“Why I left the US to study Medicine in the UK”. Nigerian Medical Student talks to Japafora about life abroad.

As part of our interview series with Africans in diaspora, we sit down with a young African lady domiciled in the United Kingdom 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.

Hi, my name is Adebola Kolawole. I am a Nigerian. I am currently a Medical student. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Pre-medical and Health Sciences. I school at the University of Buckingham in the UK.

How long have you lived over there?

I got here in December, so I have technically only been here for 8 months.

Why did you decide to leave Nigeria?

Well I first left Nigeria in 2014 for school. I went to the US, Boston Massachusetts and I spent 4 years there doing my Bachelor’s degree.

Why did you choose that country?

I always wanted to study medicine so I decided to school in America. In America you do four years of undergrad then another four years of medical school. So that was my plan. Then after I finished, I don’t know, America and accepting international medical students is not quite a straightforward process. To be honest they are not very accepting so I decided to explore other countries including the UK.

How did you find out about the particular school abroad?

A friend of mine actually recommended this school. She is currently in her final year, medicine as well. So yeah, that is how I found out about the University of Buckingham.

How has your experience been so far?

So far, my experience has been good. It has been really good. I think the UK is very different from America, obviously, because its smaller. So it’s much easier to meet Nigerians. I’ve met so many people in just the space of 7 to 8 months. Its different and I’ve been enjoying it so far.

Any regrets?

Uh I would not say this is a regret. But in the UK you can go in for Medicine straight after your A’ Levels and be done in 5 to 6 years. But in America you have to do 4 years of an undergraduate degree then 4 years of medical school. So, it’s a bit more complicated in America. I would not say it’s a regret because obviously going to school in America offered me a lovely experience and exposure. I gained some valuable work experience. So it was good generally speaking. But, maybe, if I knew then what I know now, I might have just come straight to the UK. It’s not exactly a regret but something I definitely would have done differently.

How did the COVID 19 affect your life there?

It affected me in the beginning because everything was online initially. So, we started the first term in January and I was basically taking classes in my room. I didn’t get to see anybody and we were doing everything on Microsoft Teams so I would see my group members and we would work online together. It was very different from what I expected because when you come to school you’re supposed to have like an orientation where you get to meet everybody in your course and socialise. So yeah it was quite different from my expectations.

But now the country is opening up more and I have in-person classes. I am now meeting people so it is much better now.

Would you recommend the country to our readers? Why?

Would I recommend the UK? Yes. Because, first of all if you’re someone that is very Nigerian or someone that is looking for a home outside of home, then I think the UK is very good. You don’t really feel like you are away from Nigeria over here. The Nigerian Community is very strong here. That’s what I can say. You wouldn’t feel isolated. Anywhere you go to in the UK you will meet people very easily. All the Nigerian foods are available. It’s a very close knit community so I will recommend it.

Especially if you are a healthcare worker, the UK is constantly looking for healthcare professionals. So I would definitely recommend it to people there. I think they are now allowing people to have a two year work visa after studying. So this gives people the opportunity to stay in the country for that period, regardless of whether or not you have a job. You could at least get some experience, do one or two things, then decide on whether or not you want to stay back. If you eventually find a job that is willing to sponsor you then great. So I will recommend it.

What are the employment prospects for internationals?

It depends. To be realistic it depends on what you study. Like it is very good for medicine. For doctors, it is practically guaranteed because even doctors who study in Nigeria find it relatively easy to come here. There is a National Healthcare System in place so that makes it quite easy. Nursing, Medical Laboratory Sciences, Healthcare specialisations in general. It’s very easy for these people to get a job that will sponsor them.

I think another professional that easily gets jobs here is engineering. Engineers almost immediately get jobs that employers are willing to sponsor them for after graduating. Most engineering students usually end up staying back. I think its really easy for them as well.

Computer Science maybe, considering its really in high demand. I think Accountants and Lawyers as well. I’m not really sure about the employment prospects of Internationals in other fields so I would rather not speak on them. So the ones I am sure of are health care jobs. Nurses, Doctors, Medical Lab professionals, very much guaranteed.

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

The first few months I was by myself. I did not know anyone in Buckingham except a final year student. I barely saw her because she was on rotations. Actually I had a friend because first I went to Birmingham, so I met someone. She was the one who showed me around. Showed me what to do, how to get my SIM card and all. So it wasn’t to bad there.

