“I Always Wanted To Witness The Education System In The Global North” – Japa Chronicles
As much as harsh realities and the search for better opportunities are painting the “Japa Dream” as the only “glorified” and most effective form of escape, the stories never stop. Because, even abroad, there will always be a “Nigerian experience”. The chronicles that shape the journey of becoming an “Abroadian”.
In this issue of Japa Chronicles, our subject is Chikezirim Nwoke. A PhD candidate and research fellow in his late 20s. He is currently living in the United States and has taught and written about the Nigerian society for about a decade. In this chronicle, he talks about how he never gave up on his dream of studying abroad, the culture shocks he experienced on arriving in Germany, his thoughts on brain drain as an effect of the high emigration rate, and why he disagrees with the claims that Nigerians who go to the UK for studies are not interested in getting degrees.
When did you japa from Nigeria, and what was the motivation behind it?
I always wanted to witness the education system in the Global North. I started looking out for scholarships to do my undergraduate studies in Europe when I was in secondary school. But that did not work out. So, after I obtained my bachelor’s degree in 2014, I began to send out emails to universities and scholarship boards. A lot happened afterwards, but I eventually left Nigeria in 2017 to study for a master’s degree in Germany, mainly because of their free tuition policy.
What was the migration process like?
Frankly speaking, I put an enormous amount of work into my postgraduate education dreams. I wrote some exams, saved money, and even got more money from other sources. So, I was already prepared for the visa process and all the expenses that came with it. I was elated when I finally received my visa and joined my Cohort in Darmstadt, Germany.
Pretty cool! Did you face any challenges settling in Germany?
Settling was tough. I encountered numerous challenges connected to housing, academics, money, and socialization. That period is easily one of my lowest points. But the Nigerian education system gave me a strong foundation, so I was able to adapt to the education system in Germany and conquer my academic-related challenges in no time. After about a year, things got better.
I’m glad it did.
Yeah, me too.
What culture shocks did you experience in Germany?
A lot! My most memorable shock was related to language. Because I was so used to being in environments where English, Igbo, or pidgin was spoken, I never imagined what it would feel like to be in a place where the language was completely alien to me. Though many Germans speak and understand some English, it was frustrating and incredibly draining not to be able to communicate or get things done in many settings, as easily as I would in Nigeria. Most official letters came in Deutsch and I needed a translator to navigate the state administration. I had to quickly learn conversational Deutsch in order to survive. But sadly, the Deutsch gradually, but consistently, unlearned itself when I moved out of Germany.
Really? Where did you move to?
I moved to Canada in 2019 where I am currently a doctoral student.
That’s Awesome! What other culture shocks did you experience?
I’ll tell you about my very first culture shock. On my first day in Germany, I whipped out a handkerchief from my pocket which was met with laughter. Someone asked me what I was doing with that “grandma stuff”. Interestingly, they had moved on from our good old “hanky”, and now dealt in pocket-tissues that were easily disposable. Apparently, I moved out of Nigeria as a guyman, and arrived in Germany as a grandmother.
What were the advantages and disadvantages of living in Germany?
I do not really see things through the lens of advantages and disadvantages. That division may not be so useful because there is hardly a barricade between the two sides. However, for conversation sake, one of the things I like about Germany is the fact that you can go to many countries from there with your Schengen visa. Their transportation system is near perfect which makes it easy and super convenient to move around. I also have many great memories of festivals, conferences, parties, and summer getaways. On the other hand, newcomers may not like the cold, especially when they are from warmer climates, and they may also find the bureaucratic system tiring.
Were you, at any point, interested in foreign women?
No women are foreign in the eyes of God. Haha!
Recently, a Nigerian man living in the UK became famous after his interview with the BBC where he implied that some Nigerians who immigrate to the UK hide under studentships and study visas to escape the country. What do you think of this?
Oh yes. That controversy was really interesting as there were many issues at play. People were appalled because Mr. Emdee Tiamiyu who granted that interview allegedly moved to the United Kingdom through a student visa, or as a student’s dependent, as some claim. It was also super sensational because the interview coincided with the announcement of some restrictions on student visas in the UK. First off, I think it is false and misleading to say that Nigerians who go to the UK for studies are not interested in getting degrees. Statistically, most Nigerians who have explored this route finished their studies and graduated in time. Like people all around the world, Nigerians are actively seeking better opportunities for themselves by tapping into the global economy of which they are not only participants but key contributors. I do not know what “hiding under studentship” means for people who respond legitimately to study opportunities and decide to take their families with them. From having kin and friends back home, to maintaining business ties, emotional connections, a green passport, and an indelible identity, Nigerians know too well that there is no escaping the country. The way I see it, Japa is not merely a necessity inspired by socioeconomic conditions in Nigeria as many would want to simplify it. It is at once an inherent human desire, a right, a huge advantage for the receiving countries, and it portends great benefits for emerging markets.
In the midst of the emigration storm that seems to have hit Nigeria, there are discussions about “brain drain”, and the need for Nigerian youths to stay back to develop their country. Where do you stand on this issue?
Someone once posed a question that comes to mind whenever this kind of issue comes up. They asked; “Is it better to be brain drained or to be a brain in the drain?” In other words, is it better for your intellect and labour to be sapped by the so-called West or to allow your talents to be under-utilized in Nigeria, or wherever? The idea of brain drain itself suggests that there is an active effort to milk Nigeria of its human capital. I think this is largely true and it does not end only in human capital, but extends to other forms of capital as well. Many countries now have immigration policies blatantly designed to attract young, productive people. Should we be worried? I think yes, and also not really. Yes, because some of the drivers of emigration including national disillusionment, insecurity, and economic precarity that should be tackled are still largely ignored. Not really, because emigration has many gleeful sides such as remittances, skills exchange, infrastructural development, etc. To say that Nigerians should stay back is to deny them access to global resources and opportunities that they have historically and presently contributed to via production and consumption. Yet, I believe that there should be some form of consciousness among the youths – a mental disposition that allows us to claim Nigeria as ours, and its revival/well-being as our collective responsibility whether at home or in the diaspora.
If you were given a million dollars to return to Nigeria right now, would you?
Sure. My skills and competencies are transnational. I can succeed anywhere. Plus I love my country. Plus I love a million dollars.
Rosemary Kasiobi Nwadike
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