As part of our interview series with Africans in diaspora, we talk with a UK based Nigerian about her gestalt of experiences as an International Student of African descent.
Hello and thank you so much for taking part in this interview. Could you please tell us about yourself.
Hi my name is Menma Nwaeke. I am Nigerian I studied Finance in my undergrad and I did Human Resource Management for my Masters. I am currently in the UK, in Birmingham to be precise. I am still student as I proceeded to study for my ACCA in order to be a Chartered accountant. I am also doing a second Masters degree in Accounting and Finance while actively job seeking,
The reason I opted for an ACCA is because accounting was always something I wanted to do. Human Resource Management for me, was essentially a beak from numbers, to give myself a chill time. So now I am back, fully engaged with the numbers game.
How long have you lived over there?
I have been in the UK since 2014. So that is about 7 years. More like 6 years given I returned to Nigeria for my NYSC in 2018. Now I am back.
Why did you decide to leave Nigeria?
Well, I decided to leave Nigeria because, well, I mean the country is a struggle innit?
So I left there because for what I want to do in my life, I simply do not see myself being in Nigeria. For the direction I aspire my life to head towards, I do not see Nigeria in the picture.
Nigeria could be in the picture when I eventually make money. But, at the moment, I don’t think Nigeria is quite for me.
Why did you choose that country?
I would say, ab initio, the choice was my parents. The choice was one of convenience but I was never opposed to it. I definitely preferred the UK to the US.
So the relative ease of travelling between Nigeria and the UK was a significant factor.
I continued staying here because I am the sort of person that does not like change. I am already used to the system here and thinking of somewhere else would just have been really long for me. I actually don’t mind it here.
How did you find out about the particular school abroad?
I did my research. That’s how I was able to find out about the school that I did my undergrad. I went to the University of Manchester for my Bachelors degree. I had always considered it to be my preferred choice. So, I researched on it and found out how long it would take for me to complete the course while I was doing my Foundation. After my undergrad, I did my research and decided on Aston University. I found out the benefits of Aston for a Human Resource Management as opposed to other universities. Doing my HRM Masters gave me the opportunity to finish with a professional degree. So now I have a CIPD accreditation in HRM.
How has your experience been so far?
What would I say? Well it has been alright I guess. It has been okay to be very honest. It’s just been there.
I don’t quite know how to properly explain it properly but I am the sort of person that can acclimatise to whatever environment I am in. So I think it was easy for me to settle in here. It’s just a bit different because in Nigeria you have your family and you can always be around people. But being here you realise that you’re on your own, then when you get to meet people you just tend to hold them tight because we are not that much and good people are a rarity.
Definitely, no regrets. I would not say there have been no regrets. Well the little regret I would have is perhaps not going to Canada because If I was in Canada, maybe by now I would have had my Permanent Residency or something. Other than that, I would not say there has been any regret whatsoever. As a person I don’t live my life with regrets.
How did the COVID 19 affect your life there?
I really can’t say because when the COVID started, I’m not going to lie, I left because I felt it was going to be a lot for my mental health. So, I went back to Nigeria. So I was back in Nigeria during the entire lockdown period. From an academic standpoint, I could not go to classes and all of that so everything was online. It was a bit hard because getting your coursework done at home with all the distractions was not ideal. But you know, when you know what you are aiming for you just have to put in the time and the effort.
Would you recommend the country to our readers? Why?
Oh yeah, yes, definitely. I would recommend the UK to people that are coming from Nigeria. Definitely, especially if you have a very good career path. Like if you’re a doctor, a nurse or an engineer. It is going to be way easier for you to find a job compared to other professions because there are steadily looking for people in those field. I would say one needs a really strong will if you are applying for jobs. So if you get a rejection, for instance, you should keep applying because it is not easy.
Would you recommend the schools you attended?
Definitely. I would recommend both schools. I like the University of Manchester because it is a really good school to be honest. But I would recommend Aston more than Manchester because Manchester is a much bigger school. It’s a really big school so they don’t tend to care about their students as much as Aston. Aston is a big school but not as big as the University of Manchester. Aston pay a lot of attention to the well being and career interests of their students. There willing to help you find jobs, fix your CVs even after you’re done with school.
Even today, I got a call from someone at Aston about my career. So i would recommend Aston over Manchester because they go the extra mile for their students.
What are the employment prospects for internationals?
Like I said earlier it is kind of hard finding a job to be honest. Especially a job that will sponsor your visa. Like it is really hard especially if you are not a doctor, nurse or an engineer. These career paths are the ones that mostly get jobs easily. So it is hard but there is nothing that comes easy. If you really want a job you will definitely find a job.
You just have to put in the effort and continue trying and trying and I am sure you would definitely find one. I know a lot of people that have gotten jobs and they didn’t study any of those courses.
How was your settlement period like…the first few months of moving there?
I came here when I was 16. So, a lot of people kept asking me if I was entirely sure about coming to the UK being 16 and all of that. I mean I felt like it was no big deal because I went to a boarding school from the age of 10. So, I had been separated from parents throughout my secondary school days.
