Waazaki: Life as a Young Nigerian Student in the UK

The euphoria of going to school in England was briefly suspended by the UK embassy. What do you mean by my “documents cannot be found?” This was obviously the devil’s handiwork. Or maybe God did not want me to attend Fresher’s week – the week where first years do no school work but make friends and party hard. I would never know whose handiwork it was, but as I later received my visa and boarded that airplane to England, I was too excited to care.

Like any Nigerian child going to a school abroad, I was given ‘The Talk’- The money talk. A subject my friends also acknowledged.This was where my parents referred to the Naira-Dollar rate and reminded me of how high the exchange rate was. For added effect, my father summoned a calculator, added up my school fees, accommodation, allowance, books and transportation cost in Naira and Pounds. “You are going to the UK oh!” they say, and should behave yourself, avoid bad friends and most especially boyfriends (how dare you play with your destiny!). In subtle, yet pronounced ways, my parents jog my memory on the fact that they are neither politicians nor Dangote, so I should work hard and harder than they in fact do.

These warnings only become real when I’m about to spend £300 on that pretty pair of Russell and Bromley shoes on sale. I immediately hear my mother’s voice silently whispering in my ears, “child, you are going astray”, sharp sharp I behave myself.

Like any other young Nigerian student, I was told of that Aunty in London who should be called in case of emergency. I have come to realise how instrumental they can be, especially in times when I miss home and can stop by just to ‘come and say hi’. The joy of returning with containers of jollof rice and vegetable soup, is honestly quite inexplicable.

After navigating the complexity of the British transport system, another challenge that baffled me was attempting to understand the British accent. At first, I found myself constantly saying ‘ehn?’ but days when my aje-butter genes kick in: ‘come again’, ‘sorry I didn’t get that’, ‘pardon’. I understand their visible frustration but unfortunately can’t help it. Considering how you have to spell your name or surname almost every time if it’s complicated. After a while, you get used to the ‘C for car, H for hotel, I for Internet, D for Dog and another I for Ice cream…’CHIDI’ method. Or you give yourself some cool nickname like ‘CJ’ – Chidiegwu Jibunoh.

Notwithstanding the struggles on the foreign front, there is always that relative who reminds you to buy ‘something’ for them. As much as I love my extended family, I sometimes wonder whether they think I’m in the UK to work or do some type of business. Some even have the cheek to give specifications of the brand, colour, size, and number of bags they desire. Abeg with all due respect Aunty, Jesus is the burden bearer.

Irrespective of the several times I had been in UK for summer or Christmas breaks, there’s still so much to learn, adapt to and talk about. Having to learn a new phone number, grasping the importance of post codes, Google maps and hot chocolate is the proverbial ‘beginning of wisdom’.

If you are schooling in UK or somewhere overseas, please share your experience about the culture shock and the little things you had to get used to.

Photo Credit: Dreamstime

44 Comments on Waazaki: Life as a Young Nigerian Student in the UK
  • G.Joe January 18, 2016 at 11:27 pm

    This reminds me of an experience in my 1st year at UCL that I still recall as a cultural shock (just a wee-bit) but has now become a habit. Tom (a Caucasian course mate) and I get sandwiches from subway on Tottenham court road (central London). As we walk out of Subway, I’m thinking we’re about to walk back to UNI, find a suitable place to seat and eat. Next thing I know Tom unwraps the messy sandwich and starts eating it as we walk down the busy street (at lunch time, you can imagine the crowd in central London) and no one seemed to be bothered, except me. He then gives me this mini-lecture on how nobody really cares. Ever since, I have learnt to confidently eat just about anything whilst walking down the road (of course, as decently as possible, lol) if it would save me some time or I just can’t be bothered to find a nice place to seat and eat.

    • Damseldam1 January 19, 2016 at 12:39 pm

      Wow you’re brave! I can’t even do that. Lol lol

    • BelleBelle January 19, 2016 at 10:06 pm

      This subway story reminds me of my own subway story. I got to birmingham for school and one of my coursemates said we should go to subway for lunch. I thought we were going to an actual subway!! Looool!

  • Anne January 19, 2016 at 12:10 am

    Nice and interesting write up. I wish it was more extensive. However, i have nothing to add because I did not school abroad.

  • Hauwa January 19, 2016 at 12:35 am

    Aww reminds me of my first days at uni!! I reckon you’re a first year student, you write pretty well for one, I laughed at your mum’s whisper! Unrepentant bargain hunter? Bye! Too real ?

    The only thing that stood out for me was how I spent my whole pocket money in a week! Thank God the banks were still working well and the exchange rates were reasonable. After two phone calls filled with moans and shivers my parents sent me money sharp Shap! Lol.

    Enjoy your first year, I believe it’s not counted towards the end result…so just chill. Lol.

