The Nigerian experience is physical, emotional and sometimes international. No one knows it better than our features on #TheAbroadLife, a series where we detail and explore Nigerian experiences while living abroad.
Our subject on Abroad Life today takes us through her life, post-university. She talks about taking a sabbatical in the US, attempting and failing a master’s in Nigeria, and why studying abroad is not as easy as everyone thinks.
What was growing up in Nigeria like for you?
I grew up in a comfortable household, so I admit I can’t relate to quite a number of Nigerian struggles. My mum has a school and my dad lives in the US, so we went on international vacations growing up. I’ve also always been a daddy’s girl.
Why does your dad live in the US?
He’s a pastor who preaches both in Nigeria and in the US. He used to shuttle between Nigeria and the US a lot. About four years ago, he decided to fully move to the US because it was more beneficial to the family financially and that way, my mum and little sister could join him there. I’m not in that equation because I’m neither his spouse nor a minor, so processing a visa for me to join him would be a whole different game.
Did the move affect your relationship with him?
It might surprise you, but I can’t go a day without talking to my dad. We’re the closest of friends. When I was in Nigeria, I got to see him and spend time with him when he was around, and we spent time together when I went to stay in the US for a year.
Why did you stay there for a year?
I’d just finished university in 2014. I didn’t know what to do with my life, and I didn’t want to do NYSC immediately, so I told my parents I needed a sabbatical. Luckily, my dad’s best friend had twin daughters who had just completed a one-year youth Bible school in the US, and my dad thought it was something I should do too. At first, I didn’t like the idea. Bible school for one year? Nah.
But I thought about being in the US for a whole year sounded fun. I eventually agreed to a four-month version of the school. If I liked it, I’d proceed to do the entire year.
How did that go?
I made friends at the Bible school and being in the US was much more calming than being in Nigeria, so I decided to do another four months. Then another three months.
Did you enjoy the Bible school?
Let me not lie, what I enjoyed was making friends and being able to stay away from Nigeria for a year.
LMAO. What happened next?
I came to Nigeria and did NYSC — 2015 to 2016. After that, I decided to finally pursue a master’s because it had been on my mind since I left university. I’m fascinated by Europe’s scenery so it was important that I got my master’s there, but we couldn’t afford the universities I was applying to in France, so I tried Babcock, but realised in my first semester that it wasn’t going to work out.
I didn’t like the school environment, I didn’t like the course I was studying, nothing made sense. It became so bad, I saw myself falling into depression and I didn’t want that. So I dropped out.
Mental health for the win. What did you do next?
I decided to pick up a skill; I chose skincare. I signed up for classes, but every single one of them ended up saying all we needed to do was mix black soap with some chemicals and blah blah blah. It all seemed very shabby and unsafe for the human skin, and I didn’t want to be involved in that. I went online and found an in-depth course on skincare and human aesthetics, and in 2018, I became a certified aesthetic therapist.
Did you know you wanted to move abroad in this period?
Not really, no. I became tired of Nigeria in 2020. I suddenly couldn’t stand the state. Everyday I woke up, I wanted to scream. It was like being in Nigeria was making my skin crawl. I had been employed as a skincare therapist since 2018 at this point, and I realised that there wasn’t a lot of money working for someone — I needed my own brand. It seemed like the perfect situation for me to decide to go abroad for my master’s — I was tired of Nigeria, and I needed a master’s in business management to start my own skincare line.
When did you eventually leave?
I left Nigeria about three weeks ago. I couldn’t leave in 2020 because none of the French universities I applied to in April 2020 could accept me because of COVID. I knew I would have to re-apply in 2021, but the urgency was intensified by what happened in October 2020 — #EndSARS, the killings, everything. Witnessing all that sank my spirit. I knew I had to get out of the country ASAP.
When the window to register for universities in European countries opened this year, I jumped at the opportunity. A friend suggested I try Belgium because they have really good universities that are super cheap, and luckily, I have family in Belgium. The decision was easy.
What was the process of moving to Belgium like?
Omo, it was lengthy. Applying for university was not hard, but the process for getting the visa had so many layers. I had to go to Abuja for the screening process and the interview too.
Pro tip: If you want to go to a Belgian university, start applying a year before you want to resume. That way, you’ll be able to finish all your processing in time.
I started the process in April and I was only able to get my visa in September.
Fun fact: You don’t know if the Belgian embassy has granted your visa until you receive your passport and open it.
Because I was unsure I was going to get the visa, I couldn’t make solid plans, book flights, register and pay for on-campus accommodation, etc. I had to book a flight and leave a couple of days after I got my visa. It was super expensive.
Let’s do a quick expectation vs reality: Belgium edition.
There are two things that shocked me here. First, the language barrier isn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. I haven’t met someone who doesn’t speak English. When I meet random people on the street and they begin to speak Dutch, all I have to do is tell them I don’t speak Dutch, and they switch to English.
Secondly, I thought schooling abroad would be easier than this. Everyone talks about how if you’re Nigerian, you can go to school anywhere and succeed. Omo, if you don’t face your books here, you will fail o.
The quality of education here is really high and the fees are low. My school fees are about €3,000 a year as an international student and my school is the 256th best in the world according to Times. I have another friend who goes to a top-100 rated school and pays less than €3,000.
I’m sold. Has settling in Belgium been easy for you?
I’m surrounded by family, and they’ve really helped the process. It’s been really easy.
Are there a lot of Nigerians in Belgium?
There aren’t a lot of Nigerians in my city and there are only two other Nigerians in my class in university, but I hear there are a lot of Nigerians in Brussels and Antwerp. I hope I meet some Nigerians this weekend though. I’m going for a party.
I know it’s only been three weeks, but do you see yourself staying in Belgium long-term?
In the three weeks I’ve been here, a lot of people have told me to try to stay after I finish my master’s because it’s easy to integrate into society and the immigration laws are stricter now. Apparently, it’s easy to get a job here once you have a master’s degree and since my master’s degree is two years, all I need to do is work for three extra years and boom! I’m a citizen.
Just like that?
Just like that, It’s pretty easy here.
God when o.
Because we want you to japa successfully, we wrote an article on the easiest countries to migrate to as a Nigerian. Check it out here.
Hey there! My name is David and I’m the writer of Abroad Life. If you’re a Nigerian and you live or have lived abroad, I would love to talk to you about what that experience feels like and feature you on Abroad Life. All you need to do is fill out this short form, and I’ll be in contact.