I would not say I experienced any culture shocks moving to the UK because I came here a lot during holidays. So I was already used to the environment. I got a student accommodation from my college so it was not hard for me to find one. I also had my cousin around so feeding was not hard for me.
It’s only if you aren’t exposed to this place that it might be a bit of a culture shock for you. Do you get what I mean? But itf you are already used to going abroad to places like UK or Ireland or any other place, it might not be that hard for you. That’s how I feel.
What’s the cost of living like?
This is the part that kind of took me aback because when I first came. With the currency being different and all, and back then I didn’t really know the worth of money, so I was a bit reckless in spending. But now I can literally tell you places that you should not live in.
Like London for instance, if you are talking about cost of living and you are trying to minimize tour spending. I would totally advise against living in London.
I did my College in London, my undergrad in Manchester for three years and my Masters in Birmingham. So I have lived in 3 different cities and they’re not 3 small cities. They are 3 big cities. I would say the cost of living down south is a bit high. It’s on the high side. Like it is really really high.
So if you are trying to spend like 5 or 6 pounds on a sandwich you can go there. If you’re trying to pay rent that is equivalent to your salary you can live in London or the South. But if you are trying to live a very good life but at a lower rate, I would recommend the North or the West Midlands.
Like in Manchester, for instance, everything is significantly cheap. They have good food, they have everything. The life is there but it is cheap because it is in the North of England. So I would say that living in Manchester of Birmingham is significantly cheaper compared with the Southern areas.
How do you compare the night life there to that of your home country?
Nightlife. Well I stayed in Abuja. Abuja people we don’t really have that much of a night life. It’s Lagos people that have such. So I would say the nightlife here pops more because British people have the habit of going out for drinks. Like they go to the pub to have a beer and just chill. So I’ll say it pops more here. But if I am trying to equate it to Lagos, I would say maybe Lagos pops more than this place because you can catch and I am Nigerian so I would say that is better than here. But ultimately, I would say its somewhat equal if I am comparing it to Lagos.
How do you spend your weekends?
I spend my weekends sleeping. Like I don’t really do much. Either I’m sleep or studying or watching series. There is really nothing much to do here.
What’s your favourite place over there?
If it’s city-wise, I believe Manchester is my favourite place. Like people that talk to me a lot know that I have so much love for that place. Probably because of the amount of food they have. You can go to different restaurants in Manchester and you wouldn’t still be done. Like there is so much food there.
In terms of places, then it has got to be VAPIANO. It is an Italian restaurant. I like food. I don’t really do much other than food. I really love going there to eat.
Is there a strong African community in the UK?
Oh definitely. There are a whole lot of Nigerians in the UK, especially in London. There are lots of Nigerians, lots of Africans over here. I think most times in universities here, they have this ACS – African Caribbean Society. So that shows the number of Africans that go to each University for them to have a society.
What do you miss about Nigeria?
I miss the food!!
I miss food so much. I cook a lot but I still miss Nigerian food so much because I barely buy food here. I barely go out. I can’t just get shawarma at ease. The burgers here aren’t as spiced as in Nigeria. So I kind of miss Nigeria because of the food and vibes. Nigeria has so much vibes. I also miss my family because what can you do without family.
Would you like to return to Nigeria permanently someday?
I would never want to return to Nigeria permanently. Can we all see how the country is getting worse daily. Never. Not in my wildest dreams.
What do you consider to be the most important skill in adapting to a new country, it’s culture and demands?
I feel one of the more important skills is being open minded because most Nigerians tend to be really, really close minded. So, just be open minded towards a lot of thing because things are not the same. What happen is Nigeria compared with what happens here are two different things. The way people interact are two different things. So it’s about being open-minded and willing to learn the difference. That’s what I’ll say.
Any general advice for people looking to relocate to the UK for study / work?
I would say you should put in the effort. If you don’t get through your first job interview. Keep trying and you will definitely land a job.
For those coming to study, I think it’s best to get a good support system because when you are here that is all you need. Sometimes you just need people to run to about certain challenges as regards your education. Obviously because the academic demands in the UK are different from what is obtainable in Nigeria.
Just in general, I think a good support system when studying here or applying for jobs. I think the UK is somewhere you can easily adapt to. People would always say that it is the next Nigeria because a lot of Nigerians are here.
What’s the biggest myth about living abroad as an African?
People think that when you are here you have money.
That is a lie. That’s a big lie. Where is the money?
That’s just it. I think that’s the biggest myth. Like if you are here people just automatically think you have money. That you are balling.
Different people. Different struggles.
You never really know what someone is going through and that’s all I have to say.
Money is the money. It’s the biggest meat. Like, if you’re here, maybe just automatically think. Oh, this person has money. And this person is boiling. Now, five different people. Different struggles. You never really know what someone is going through, and that’s all I have to say.
Thank you for your time
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