    Write more too 🙂

  • Sara January 19, 2016 at 12:41 am

    Looool too funny! Brings back so much memories. For me the real struggle was the Brit accent and lack of Naija foods especially as I was in the most Oyibo city! And I missed home!!
    But you’ll eventually get used to it, keep your chin up Hun, you gat this!

  • lagos is my home January 19, 2016 at 4:32 am

    Those good old students days , even though mine is years ago i still remember. Been to the states a million times however 1st semester i had serious culture shock. Every thing felt so different from what i knew so i missed Naija terribly and been thrown into the deep end (hostel with a million others so suddenly didnt help)…. i went from a bubbling freshman to become a quiet student who felt very inferior with my naija tongue. … Thankfully as yrs went on , i opened up more and overcame my insecurities

    Enjoy your uni days and try to mingle with others non Nigerians. Its always feels easier initally to stick with people of ur kind but for faster integration socialise with others…

    • lagos is my home January 19, 2016 at 8:43 am

      You never forget the little things that register in your brain. I wont forget the first day i asked around in class. Does anyone have a spare “biro” and all i got was blank stares like biko wetin be that? . …..Another time i went shopping and asked that pls i looking for smart trousers. The response was what is Trousers ….i quickly recorgnised that american are on way street and only understand their words. U have to call toilet restroom or dustinbin trash or petrol gas for them to get u . …. and then sometimes u get the annoying comments. You speak good english for an africa . …side eyes we speak english in Nigeria , which i am from btw afria is not a country. Or do you know Xx and Xx she from africa too..Nope how would i know Xx just blc they are from africa . Africa is big . But then again i was dealing with freshmans who probably never left their town before college hence they think Africa is a country

  • Tk January 19, 2016 at 8:55 am

    My first year at college in England, I had an american room mate. We got along quite well and decided to do our food/house shopping together, heck after a while we decided to prep and cook dinner together. She was very eager to try new dishes and she could handle the spice, I made some spicy chicken wings the first day we cooked together and then it was her turn and na when the real gombe start. She was making pasta and tomato sauce (Yum, or so I thought) my nigga made the pasta first and I was thinking “Uhn not so smart, pasta would get cold now. You make the sauce first but oh well”. Next thing she brought out a can of plum, blended the plum added a bit of salt and put on fire for less than 5mins. I swear I wanted to throw up, like no frying of the sause, no chilli, no maggi, I told her I’d have dinner in my room as I didn’t want her hurt. Lol to cut the story short, she wanted me to make dinner a whole lot and she absolutely fell in love with Indomie. I loved my time in England, meeting people from different walks of like, it’ like travelling the world whilst sat somewhere.

  • niyoola January 19, 2016 at 9:43 am

    My first day at Uni, i was trying to locate the Registration Centre. After walking about aimlessly for a while, I asked a student if he knew the RC; he said to follow hime. AFter about 3 minute waka, the eediat actually took me to the school map …… ptscheeeeeew. We actually walked past the RC while going to the school map o. Olori gbeske.

    • Ephi January 19, 2016 at 11:44 am

      hahahaha @ school map; what a mean ass 😀

    • Omofola January 19, 2016 at 12:00 pm

      Lmaooo. Afi olori gbeske na. I would have just cussed him out in Yoruba

  • JADE January 19, 2016 at 9:44 am

    LOL, the good old days, i remember the cold the most, there were days i was soo cold i would just sit and cry and wish i could go back home for the sun, i never had an issue with the accent but the worst was the bus routes, as the bus stops don’t have names like here in naija that they will tell you if you hear cele shout owa, I missed my stops so many times ehn, infact i stood on the wrong side of the road and got on the bus going in the wrong direction soo many times but I thank God for bus pass so my money didn’t finish on transport.

    • Jand JJC January 19, 2016 at 11:36 am

      oh gosh, that happened to me soooooo many times. imagine standing for 20mins in the cold, your nose running like tap, the bus you should have gotten on has passed you like twice, but you are on the wrong side of the road. the bus finally comes and you get in and start shouting in your head, this bus is going in the other direction, oh my goodness. then you press the bell, press the bell, get out at the next stop and if it is your unlucky day that day, the bus stop for the other direction won’t be directly opposite. sometimes, you have to go look for it. I was late to school for the first couple of weeks because i kept missing my way. the days the bus doesn’t come on time nko, you figure you can walk it. 5 minutes in, you start regretting it, only to look back and see the stupid bus just leaving the bus stop that you stood for for 10 FREAKING MINUTES. Then you start running after the bus, waving your arms up and down like a crazy person and this foolish driver will just drive past you and keep pointing at the next stop. My school was a village, so bus stops were far in between, so there’s no way you can run to catch him at the next stop. he won’t wait for you. So, you start to think, should i go back to the previous stop and wait, then you think of the bus times and realise, the next one won’t come until another 20/25mins or even later, you may as well start walking. Gosh, i cried on those mornings ehn, hot tears streaming down my face that would turn cold. On one of such mornings, i called my parents crying and crying. me a grown ass 28yr old was crying like a baby. i told them i wanted to come home that day. Trust my father, he gave the naira equivalent of my school fees and told me if i wanted all that to waste. My eyes cleared sharply and i started walking. i didn’t talk to him for 3 weeks. lol. Gosh the memories.

