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.
The subject of today’s Abroad Life went from living and studying in Anambra to moving to the Philippines where she’s a pharmacy student. She tells us why more Nigerians need to move to the Philippines and why she’s returning to Nigeria soon.
First things first, what are you doing in the Philippines?
I’m studying. I’ve been studying in the Philippines for the past five years now. I got here in 2015 and finished my BSc. in Pharmacy in 2019. Now, I’m doing my Masters in Pharmacy.
Why did you choose to study in the Philippines?
I started studying in Tansian University which is a private university in Anambra State in Nigeria. I was there for 6 months before I left Nigeria. It’s not like I went there to get a degree, though. My parents and I already knew that Tansian University was running this program where people study in the University for a while, and then move to the Philippines to continue and finish, and that’s why I was there in the first place. My parents told me they were just looking for a better place for me to study, outside Nigeria.
Along the line, the process of moving from Tansian to the Philippines became weird and riddled with complications so I just dropped whatever plans I had with them, left, and reached out to a family friend who had been in the Philippines for about three months. He handled everything from processing my papers to the admission itself. It’s funny, because some of the friends I have here are people I met at Tansian University.
That’s Interesting. Why did a family friend there have to do all that processing for you?
That’s how it’s done in the Philippines and that’s why I needed the Tansian University connection because they know all the tricks. You need someone here to apply for you; you can’t apply for admission and do all that processing from outside. For that, you need some kind of solicitor to help you get an admission letter, stand in for you in court, get the Special Power of Attorney and all that.
So what was the process like?
First of all he sent the admission letter, and then other important documents. Then I had to go to the Philippine embassy somewhere in Abuja, get interviewed for a few minutes and then they asked me to come back after a week for my visa. For some people, it takes about four days, for some it takes two weeks. Mine took one week, so I stayed with my uncle in Abuja.
Do you remember how much you spent for the whole process?
I didn’t do any of the spending, my parents did. But I would say we spent roughly one million at that time.
So from the time you got the visa up until the time you left Nigeria, how long was that?
One week. I was almost ready to leave before applying for the visa because we were sure I was going to get it, because I already had an admission over here. So by the time I was having my visa interview in Abuja, my flight was already booked and my bags were already packed back home in Anambra. I got back home, stayed for about one week, and I left.
One week, damn!
The goodbyes must have been tough.
I didn’t say any goodbyes o! You know how you’re never meant to let anyone know you’re travelling in this Nigeria? My parents made sure of that. Apart from my parents and my five siblings, the only person that knew I was leaving was my uncle in Lagos, and that was because it was in his house we slept the night before my flight the next morning.
It was my first time going outside Nigeria and even detaching from my family. The only other time I’d left them was when I was in the other University, and even then, I saw them every other week because we were in the same state, so this was a new reality for me. It wasn’t tough though. I was excited to leave, but not because I think Nigeria is bad. It was more because I wanted something fresh.
I also didn’t have any close friends, so that made it less emotional.
So what was it like, as a Nigerian, going into a country you’d never been before?
First thing I would love to say, these are the most receptive, welcoming and friendliest people you’ll ever meet. I got here and I just felt like everyone here knew me or something like that. Compared to experiences I’ve heard from Nigerians in European and Asian countries, I would say that I’m living the life. If you check online and you’ll find out that they’re one of the friendliest countries in the world.
The family friend who helped with my admission picked me up from the airport and then we drove from Manila to San Fernando City where my school was. The next day, we went sightseeing and I completed some medical check ups.
I won’t lie, I got irritated at first with the number of questions they asked. You meet Filipino and they want to ask you a thousand questions, they are very inquisitive. They are extremely curious, but I had to learn that they were not asking the questions to annoy me. They were genuinely curious. In the first few days after I got there, I found out that a lot of them had only seen black people on TV or when they were watching basketball. So seeing me, a real black girl with my black girl hair? Jackpot! They wanted to know everything and there were no boundaries between personal questions and general questions.
I walked into a mall, on the second day of my arrival and this security guard stopped me. I was scared, thinking “What have I done now?”. Next thing, she’s saying “How are you?”, “How old are you?”, “Why are you here?”, “What did you do to your hair?”.
