The Immigrant’s Truth: #JapaStory04
Today’s post is especially different. I speak with Tal, a young lady, recently returned to Nigeria after a period of postgraduate study in the UK. I have been friends with Tal for many years and she is perhaps the most amazing person that I know. Soft-spoken and with a good head on her shoulders, Tal works with a giant tech company that is helping Africans to build global businesses. Tal is an ardent lover of the “strange planet” comic series, Dr. Who and of course Jesus. I thoroughly enjoyed talking to Tal about her experiences. It, without doubt, provided a fresh perspective on how the sojourn of a young lady abroad can be transformative. I hope you will enjoy reading!
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Why did you leave Nigeria?
Tal: It was always part of the plan for me to go outside Nigeria and get a master’s degree. I have had first-hand experience of how the school system in Nigeria is while I was earning my Bachelor’s degree. It is a big clutter of mediocrity, which affected my learning capability in some ways. I knew that there was no way that I wanted to remain in that environment for an advanced degree. So, it has always been the case of me desiring to get a degree in an advanced world.
Immigrating didn’t make the list up until later when I thought about the possibilities of making a living outside Nigeria. Settling abroad was that back up plan for if things don’t work out favourably in Nigeria. And although I have relatives in the UK, my decision to go for the degree was independent of familial ties. Owning an advanced degree is one of those things that contributes to putting you ahead in life. I knew that it was what I also wanted for myself. So, leaving Nigeria to get it was always the plan.
How did you fare when you first arrived in the UK?
Tal: I fared badly, to be honest. I think that people do not emphasize enough on how things really are. Or perhaps, they do. And it is because of how we mostly believe that people that tell it exactly how it is do not want us to grow or experience the “good life”, that we don’t listen. Personally, I think that people tend to mirror the good parts. It’s what we all do: leave out the not-so-great parts in our stories. They tell you about the uninterrupted electricity, accessible internet, outstanding health care etc. You know, these are like the major attractions because of how they are non-existent in our home country.
However, they often conveniently leave out the parts where you have to cross many hurdles before you enjoy these perks. As Nigerians, we assume that you only need to make it out of the country; and then everything will fall into our laps. It was supposed to be easy for me because I had a place to stay. However, part of the terms of my admission at the university included that I pay a fraction of my fees. That translated to needing to get a job as soon as possible.
For example, the narrative people peddle is that you can easily get a job. They don’t tell you how you need to obtain a National Insurance number (NI) before you can get a job. Or that you probably would have to wait a couple of weeks before you can schedule the interview and; after you go for the interview, you have to wait for another couple of weeks before you get your NI. All of these made me panic because I knew that I needed to get started with school as well. Basically, the adaptation was a lot for me. It’s why I think that settling in wasn’t really easy for me at the start.
What were your expectations before you left?
Tal: I expected that after spending one month in at the least; I should have settled properly in school and gotten a suitable part-time job. I thought that I would be able to do everything concurrently. But alas, it was what it was.
What are some of the things that met your expectations?
Tal: Schooling. It was different because for once, I found myself in an educational system where people knew what they were doing. It was great to be in a place where everyone is pro-learning and desires for you to be better off for it.
What about relationships?
Tal: Well, considering the type of personality that I have, I am very laid-back. I would say that I never really got to scratch the surface regarding that. Because most of my interactions involved the people I attended church with. That revolved around seeing them in church, taking nice photos and that would be the end until the next Sunday. Then, there were the classmates I interacted with sometimes. Even then, you could tell that a lot of us simply wanted to focus on school; so that we could earn outstanding grades. Because like you know, it’s “unheard of” in some circles, coming to the UK to study and not graduate with Distinctions. Generally, I would say there were really not enough avenues to socialize.
Abroad life is so alone, to be honest. Like, it’s such a lonely life. Well, it could be a good thing for people who do not like other people in their businesses. However, it can still be negative when you realize how there is not really anyone in your corner. Because they are focused on their own too. Even while talking to some people, it appears as though there is something else that is primary for them. This made little time available for engagement in frivolities.
What was a big challenge that fazed you while staying abroad?
Tal: I had some challenges in school because of how it’s different from what I was used to. You know how an average Nigerian student is a plagiarist, it’s like a standard. For me, it was not like I did not know what to do. But in a situation where you’ve never done the right thing before, it’s hard turning away from the wrong. I remember in the first essay I wrote, I got 45% which was a woeful score. My lecturer called me and asked if something was going on. I had to tell him truthfully that I did not know how to not plagiarize. My entire undergraduate study was based on plagiarism, that was the only thing I knew.
So, it was quite challenging learning how to write and reference properly. It was not like there was a grace period given to those of us who had to learn anew. Both learning and showing results happened at the same time and it was a tough one. I remember having a conversation with some of my friends that we came from Nigeria together. It centred on the fact that we felt the distinction grade might be unattainable at that point. We were simply tired.