      • Omofola January 19, 2016 at 11:59 am

        I can just imagine. Lmaoooooo, I love your daddy already. You can imagine if it was now that pounds is 405 naira, he would have just cussed you out.

      • Ijebu pikin January 19, 2016 at 1:03 pm

        Your dad only said school fees. My mother would have added visa fee, plane ticke fee, Lord help you if your school is outside London. She would add train fare to it, then accommodation bill, books, your monthly allowance, by the time she is done, Usain Bolt will be eating your dust by the time you pick race. How do I know this? She did this to me multiple times while telling me how she suffered to get that money and what she would have done with it by herself. The woman invented guilt tripping. Very effective as she has now raised 3 Oxbridge educated children working for Fortune 500 companies. By herself. Love you Mama. We all owe you our first borns.

      • Anonymous January 19, 2016 at 5:36 pm

        Oh my goodness, your story had me rolling on the floor, I can so relate!

      • Esther A. February 11, 2016 at 3:48 am

        Lmao!…I feel you! I came to Canada in the peak of last year’s winter and had to do house-hunting (missed the campus residence offers)..the cold ehn! there were days I just ran into the nearest bus, not minding the destination or shopping mall to get away from the cold…thank God this year’s winter is warmer.
        Its hard for me to ‘appreciate’ global warming in this place sha, I’m just happy it is warmer..and by warmer I mean -10 degrees!

  • Ojie January 19, 2016 at 9:52 am

    I struggled with “Are you alright?” or “You alright Ojie?” My response was ‘ yes………why wouldn’t i be?”. Even if my subconscious told me it was AKA for ‘Hello’, it was quite baffling. The “You speak good English” aspect slowly evolved to “How long have you been in England for?” or the all time epic ‘ So…..Ojie… Do you parents speak Nigerian?” I calmly took it upon myself to educate them on the various languages we have in Nigeria, including English and the fact that, there is no such thing like Nigerian. Yes, Spain speak Spanish, Germany- German, England- English, but that does not apply across the board, especially to Nigeria.

  • xx January 19, 2016 at 11:07 am

    They don’t read abi.

  • ifeanyi January 19, 2016 at 11:25 am

    My first experience in UK… Not so pleasant!

    After the Disappointment of seeing Old Houses, from my Window on my way to Exeter from London…about stepping out of the train and discovered my Umbrella was missing, I asked the Brits around me, “who moved my Umbrella?”

    They stared at me and wondered where has it been moved to.

    I had to explain to the wrinkled-lady coming down with me that is a polite way to ask, “Who stole my Umbrella”

    Not sure she still got the Joke!

    • Omofola January 19, 2016 at 11:57 am

      Lmao.Even some Nigerians don’t know move means steal not to talk of Obodo people

  • Joe January 19, 2016 at 11:44 am

    Indeed travelling helps a lot in changing the way one thinks. Travelling is a good thing to invest in, maybe not always but at least once in a lifetime.

    I used to convert the price of almost very item from pounds to naira to know it’s worth before I bought but I soon realised that if I continued like that I’d never buy anything.

    If you go broke in the UK (and I’m sure in other Western countries) where you don’t have family and you tell your ‘oyinbo’ friends or flatmates to burrow you some cash to pay back maybe the next week they’ll think you’re crazy. They’d rather direct you to the bank to take a loan.

  • Evans January 19, 2016 at 11:46 am

    Scottish accent is something else. If you’re not used to them you’ll say ”come again” twice to every sentence and still not understand. So you just play along giving a reply that probably doesn’t relate to the discussion instead of another ”come again” or ”ehn”

    I was amazed when a Londoner once told me he understands me better than the Scots.

  • Onye January 19, 2016 at 11:54 am

    My Nigerian classmate kept saying; “Excuse me sir” when he wanted to ask questions during lectures. The Professor couldn’t help but tell the dude to just call him Graeme which was his first name.
    “Excuse me sir” isn’t bad but those guys just like modesty and prefer to be more relatable with their students

    • judy January 19, 2016 at 12:25 pm

      Please Sir how many names do you have while posting comments
      1. Joe
      2. Evans
      3. Onye
      My fellow BN you follow me ….lol

      • Stellz January 19, 2016 at 3:17 pm

        Lmaoo judge Judy! I think we would allow pthis since they’re not contradictory statements. Allow him/her to famz with ‘Schooling in Jand’.

