“Being open to learn is very important when adapting to a new country.” Ireland based Cameroonian engineer talks with Japafora

As part of our interview series with Africans in diaspora, we sit down with a young African lady domiciled in the Republic of Ireland to find out about life over there and the in situ opportunities for African immigrants.

Hello and thank you so much for taking part in this interview. Could you please tell us about yourself.

My name is Khalimatou, I am Cameroonian and currently pursuing a Masters Degree in Cybersecurity at the National College of Ireland in Dublin.

What country and city are you currently in?

I am based in Dublin in Ireland

How long have you lived over there?

I have lived here for 3 years

Why did you decide to leave Cameroon?

I felt like I could not learn and achieve what I wanted in my country so I had to find another place.

Why did you choose that country?

It wasn’t my first choice to come here. However, I heard that Ireland was the hub of several big IT companies. I thought it might be a good opportunity for me after I graduated. And it was.

How did you find out about the particular school abroad?

Internet. I based my choice on a school that had a high percentage of international students – as I was very worried about racism, and the degree I wanted to pursue. I joined an institution that was called DIT (Dublin Institute of Technology) at the time. Today it joined 2 other institutions to establish the first technological university of the country, Technological University Dublin (TU Dublin).

How has your experience been so far?

I had a very good experience so far. It included hard challenges of course and that contributed to my growth of course. I really liked how open people are here and the level of acceptance I saw was beyond everything I could have imagined. I remember how relieved I was to find a prayer room at college. This was a luxury I didn’t have in my country. If I faced any kind of racism I surely didn’t feel it.

I got a job before I even graduated because someone I met once at a networking event passed on my CV to their colleagues.

Any regrets?

I am not someone who have regrets. I think good times are there to enjoy and challenging times are for us to learn and grow. And I always do my best given the circumstances.

How did the COVID 19 affect your life there?

It was challenging at the beginning of the pandemic to find a new job or the internship that I needed to complete my MSc in cybersecurity. Everything slowed down for a while. I think we all needed that break but I was also worried about my financial situation.

Academically of course we had to study online and attend lectures online. Labs were very challenging as lecturers cannot go around and look at students’ computers to provide feedbacks. So it was a bit lonely. But I am not going to complain because I didn’t have to rush out in the cold early in the morning to catch the bus and spend hours in commute.

I am not too social as a person so COVID didn’t really affect me socially. However, I missed walking in my favourite painting and arts shops.

Would you recommend the country to our readers? Why?

Yes definitely. If you are the type of person who enjoys beautiful sceneries, new opportunities and being with a diverse and open community, you should consider Ireland. The country is really beautiful, the people are really nice and there are opportunities for growth especially in the IT sector. However, know that wherever you go, you need to do your part, to adjust, to learn and reach your goals.

Would you recommend the school you attended abroad? Why?

TU Dublin? Yes I recommend it. You’ll have knowledgeable and happy to help lecturers and you’ll have access to good mentoring programs that’ll help you integrate in your environment even if you are an introvert who hardly makes friends like me. You equally need social skills to integrate a new professional environment and develop your career.

What are the employment prospects for internationals?

Ireland has made available a graduate visa for international students graduating from certain sectors they have interest in such as the IT industry. this visa is available upon graduation and is a great opportunity for looking for jobs. Companies also advertise graduate roles for people who don’t have professional experience and it’s a great opportunity to get into the workplace, learn, grow and build your career. Then you can avail of a work permit from the company who will hire you. Special roles provides critical skills visa such roles in the ICT industry. These types of visas have several advantages.

Are there any particular sectors with high employment rates?

I can only speak for myself. At the moment with remote working and schooling the demand for IT professionals especially for IT security professionals and data analytics professionals is on the rise. There is a shortage of qualified individuals to take on these roles.

How was your settlement period…the first few months of moving there?

Everything was a shock but I don’t think it will be for many English speaking people. I couldn’t express myself in English at first, it was also challenging to get around the Irish accent. How things are differently done, the strange food, the cold… the public transports. The good thing is that here, people are willing to help you even when they don’t know you and you don’t look like them. It’s something to take advantage of and ask questions wherever you can. It took me a long time to adjust and I could only do so because I mingled with others as much as I could. Joined societies, mentoring and networking programs.

What’s the cost of living like?

I can’t put a number on this one. Housing is very expensive and difficult to find in Dublin and food too. But I guess it depends on each person’s level of life.

How do you compare the night life there to that of your home country?

I can’t really say. I don’t go out at night especially.

How do you spend your weekends?

Hikes with friends, trips, restaurants, cinemas… of course now everything changed with the lockdown. I am not a fan of online events.

What’s your favourite place over there?

The hills

Is there a strong African community in Ireland?

I am not sure what strong means here. But I find food from home for example in African and Asian shops. I see lot of Nigerians, Sudanese, Somalis and Kenyans… I think the population is quite diverse.

What do you miss about Cameroon?

My family… Food!! Natural, good organic Cameroonian food! Mountains… the weather

Would you like to return home permanently someday?

Yes absolutely

What do you consider to be the most important skill in adapting to a new country, it’s culture and demands?

Being open minded and open to change and new opportunities. Being open to learn and adjust. Also be yourself and share about yourself so that others will also know about your differences.

Any general advice for people looking to relocate to Ireland for study / work?

Prepare… from online resources, people you know. Have a plan towards a goal that’s attached to your heart. But know that your plan is just a guide and it is not set in stone. It is unlikely that everything you plan will go accordingly. So you will need to adjust on the way based on the new information you receive and what you want to achieve. Be ready for surprises as well. You don’t need to know everything but you need to be ready to drive your way to reach your goal.

What’s the biggest myth about living abroad as an African?

That maybe we live on trees, and we ride lions and giraffes to school!

Haha!!! Some people don’t have a clue about Africa and they just imagine things based on movies perhaps. Other people know some countries and assume everyone is from there. Many times I have been asked how people are in South Africa or Nigeria… for people who actually know that Cameroon exists they imagine that we all play football there and that’s the only thing we do. Most people are shocked though to discover that there are Muslims in Cameroon.

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