Nigerian students in diaspora: What they don’t tell you [Opinion]

By Maryam Na-Allah

THE concept of travelling abroad to get a 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, experience another culture and travel is truly a great experience.

What could possibly go wrong? The UK education system is without a doubt perceived as offering greater opportunities for intellectual growth and development for students. It is no wonder that a large number of elite families in Nigeria, as well as ambitious students with the financial means, choose to study in the UK.

A study programme in the United Kingdom is 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. How much does the quest for better education and a fresh start cost African students in the UK? Khapoya (1998) and (Hyland, Trahar, Anderson & Dickens, 2008) confirm that deciding to study abroad is a big step for students, especially those from less-privileged countries. One of the most exciting and rewarding aspects of studying abroad is learning new ideas, interacting with new people, and exploring new cultures and landscapes.

Studying abroad comes with many expectations. While being an international student can be exciting, there are also harsh realities that a lot of students are not aware of before arriving in the UK. Nigerian students have been forced to experience several harsh realities that they were not prepared for, but gradually adapted to. Student life, from beginning to end of university, as well as post-graduation life, is heavily romanticised and fails to capture the actual struggles and realities African students have to face. It is imperative to be aware of the unknown in order to be prepared for it.

Statistics on Nigerian students studying abroad: ICEF Monitor studies consistently show that Nigeria remains one of the world’s foremost student sending markets.

The report also emphasises that Nigeria is one of the most sought-after markets for student recruiters in the UK. UK government figures cited Nigeria as the country with 25 per cent of foreign students on scholarship in 2021. While studying abroad has its perks, there are also its negative sides that are not often discussed.

These include:

• The educational divide: Despite Nigerian students in the diaspora being renowned for their resilience and determination to work, international students often struggle to adapt to the foreign educational system.

It is often challenging for students to understand, correctly spell words, optimise study time, and avoid plagiarism. Learning to read to understand, rather than reading to pass, working with understanding teachers, having well-trained teachers and being able to access online reading resources and utilise them effectively.

Plagiarism, which is taken very seriously in the UK, is an example of a pertinent issue. Nigerian freshers, unfortunately, generally do not know the consequences of plagiarism if found guilty.

Nigerian student freshers are usually not only unable to adapt, but rather are victims of failed education systems. A Nigerian lecturer in Cyprus, Ifeanyi Obi, describes it perfectly: “The problem with Nigeria’s education is not the students, nor is it the lecturers but it is about the system in place.” 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 sense of alienation, the struggle to conform and fit in, speaking to professors by their first names, part-time jobs, tasteless food, workload, the language barrier.

• Weather: Nothing they say can kill an African man except cold weather.

• Budget: High living costs, high train fares, high cost of food, high rent. Pennies do make a world of difference! Students who are not privileged to be exposed to private schools or the British culture are more susceptible to cultural shock as they try to adjust to the new education system.

Crisis of job-hunt: Along with the issue of reintegration, another concern facing international graduates returning home is finding employment. It can be equally challenging to land a job after completing a well-respected course at home and abroad. In the UK, you either get a job or you leave. With a validly licenced sponsor, finding a job after graduation is like winning the lottery. You are limited in your freedom because working would seem to be modern slavery.

Nigeria either under-qualifies or over-qualifies you. Additionally, social class determines job prospects. One thing they have in common is that both require years of experience. However, how does one get experience with no one willing to take a chance on you without having the same experience? How does that even work?

The digital world, despite the challenges, is very powerful, thanks to platforms like YouTube and their creators. International students should be informed about the benefits and drawbacks of being international students, including the strategy for getting the most out of the services they pay for, and the precautions they should take when travelling.

The key to the success of the international student/graduate journey is to expect the unexpected or, better yet, to have backup plans in case things go awry. While students must take responsibility for acquiring employability skills, schools and universities can provide continuous guidance. Prior to deciding on a destination for their academic journey or choosing a study destination, it is essential to ask: How employable will I be during and after my current studies? What can you do to make yourself more attractive to employers?

Using the university’s career centre to its fullest potential: What are my weaknesses, and what can I do to increase my employability? What are the tools at my disposal? What is the backup plan? The list is not exhaustive, and the answers to some questions can only be given by alumni, students, employers and the university. 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.”

Both parents and students must take into consideration that, when selecting the UK to study in, both must arm themselves with all the required information to make an informed and well-researched decision.

Na-Allah, a social commentator, wrote from Gwarinpa, Abuja