Another challenge had to do with paying the rest of my tuition when I had to borrow from a relative. The challenging part of it was having to write an undertaking letter that outlined when I would pay back. It was either that or they would not lend me the money. It was weird because at that time, I did not understand how families could do that to each other. Of course, there have been cases of people absconding with other people’s money. It was not just something I expected this particular relative would expect from me and that broke my heart heavily.
What were the refreshing moments you had?
Tal: I would say that the major parts during the school period were fun. There were days when I would go out to eat with classmates and just throw our heads back. I also greatly enjoyed walking into stores in malls to touch and smell clothes. It was always such a nice experience because of course, you know how different it is in Nigeria. You walk into a store and clerks immediately start to side-eye you if you don’t buy anything. That pressure of having to pick an item even when you just want to window-shop was absent. I would go around shops during times I could catch a break. Soak in the environment and try out different things. It calmed me and I liked it very much.
Why did you return?
Tal: It was not like I had a choice after my visa expired, to be honest. A lot of people encouraged me to stay. But it would have been at the expense of something I was not comfortable with. I had heard stories from people and how they manoeuvre their ways around these things. It just was not for me. I was not desperate and the possibility of ruining future chances was not something I wanted to jeopardize. It was not even like I had family that could have helped with immigration. Of course the ones I had already showed me their true colours.
The wise choice was to return home after sending out numerous job applications but none went all the way through. That could have otherwise helped me to secure a place. I think that I probably turned in more than a 100 applications. I even considered enrolling for a doctorate degree. But in the end, I knew that it would just be a way for me to buy more time. I knew that I did not want to be stuck in one place for the next three or four years. Trying to obtain a PhD that I was not sure I wanted.
What has it been like since moving back to Nigeria?
Tal: Before I moved back, I had already started making plans. I did not want all my eggs in one basket at all. It was not like I was pessimistic about getting a job in the UK. It was more that I knew I needed to put plans in place in case one thing does not work out. So, while I was making applications in the UK, I was considering Nigerian companies as well. But as we all know, feedback culture within Nigerian job circles is non-existent. I have not heard back from any of those places I applied into. But before then, I knew that I had to upscale myself if I wanted to come back and not return to the status quo. I had to research what was selling, which market was lacking manpower and where I could adequately fit myself into.
I also spoke with people that had more experience. It was through some of those conversations that I found that I could get involved in my current niche. I made arrangements to enroll in some courses as soon as I got back. It was amazing how quickly more options opened up for me when I added more to my existing skills. It did not take long for me to find something to do at all because I had prepared for it. Even before getting my current role, I had a side hustle. I worked as a TA for a Doctorate student whom I had a good relationship with. It was also another thing for me to do while I was waiting.
Moving back was not the right move and neither is it the wrong one, to be honest. Perhaps, I would have a job by now in a different career field if I had stayed in the UK. I don’t know. However, what I am currently doing will undoubtedly chart a course for the next couple of years of my life. This is equally great and I am very excited about it.
What do you think your current relationship with Nigeria is?
Tal: I think it’s non-existent. Between the time I got back and the lockdown period, I have probably left my house a total of four times. I don’t get to experience the outside life a lot. So when I see stories of other people’s daily Nigerian experiences, I can’t relate very much. It’s like I’m in my own bubble of home and light. It’s almost hard for external factors to directly affect me.
This probably sounds like privilege people speak but it’s not. Because I really do know how critical living in Nigeria can get. But talking about my relationship with most of these things, it will be far-fetched. I am also not trying to invalidate people’s experiences. The truth is, I just don’t understand a lot of it. I guess what I am trying to say is that I don’t have it half as bad as some do. I am thankful for that.
Opportunities are better abroad because Nigeria definitely stifles you. There is a system that works unlike here. I think that one pro about Nigeria may be the fact that there are always people around you. In a way, that can make you content. Because living abroad, one can literally die in the house and no one will come looking until much later. There is not enough sense of community like it exists in Nigeria. For some people, this may be high on their criteria list. For some, they couldn’t care less. But if you get to live abroad legitimately, you can rely on your merit to put you ahead in life. In Nigeria, nothing you possess is ever enough. Not your brainpower, not your skills, not even your connections. Which is just completely sad.
Do you have future #Japa plans?
Tal: When I first got back, there was the initial panic. I was basically looking for a way back out. But then, after some time, I knew that ultimately I needed to earn some work experience. Because even if I get to leave again, it would probably be back to square one. Right now, I am focusing on the things that would help me get ahead in life. One of those is up-scaling myself by getting more experience in the workplace. The next Japa for me might not be soon as it’s not high up on my list. However, it’s one thing I am considering for long-term purposes.
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