  • Omofola January 19, 2016 at 12:05 pm

    “Abeg with all due respect Aunty, Jesus is the burden bearer.” LMAOOOOOO

    • Stellz January 19, 2016 at 3:19 pm

      Lol I actually died yuno. Considering the fact that their requests are actually burdens!! But she said ‘with all due respect’ ah ????

  • Damseldam1 January 19, 2016 at 12:49 pm

    I enjoyed reading all these comments it sooooo funny lol lol I wish I can school in Nigeria it would be so much fun being a fresher ?

  • segzie January 19, 2016 at 2:37 pm

    It was a very sharp learning curve for me I tell ya, everyone I met was like “You alright”???? and I was like nothing happen to me now………………..some funny Naija accents as per pronunciation had to be chucked into the trash bin like Axe for Ask, Rhadiator for Radiator, Fhuel for fuel etc. I had to learn courtesy of always saying thank you after payment of essential services etc and please when I need some assistance there about, and never to raise my voice high as Oyinbo go just tell me “Calm down” say we no de fight but me just dey talk normally ni ooooo. In short I had to learn the proper accent so dem fit understand me, but when I get annoyed that Naija accent dey show hin face though!!!! Lol. Gone are the days of calculating exchange rates before I shop, them days was fun and a big learning curve.

  • Zino January 19, 2016 at 3:31 pm

    Deeaadddd! I’m also a first year student schooling in the UK. And how much I can relate to this is too accurate. Even the burden of hearing my friends laugh when I pronounce words in some certain ways is something I’m already tired off. And money spending is also an issue for me! Receiving emails from various websites with all the sales and free next day deliveries. They just get you in your feelings *crying*. Amazing workpiece. I can’t wait for the next one! God bless you

  • Sara January 19, 2016 at 4:06 pm

    I remember arriving at Heathrow and asking the T-Mobile guy for ‘credit’ (my dad gave me his UK sim) and the guy kept looking at me like huhhh ?
    Until one annoying Nigerian Aunty passing by just chuckled and said ‘she means top-up’ hahaha ???

    • rabbit teeth January 19, 2016 at 4:34 pm

      This made me chuckle……the life of a johnny just come .. welcome to abroad

  • Aleesha January 19, 2016 at 4:08 pm

    LOOL! You write really well. Looking forward to your next piece.

  • Wazaaki’s Tiwa January 19, 2016 at 4:24 pm

    ???? £300 on shoes?? Haba!! This article is on point, I think everyone can relate to the whole CHIDI way of pronouncing our names to foreign people. It happens to me a lot when I’m on the phone with customer service?. Customer service is just the worst. So many” can you repeat that please?” And ” I didn’t hear you quite clearly”. I think for me, the most annoying thing about being in a foreign land is not being able to insult the foreigners properly, cause that’s won’t understand ? But that aside, so proud of you , omo bigz geh!

  • fish January 19, 2016 at 4:26 pm

    LMAO. What of how you have to be counting coins any time you want to take the bus? I actually remember speaking in my class and i used the “sha” word. but praise the Lord! lol

  • Ozyy January 19, 2016 at 4:33 pm

    When I was in Uni, an American Uni in d UAE. I said “next tomorrow”…everyone in class laughed at me. I was supposed to say “a day after tomorrow”, thank GOD i had my Nigerian friend in class to bail me and say that it was right back at home…..life as an international student.

  • Cookie January 19, 2016 at 5:27 pm

    LoL. I so remember my first day in Uni. After receiving a proper lecture from my cousin, I landed in school on Monday morning after she dropped me off. Lectures over and time to go home and I completely forgot what bus I was to hop on. I called my cousin on phone severally to no avail. Kai, I wanted to cry. I ended up wandering around till I found a police station and reported myself lost. Eventually, my cousin came through on phone and gave me direction on what bus to ride home – bus 12. Not funny at all

  • Anonymous January 19, 2016 at 5:35 pm

    Oh my goodness, your story had me rolling on the floor, I can so relate!

  • Coper January 19, 2016 at 5:44 pm

    The comments yo! diessss
    Yall I think we all need to come together and make a book “Guide to your first year in the abroad- For Nigerian JJCs” Amen sombody?

    My sister is going next year, I’m sending this link to her as I pity her already.

  • Akanke January 19, 2016 at 10:06 pm

    Lmaaaooooooo… i don laff tire! Please keep the comments and experiences coming

  • OlaOlu January 19, 2016 at 11:43 pm

    JJC is a skill every Nigerian who has travelled outside its shore would have, hilarious comments, guess you all now talk with a false western accent upon your return to Nigeria.

  • Jay jay March 26, 2016 at 12:49 pm

    So not looking forward to going there. And September is almost here ?

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