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Culture shock. Language barrier and other things many Nigerians studying abroad hardly prepare for!

Every year, young Nigerians migrate to foreign lands in their numbers for work and study.

No doubt, the japa phenomenon has come to stay. But how are these young immigrants coping in distant lands? What is it like to be an international student in a university so far away from home?

Iya Magazine recently engaged two young Nigerians pursuing their studies in diverse countries across the world.

They spoke about student life, culture shock, language barriers and many more. Welcome to the exciting world of Nigerian students studying abroad!

When Ebere Nwagwu arrived Hungary in February 2023, she was not quite sure what to expect. She had come to pursue a degree program in Computer Science at the University of Debrecen in Hungary’s Great Plain region.

Ebere was, however, lucky to have her elder sister in the country, and so, settling down was relatively faster. Still, it took her time to adapt to the deep cultural and social differences.

One significant area was the language. The official language is Hungarian and she didn’t know a word of it. “But thankfully, almost all the teachers and students and even some of the locals speak English. And so, I could get by,” says Ebere.

Ebere finds the Hungarian educational system modern and of high standard, though. “The remarkable feature is the interactive system,” she says. “Students are encouraged to bring their knowledge and experience in the learning process. I find this very good and refreshing.”

We have students here from more than a hundred countries and so, it is a great culture mix -Ebere, hungary

As a foreign student, Ebere started with a foundational program. This was to enable her get fully inducted into the new system. Her university is a large one. There are 28,000 students, with more than 6,000 being foreigners.

“There is a very rich blend of students,” she says. We have students here from more than a hundred countries and so, it is a great culture mix.”

Has the diversity helped in forming friendships? “Well, everything depends on how outgoing you are. I happen to have some introverted friends, and so, most of our social activities don’t involve going out,” she volunteers.

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But Ebere finds the city of Debrecen fantastic. “One thing I have come to appreciate is the welcoming community and the home-like atmosphere I feel in the city. The people are very warm, indeed.”

And how about the cost of living? “I do not live in the hostel but rather, I rent an apartment which has all the amenities I need daily. The cost of living is gradually becoming more expensive, but it is still within a manageable range if money is spent wisely,” she says.

Is there any remarkable difference from home? “Apart from the predictable differences like stable electricity, one major difference is that stores aren’t required to give you bags after shopping; you are expected to bring your shopping bags which are reusable, or buy one while checking out.”

For Ogonna Akuneme, another Nigerian student who arrived Canada in August 2021, his story is that of resilience, adaptation and a focused pursuit of opportunities in a foreign land.

Covid was a great challenge, but with the Nigerian spirit, I struggled on and eventually overcame -Ogonna, canada

Ogonna’s educational journey led him to York University in Toronto, Ontario, where he is currently studying Economics. His decision to study in Canada was fueled by the promise of abundant opportunities, a stark contrast to the challenges he faced back home in Nigeria.

Arriving in the chaotic period following the COVID-19 pandemic, Ogonna initially faced a unique challenge – adapting to online learning without a support network. He made his own way through this uncertainty; but as COVID rules lifted, his academic and social life began to flourish.

“Covid was a great challenge, but with the Nigerian spirit, I struggled on and eventually overcame,” Ogonna says.

Unlike Ebere, Ogonna had no language problems. His fluency in English eliminated any language barriers.

How would he rate the quality of education in Canada? “Well, the quality here may not be vastly different from what I experienced in Nigeria, but I appreciate its practicality. Education here is real and practical.”

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In his first year, Ogonna resided on campus, but he later moved into an apartment off-campus, seizing the opportunity to be independent.

So, how is the cost of living? “Ah, the high cost of living in Toronto remains a constant reminder of the sacrifices made by my parents for this opportunity,” Ogonna sighed.

Despite the challenges, Ogonna has found a lifeline in the friendships he has cultivated over the years.

So, how does his new world compare with home? “The major difference is the stable Canadian economy, a striking contrast to Nigeria’s economic instability,” Ogonna says without hesitation.

Iya Magazine ended the interview with the same question for both Ogonna and Ebere:
Do you miss home?

For Ebere, the answer was: “Yes, I do, sometimes; but that encourages me to try and become part of a community where I am.”

And for Ogonna?
“Sure, home sickness occasionally creeps in, but the bonds of friendship here help me to overcome it.”

For both, however, one thing is certain: studying abroad will help them find their purpose.

Claire Ezeokeke
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