But when I was to Buckingham Ha Ha Ha…it was very different. You know Buckingham is a very small city so it was bit hard at first. But I eventually figured it out over the next few months. So now I am very settled. I know everything that I need. I know my way around as well. The thing is people are very nice around here. People will help you. So if you find a Nigerian community or Nigerian students or even African students that are like minded, they will always help you. One thing that I did personally was to find a church. If you are Christian, I would recommend finding a church here. People in churches are very nice as well and there are usually a lot of students there. So its a really good way to meet people who have gone through what you are about to go through and they could help put you through.

What’s the cost of living like?

Cost of Living. I would say it isn’t bad. I had no idea food was really cheap in England. So it’s like you can literally survive no matter how poor or broke you are. Food is cheap so you at least know you would be able to eat. So that is a plus.

Rent can be a bit expensive depending on the area. Sometimes houses closer to London are more expensive. But if you get an apartment with room mates it is less expensive. Like a one bedroom could be the same price as a three bedroom if shared. So definitely, one should not live alone except you can cover the living costs. Bills? Well, I currently don’t pay bills which is a benefit of ON-Campus accommodation because everything comes as a package. Bills are prepaid once you pay for rent. So it’s not too bad.

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

Hmm. Very good question. There is no night life in this Buckingham that I’m in. It simply does not exist. LOL.

Maybe because I’m in in Buckingham but I am sure that places like London, Birmingham, bigger cities would have some sort of night life. You know bars, clubs, activity areas you could go to.

Yeah, I think England has a very good night life if you are not in Buckingham.

How do you spend your weekends?

I am a medical student. I spend them studying. I study 24/7, all day, everyday.

I’m joking!!

But I study a lot though. I personally don’t really go out. I have a couple of friends I see from time to time. We study together. Maybe once in a while we head out to eat in a Restaurant or just go to a park and sit down. I like my home so I rather stay at home most of the time.

What’s your favourite place over there?

LOL. This question is for “out going” people. I don’t really go out. I do not currently have a favourite place right now but I will get back to you. To be continued.

Is there a strong African community in the UK?

Yes, definitely. Like I stated earlier. It is easy to meet Africans. They are everywhere I promise. I think it’s because England is close to Africa so they are plenty. That one is not a problem.

What do you miss about Nigeria?

FOOD man. I miss the food, the vibes. You will always miss Nigeria but you have to do what you have to do.

Would you like to return to Nigeria permanently someday?

I don’t know about that. I can’t speak to that. I don’t think I would want to return. Even if I am coming back to Nigeria it would be on a consulting basis. You know, go, consult, come back. In and out. Dip my toe in, come back out. Not go permanently. I don’t think so. Unless Nigeria becomes better. I don’t know if that’s going to happen sha. It would take a miracle. But if Nigeria gets better, I will come back…later, later in retirement. But for now, I dey here.

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

Omo you need to put yourselves out there. You need to network and be open. First of all, have a vert open mind and know what you want because it is easy to get confused with the amount of opportunities that are out there. But, if it is not in line with what you want for yourself then don’t bother yourself. So definitely have an open mind. Be able to network.

I cannot over-emphasise how important networking is. The people that you meet are the ones that will give you opportunities, they are the ones that will link you.

So you have to put yourself out there.

If your school or workplace is having an event or conference. GO. Challenge yourself to present. Don’t be comfortable with the barest minimum because what you find is that because you are African you may have to do more for the same respect. So the more you do the better for you. When you put yourself out there you get known and opportunities are endless. So definitely

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

START. Just start the process, no matter how difficult it might seem from where you are at the moment, Take the first step and do your research. Definitely do your research because where you end up initially, like where you go first for work or school, would influence the kind of opportunities you have around you. So definitely, definitely do your research. You know even when you are doing your research for schools, don’t be afraid to reach out to alumni. Some schools have alumni information on their webpages. People are generally willing to help and you won’t get the help if you don’t ask for it.

So ask questions, do your research, reach out to people and you will be fine.

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

That life is better. That automatically when you move abroad everything is sorted. That is absolutely not true because everywhere you go there are different struggles. So it is not magic. It’s not like you will move to a new country and suddenly all your sins are washed away and life is good. It doesn’t happen. You still have to work. It has its own challenges. It has its own difficulties. You still have to make effort and adapt. Yes that’s it.

Let me know if you guys have any other questions. I am very willing to help.

With these few words of mine, I hope I’ve been able to convince you all.

Thank you Adebola for your time

Thank you.

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