One more thing I must mention is the simplicity of life here and how far it is from the Nigerian reality. You would see actual billionaires sitting on a bus with you. One day, I passed a governor’s house and I didn’t even know.
I have classmates who are children of billionaires and you’ll see them repeating the same cycle of just a few clothes and hanging with everyone like it’s nothing. You’ll only find out that they’re billionaire children from gossip around.
It’s nice to hear that you have only good experiences
I can’t speak for every Nigerian here, you know. Someone might be having a different experience, because they approach things differently, or because they’re in a different city.
That makes sense.
What language do they speak?
They have two national languages; English and Filipino. A lot of people also speak Tagalog. But school and day-to-day interaction happens in English. Teachers have to teach in English. If a class is going on and the instructor is teaching in Tagalog, you can tell them you’re not comfortable with it and they have to switch to English.
How do you move around?
Mainly buses and tricycles. And they’re available round the clock. My city is very safe, so I can be on the road by 2am and be sure nothing is happening to me. Most schools here don’t have hostels so I stay outside school.
Let’s talk about food. I know Asian countries have an array of food. How are you living with that?
That was a bit of a challenge when I first got here. But I had to adapt over time. There’s stuff like okra and tomato but they’re different from what we have in Nigeria. What you’ll find though, is rice. Rice everywhere. You probably won’t go a day here without eating rice. If you try to avoid rice, you’ll probably starve. Rice cake, rice candy, rice everything. There’s also beans, but the type of beans they have, you’ll have to cook it till you almost run out of gas, so we don’t really try to eat beans.
There’s no garri. There is cassava here but they use theirs for bread so if you want to make garri you need to process it from cassava and not everyone has time for that, so what we do is we grind rice. Other people eat wheat. So we eat either ground rice or wheat.
There’s always the option to buy African foodstuff, but that’s always expensive. So I learnt to make about eight Filipino dishes. I learnt them from my neighbour. They’re pretty nice.
What’s the cost of living there like?
There’s a provision for everyone here, no matter the level of your finances. You can live according to your means. Right now, the exchange rate is really bad, but when I came, you could get a nice bachelor apartment for N50,000 per month. There’s also a system where people share apartments and split payments, so if you can’t afford the regular amount, you can go for that.
How easy is getting a paying job as a foreign student?
Have skills. That’s just what I’ll say. photography, graphic design, coding, writing. Have as many skills as possible.
First of all, nobody expects students to have jobs, so finding a job as a student is already hard. Then there’s an unemployment problem in the Philippines, as well, so the competition is tough, and somehow, you know that an employer would probably give a Filipino a job before you, a foreign student.
What’s the weather like?
It’s a tropical country and the weather is almost like Nigeria’s. It can just be a bit extreme sometimes.
There’s a hot and dry season where it feels like the sun is eating your skin.
Then during the rainy season where it gets extremely extreme. This is the first year I haven’t experienced a typhoon.
So, after your Masters do you want to come back to Nigeria?
Yes, but primarily because I need to take my licensing exam. You can’t take your Pharmacy licensing exam here if you’re not a citizen. Whatever I’ll do after that, I don’t know. But I’m coming to take my licensing exam first.
What’s the worst part about living in the Philippines?
I have to pause to think for a bit, but I think it would be the fact that there isn’t a strong motive to accept and ingrain foreign culture. They’ll accept you and everything, but they really want you to come, enjoy your stay and leave. Even if you get married to a Filipino, you’re not going to get your citizenship, I think the highest you can get is a work permit or National ID. People don’t really seek to build a career or a future here.
What do you miss the most about Nigeria?
Are there a lot of Nigerians living in the Philippines?
In the past 3 years, I have seen a high surge of Nigerians moving here. It’s nice to see. I just want Nigerians to be open to the idea of coming over here to study. When people hear Asia, they just think China, Japan, Korea, but the Philippines is a real hidden gem and I want people to know that.
I want people to know and have a little more knowledge about the Philippines and be open about learning more about this place.
I might be leaving here soon, but I want Nigerians to come here and experience what I experienced. A new reality.
Want more Abroad Life? Check in every Friday at 12 PM (WAT) for a new episode. Until then, read every story of the series here.