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 left Nigeria for the first time in 2015. After seven years and ten countries, she’s now finally settled in the US for her PhD. She talks about living in the Gulf, being underwhelmed by America and keeping her marriage stable by travelling to the UK frequently to see her husband.
When did you decide that you wanted to leave Nigeria?
My decision to leave Nigeria was borne out of my desire, early in life, to be an academic. I grew up in Ajegunle where I had to hide under tables in school when area fights broke out to avoid getting hurt. I was going through all of this, but inside, I wanted to enjoy school, get a master’s and a PhD.
I didn’t strongly consider leaving Nigeria until NYSC.
What happened during NYSC?
I got an opportunity to do my master’s abroad. Before that, I’d gone to university in Nigeria — there’s a hilarious story about how I went behind my parents’ backs to study a different course than they wanted me to. I thought they would be angry, but they supported my decision.
After uni, I decided to give back to my community by exposing children around me to a different kind of life. I taught them in the evenings, showed them technology and a different reality outside Ajegunle. NYSC year was the ghetto because in addition to my PPA job, I got a private lesson teaching job on the island, I sold drinks in the evenings and I continued my evening classes too.
I was trying to make ends meet and support my parents.
Nice. So when did you leave?
When I finished NYSC in 2015. During NYSC, I applied for programmes in different schools abroad and got a fully-funded scholarship to study in a country in the Gulf.
I’m not disclosing.
Haha, okay. Why the Gulf?
Because of the funding. Someone I knew was already there, so they helped with the process. I got free accommodation, and I was paid a monthly stipend to be a student there. You know the craziest part?
The university is an abroad campus of a top UK University. I couldn’t have afforded studying in the main campus without funding.
Whoa. What was it like living in this Gulf country?
You know the terms “Arab money” and “Oil money”? It’s not a lie. What my eyes saw in that place was marvelous. The infrastructure, the people, the culture; everything was just so rich. I could be standing at the bus stop waiting for a bus thinking the person beside me was also waiting for a bus. Two minutes later, a Ferrari would pull up and pick them. The quality of life there was splendid— things were more developed and fast-paced.
When did you leave the Gulf?
I left almost immediately after my master’s ended in 2017. I applied for jobs in the Gulf country and then went back to Nigeria.
How did it feel returning to Nigeria?
I returned to Nigeria with about ₦3 million — money I’d saved up from my monthly stipends. That was the first time I considered myself a millionaire. I had a few plans. I wanted to do my PhD and also make some money by investing some of the money I had.
When I went to a Nigerian university to apply for my PhD, they were shocked. It was almost like they were saying, “What are you doing back in Nigeria, and why is it here you’re choosing to do your PhD?”
On the business end, someone introduced me to an “investment opportunity”. I didn’t understand the details, but I would give them money and receive profits spanned out over time before I got my full capital back.
This sounds like a scam.
The way it worked, when you gave them capital, they would give you a cheque in the exact value of your capital so that if they couldn’t pay, you could cash it out.
I invested ₦500,000 and got ₦50,000 every week until I made a profit, and then I got my full capital back. It felt so good making money that easily.
I hadn’t been in Nigeria for long when I got called back to the Gulf because a job I applied for was waiting for me.
Because I wanted to give my parents a steady source of income while I was away, I decided to do the investment thing again, but this time with ₦1 million. All the money was going to be for them.
Please tell me it didn’t end in tears.
I got ₦100,000 every two weeks a few times, and then nothing else. I couldn’t even reach out to them.
I had a cheque this time also, and I left it with a cousin in Nigeria. When I stopped getting my money, I told them to give a banker friend to check if I could cash it. I found out that no one could cash it in the absence of the account owner.
Did you reach out to the person that introduced you to this investment scheme?
She was really embarrassed. She told me it wasn’t a scam and that the person she got me involved with got really sick and that was why he couldn’t pay. He was in a lot of debt. She said the entire thing affected her reputation. After some time, she reached back out to me, gave me ₦300,000 and told me I could refund her after I got my money back. I didn’t get the money back sha.
My friends think I was scammed. I don’t think I was.
It is what it is. How long did you stay in the Gulf this time?
One year. I enjoyed staying there because apart from the money I was making, I got to travel a lot.
Where did you go?
Georgia, Turkey, Italy, the UAE, Oman, South Africa, and a few other places.
All of this with your Nigerian passport?
Yes. It was easy getting the visas because I wasn’t applying from Nigeria, and I could prove that I had money and a good job, so I wasn’t going to go from living in the Gulf to living in those other places.
Why did you leave?
I got a fully-funded scholarship to do my PhD in the US. It’s a five-year program. I’m in my third year.
Goals. What was moving to the US like?
Let me use a Lagos analogy — it felt like I was moving from VGC or Ikoyi or somewhere really nice on Lagos Island to Surulere. America is nice, but the country I was coming from was new. I also don’t stay in a big city like New York or Chicago, so it didn’t really feel like I was moving to the America people shouted so much about. Maybe another reason I felt like that was that I had a lot of expensive fun with my friends in the Gulf, and in the US, I’m just here for school. The quality of life you get abroad depends on your purpose for living there and your income bracket.
I like that I can leave my slow-paced city and visit the big city whenever I miss it. That balance and choice is great.
One thing I don’t enjoy about the US is that my husband isn’t here.
Where is he?
He’s in the UK, getting his PhD, also on a fully-funded scholarship. We met a few years ago through a friend and finally decided to meet in-person in Georgia — the country. He asked me out in 2019, and we got married this year.
How do you manage a long distance relationship?
We travel to see each other a lot. Right now, I’m in the UK with him. The money we spend on flights, rent in both countries and the general cost of living is sometimes scary. We could be using all that money to travel around the world or giving back to our Nigerian communities.
Recently, I was travelling to the UK from the US and got stopped at the airport because the Irish airline I was going with was going to do a stopover in Ireland and I couldn’t stopover in Ireland with my Nigerian passport. My ticket was invalid unless I could get an Irish transit visa or a different passport that wasn’t Nigerian on the spot. I couldn’t miss his birthday, so we had to buy another ticket on the spot. $2000. I wanted to cry. But I made it in time for his birthday, and we had a nice time. It’s just those little things.
It’s even crazier when I tell you that because we’re both on fully-funded scholarships, we’re allowed to work only on campus for a limited number of hours. That $2000 could have gone into our savings.
What are your plans for after you both graduate?
What we say is that we let God and opportunities be our guiding force. We want to give back to Nigerian communities, teach in Nigeria and all, and we already do that because we both run programmes that help young people in Nigeria. However, the truth is, we’ve both been exposed to a different quality of life in our journey through life, and it’ll be hard going back to Nigeria. The trick is to find the balance.
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.