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.
Today’s subject on Abroad Life is a woman who moved to the UK seven months ago for her master’s. She talks about how travelling when she was young inspired her to japa, how she handled all the challenges that came with moving abroad, and her plans for the future.
First things first, why are you in the UK?
I’m in the UK for my master’s. I’ve been here for about seven months. Being here also means I’m one step closer to japa’ing.
When did you decide that you wanted to leave Nigeria?
I’d never been interested in staying in Nigeria. Ever since I was a kid, all I wanted was to stay in different countries for periods of time and then move. I‘m not a fan of staying in one place all your life. I travelled a bit when I was younger — a few West African countries, France and Greece. That early exposure gave me the inspiration I needed to chase my dreams of not staying in one place.
What was growing up like for you?
Before moving here, I lived in Lagos all my life. My childhood was enjoyable. My parents were bankers, we were comfortable and I went to a good secondary school. In the economic crisis in 2009, my dad lost his job. He was a top-level official in one of the biggest banks in Nigeria. It was sad, but because the qualities of our lives didn’t change, I thought everything was still normal.
The secondary school I went to prioritised applying for foreign schools over applying for Nigerian schools, so I wrote the foreign school exams. In my entire set, I was the only person that didn’t go abroad for university. I was devastated.
Why didn’t you go?
Honestly, it was more “couldn’t” than “didn’t”. I didn’t realise that my parents’ finances weren’t as good as I thought they were. When my mum told me that I wouldn’t be able to go, I was furious. My older siblings had gotten their university degrees in Nigeria, so my parents needed to find a way for me to get mine abroad. Writing JAMB didn’t seem like a possibility for me, but I eventually had to, and then I went to UNILAG.
Haha… I hated going to UNILAG because I didn’t believe I was meant to be there. It was in UNILAG I learnt how to use buses in Lagos. I became street smart.
My mum promised I would go for my master’s abroad after university.
After UNILAG, I settled into life as a Lagosian and got a 9-5 job.
What happened to the master’s?
I didn’t apply until 2020. Someone told me to apply for the Chevening scholarship, and you have to apply to school programmes to qualify for the scholarship, so I applied to five schools. Another reason the UK was attractive was that I didn’t have to pay an application fee for the schools I applied to. I searched for schools in the US and Canada, but I couldn’t afford the application fees, so I just stuck with my UK schools.
My Chevening application wasn’t great, so I didn’t get it. Four out of the five schools I applied for accepted me, but I’d given up hope of attending any of them because I wouldn’t be able to afford the fees. Somehow, I found a scholarship for the current school I’m in. I applied, and after waiting a long time and battling uncertainty, I got it.
Nice. What were your expectations, going to the UK?
I was a bit scared. I remember my aunt, who is a citizen, telling me on the drive from the airport to my new school not to take racist comments too personally because even though we were the same, white people didn’t see us as the same.
All the uncertainty I felt made me angry at my parents all over because I thought they could have also moved to the UK when we were younger. Many of their siblings are here. Even if they didn’t move, they could have at least given us more opportunities to travel.
It was also scary that I was leaving my boyfriend behind. Right before I left, we’d lived together for about nine months.
I wanted to quit my job, but someone advised me to keep it because I would need to make some money. When I told my boss, he was fine with me working from the UK, but my salary was reduced because I would no longer be working full-time.
Ouch. I’m curious, how has living apart affected your relationships?
With my boyfriend, we talk a lot on the phone. He even got me an iPhone so we can FaceTime more. This period has helped us understand each other much better and be more intentional with each other. Living apart takes away physical touch and that can be tough sometimes, but we’re surviving. There’s also the variable that because we’re not together, we might misunderstand each other, especially during arguments.
With my friends, it’s been much tougher. It seemed like many of them thought that because I was now abroad, I was out of their lives. I had to make it clear to them that they were still my friends, and they needed to make time for me so I wouldn’t suffer from loneliness. Loneliness while living abroad is not talked about enough.
Are you still at your job?
Yes I am. When I got here, I was scared that because I had a job and was in school, something would suffer — I would either do great at my job and fail at school, or do great at school and fail at my job. That hasn’t been the case. My results in school have been good, and I got a raise at work because of my performance.
Has it been easy balancing work and school?
It’s not. While work isn’t feeling my absence and I’m doing well at school, my health is definitely taking a hit for all that. I don’t rest enough and I could be much healthier, generally. My social life in the UK is also not great. I haven’t been able to go out and explore like I thought I would before I got here, although that’s also partly because of COVID.
What’s it like earning in Naira and living abroad?
I don’t spend a lot of my money because my scholarship covers a lot and I live in school. My salary covers the basics, and I also give my parents money every month.
Nice! What’s it been like living in the UK?
It’s been pretty decent. I have a fast internet and things work. My classmates are also nice. I didn’t experience distinct racism until recently when a housemate called Nigerian food smelly and disgusting because she was angry at another Nigerian housemate. I’m just counting the days until I’m done with my master’s and I leave this house.
What’s next for you?
The UK has a policy where you can stay for two extra years after you study here without a school or job sponsoring your visa. I want to stay here, but I also want to get married next year. I also recently got a new job and will be starting that soon. It’s hard to leave my old job but I have to move on.
The new job is in Nigeria, but they don’t mind me working remotely, and they have a branch in the UK that’s willing to sponsor my visa when that time comes.
So I have a lot of planning to do with my partner, but I think we’re going to move here and settle.
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.