Nigerian Students in Diaspora: What they don’t Tell you
By Maryam Na-Allah
The concept of travelling abroad to get better education, and start a new life is a tradition and culture that is not totally alien to a lot of middle to higher class working families in Nigeria. Taking part in international students’ life as a way to receive better education, cross over to the greener side, and experience the two worlds is a whole lot. But what could possibly go wrong?
It is without a reasonable doubt, that the education system in the UK, is perceived to be of more value to a student’s intellectual growth and development. Which is no wonder a huge number of elite families in Nigeria, as well as ambitious students with the financial capability opt for studies in the UK. A study program in the United Kingdom is also without a doubt a captivating prospect for soon-to-be international students, particularly for those who are planning to study abroad for the first time. The appeal of studying and staying in the UK after graduation is also unavoidable. However, at what cost does the search for enhanced education and a new life comes to African students in the UK? A price that may or may not be too much to pay.
Khapoya (1998) and (Hyland, Trahar, Anderson, & Dickens, 2008) also attest to the fact that the decision to embark on studies in a foreign country is an enormous step, especially for students from less privileged countries. Learning about different ideas, interacting with new people, and exploring different cultures and landscapes can make studying abroad one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences of one’s life. Lifelong relationships can also be formed through studying abroad.
Studying abroad comes with many expectations. As much as the thrill of being an international student is there, it also comes with harsh realities that unfortunately not a lot of students are informed about pre-arrival into the UK. There are several harsh realities that many Nigerian students have been forced to experience and were not prepared for, but had to adjust to. International student life, from the start of university to the end of university, to post-graduation life, is heavily romanticized and leaves out the actual struggles and realities that Africans have to deal with as international students. To be prepared for the unknown, it is imperative to be aware of the unknown.
Statistics on Nigerian students studying abroad
According to studies done by ICEF Monitor, Nigeria remains one of the most prominent student sending markets in the world. Its students are increasingly considering a wider array of destinations. The report also emphasizes that Nigeria is one of the most sought-after markets for student recruiters in the UK. As of 2021, the UK government cites Nigeria as accounting for 25 percent of all foreign students on scholarships in the country.
The harsh reality for the Nigerian Student
while being an international student has its perks and joys, it also has its negative sides which more often than not is not talked about a lot. A few examples among many include:
• The educational divide:
Despite Nigerian students in diaspora being renowned for their resilience and determination to work, most international students have attested to finding difficulty in adapting to the education system. In terms of learning, there is a divide in the quality of education. Students struggle with issues such as understanding, proper construction, correction and spelling of words, maximising study time, plagiarism, and other issues. The divide of reading to understand rather than reading to pass alone, the divide of having understanding teachers, well trained teachers who know how to handle different types of students and most importantly, access to online reading resources and how to use them to advantage. A pertinent example that can be used here is the issue of plagiarism which is taken very seriously in the UK. Unfortunately, a lot of Nigerian freshers have virtually zero idea about plagiarism and how it may affect them if found guilty. The topic of ethics and authenticity while submitting a report is also an issue.
Nigerian students, fresh out of school, are usually not unable to adapt, but rather are victims of failed education systems. As a Nigerian lecturer in Cyprus, Ifeanyi Obi, perfectly explains it:
“The problem with Nigeria’s education is not the students, nor is it the lecturers but it is about the system in place.”
It is quite sad to say and see that the education system in a country that claims to be the so-called giants of Africa, does not set up its citizens for real-life opportunities and ways to tackle the outside world and different academic standards. The method of teaching in Nigerian schools is often more theoretical than practical. The stifling of individual learning preferences, therefore, negatively impacts student learning.
• Culture Shock: The feeling of alienation, the struggle to fit in and conform, adjusting to addressing lecturers by their name, part-time jobs, tasteless food, workload, language barrier
• Weather: Nothing they say can kill an African man except cold weather
• Budget; Not much to be said, high standard of living, Train fares, cost of feeding, accommodation. Pennies do save lives in times of need!
Essentially, students who are not opportune to study in private schools or being exposed to the UK culture, more often than not are more prone to falling victims to the cultural shock , fitting in with a new standard of education.
CRISIS OF JOB-HUNT
Aside from the issue of fitting in immediately, (Having discussed/highlighted the significant academic divides that students in diaspora face while abroad, UK to be precise), another pressing issue which is a constant factor and dominant among international graduates who are through with their studies and returning to their countries to settle is the issue of the labour market.
Finding a job after completing a prestigious course in the UK can be like searching for a needle in a haystack, a challenge that applies equally to home and abroad. In the UK, you either get a job or you move out. Finding a job after graduation especially with a valid licensed sponsor, is like playing the lottery, only the lucky ones win. Despite your freedom, there is a limit to it, because working feels like modern day slavery disguised as corporate capitalism.
While in Nigeria, you are either underqualified or overqualified. Worse still, your social class determines how fast you get a job and what kind of jobs you get. The major thing they have in common, they both need years of experience, but the main question is how do you get valid experience with no one willing to give you a chance without having the same experience you are searching for? How does that even work?
In spite of the challenging situation, thanks to platforms like YouTube and the likes of content creators, the digital world has a great deal of power. Students who intend to travel can be better informed on the do’s and don’ts of being international students and the strategic ways of enjoying the value of the service(s) being paid for, most importantly, being guided on how to take precautions.
Consequently, a major negative side of the international student/graduate’s journey is the failure to expect the unexpected or better still have back up plans for when things go south.
Schools and universities can do a lot (and some do) to assist with continuous guidance, even though students are required to take responsibility for developing their employability skills.
In order to find out what is relevant to international students before choosing a study destination or embarking on their academic journey, it is essential to ask:
How employable will I be during and after my current studies?
Are you willing to stretch yourself to make yourself more appealing to employers?
Utilizing the full potential of their university’s career service
What are my weaknesses, and what can I do to increase my employability?
What tools do I have at my disposal?
What are the back up plans?
This is not an exhaustive list and not all questions can be answered without the help of others, such as alumni, current students, local and international employers (where possible) , and of course universities themselves.
However, Professor Ifeanyi leaves a positive note despite all the difficulties. “Any Nigerian that travels abroad and performs well shouldn’t come as a surprise because we are naturally smart people.” As per the Nigerians phrase, ‘if you can survive in Lagos, you can survive anywhere else’.
Essentially, it is imperative to understand that when considering the option of choosing UK to study, both parents and students must empower themselves with all the necessary knowledge to make a well-researched and informed decision.
Maryam Nasrallah writes from Gwarinpa Abuja