goal of the trip is to make you learn the language when you get there,” said Lademo. “We’ll do some day trips, and we’ll go into Beijing for three days.”
Lademo knows much of his time will be spent absorbing the language in a classroom. But he’s looking forward to using his Chinese language skills with his host family and with the people he meets.
Lademo said he is most looking forward to “interacting with the people around us, just being able to speak Chinese every day. ... Looking at movies in Chinese, and trying to read Chinese writing wherever I go. The culture’s really interesting.”
Lademo has a leg up on many of the other participating students—he has already studied one year of Chinese. Lademo satisfied his high school language requirement with five levels of Spanish, but he squeezed in a Chinese language class his senior year, which he’d always wanted to take.
“I wish I could have taught him for all four years,” said Kimberly Latimer, Lademo’s Chinese language teacher at St. Paul’s.
Latimer said the summer program is run by a group called American Councils for International Education, which is funded by the state department to promote learning foreign languages. Lademo applied by writing essays, submitting a college-type application, obtaining teacher recommendations and sitting for an interview.
“They really focus on three languages—Chinese, Arabic and Russian,” said Latimer. She thinks of Lademo as “Le Rui Ming,” which is his Chinese name in class.
Latimer awarded Lademo the Chinese Prize at this year’s upper school awards ceremony. She said she considered writing his recommendation letter for the scholarship selection committee to be a pleasure.
“He’s incredibly self-motivated," Latimer said. "Really because of him, the rest of the class learned things the other classes didn’t learn. He would go ahead in his books. Then when we’d do dialogues and things, he would share things with his partner. He’s such an open, easy-going kid. He’s so well liked by the other students.”
Latimer added, “He was very inclusive, and really enriched his whole class. He’s funny too.”
Lademo learned from his teacher that tact and privacy might be an American’s idea of polite manners, but manners can be different in another country.
“My teacher told me when she went to China, when she’d be in a taxicab, they’ll ask her any questions. Like, does she have a husband, does she have kids. They’ll just ask really personal questions and it’s not rude at all,” he said.
Lademo knows what is going to garner him the most unusual attention.
“First of all, I’m black, and I’m really tall, and I’m just going to look so odd to everybody,” he said. At 6 feet 3 inches tall, Lademo said he was bracing himself for the stares, but has hopes the novelty will eventually wear off.
“After that, I’ll become like the oddball of the town,” he laughed.
At St. Paul’s, Lademo was a swimmer, a soccer player, and he rowed crew.
He also earned more service learning hours than any of his other classmates.
Upper School Chaplain, Sanford Groff, wrote in an e-mail:
“Oluwarotimi exemplifies compassion. Working for over 360 hours with troubled youth at St. Frances Academy Peace Camp, Rotimi teaches peaceful conflict resolution to young boys and girls. His patience, kindness and leadership are palpable from the moment you meet him. Because of his selfless service, he was inducted as a founding member into the St. Paul's Service Learning Honor Society. Only five other students share that same honor. We will miss him when he graduates from St. Paul's.”
When he gets home from China, Lademo will have a week before he leaves for college. He will be attending Babson College in Massachusetts, where he plans to continue to study Chinese, probably as a minor, and major in international business.