Muinat Adekeye: When an African Student Leaves the Nest
African students who leave the continent to study abroad already have strong core values. Their desire to leave the nest and open themselves to exploring the world is fueled by these core values. Nevertheless, whether one is young or old, one must remain open to new experiences and realities.
Africa is home and home is Africa. Despite her ills, there is a kind of comfort she provides for her children. In Africa, many of us find peace, joy, and happiness. Communal unity is the yardstick of every interaction; every man is a brother, every woman is a mother and the children are raised by the community.
However, a time comes when the children must explore the outside world and open themselves to new opportunities. Today, one can find Africans, particularly those who travel for further studies, in almost all countries of the world.
Below are five important tips on how African graduate students can survive in the diaspora:
Obtain Information About Your Country of Study
Cultures, traditions, and laws differ in various societies. An innocent gesture in Africa may be an insulting one and a respectful one may be rude in other societies. Through my experience studying in the United States, I realised that maintaining eye contact while conversing with others depicts confidence and honesty. Looking away might make an individual seem insecure or dishonest. As a young woman who grew up in a highly traditional Nigerian society, I was previously conditioned to believe maintaining eye contact is a sign of disrespect or lack of shame. After a few weeks in the United States, I learned how to maintain eye contact and confidence. Other necessary information worth learning about includes the religiosity of the area, the extent of their reception towards immigrants, crime rate, and others.
Learn Financial Management
With the fluctuating rates of most African currencies, like the Naira, one of the most important ways of surviving graduate school abroad is learning how to cut costs. Budgeting, paying exorbitant utility bills, and rent is hardly a daily practice for most African students who grew up in countries like Nigeria. I remember one of my colleagues who found it difficult to purchase anything in the United States because he keeps converting the prices to Naira which, of course, threw him off. However, since one cannot avoid certain transactions, it is important to learn how best to manage one’s resources. Some of the ways of doing this include buying in bulk, looking for cheaper stores like the Dollar Tree, sharing apartments, learning essential skills like barbing, braiding cooking, and planning your spending for the month.
Build Your Network
No man is an island. As a stranger in a new land, meeting new people and building a support system is important to build a strong network and also for your mental health. You must ensure you either join or create new support systems to avoid loneliness. Doing this may involve joining your local gym, looking for other African students and maintaining links with them, attending events and volunteering.
Pack Sentimental Items
Home sickness is real and it’s no shame to attest to the fact that we all go through a period where we regret or miss leaving home, even for those who swore to leave Africa at the first opportunity. There is something about the waters of this ‘nest’ that draws you to it. You yearn to leave, yet feel lost and alone when you do. It is thus important for you to take a piece of your old self with you, because you are a new person when you leave the nest and you’re having new experiences. A piece of you may be a family picture, an African attire, an ornament or anything that you hold dear to your heart. Take a piece of your African self with you everywhere you go.
Be Open to Learning New Things
African students who leave the continent to study abroad already have strong core values. Their desire to leave the nest and open themselves to exploring the world is fueled by these core values. Nevertheless, whether one is young or old, one must remain open to new experiences and realities. Africa is not the end, and neither is moving abroad. They are, however, the means of opening oneself to unfamiliar experiences, particularly the fact that life exists in multilayers. Those who refuse to let go of their rigid structures usually find it difficult to cope when exposed to life outside the nest (Africa) that has sheltered them for a long time. Opening oneself to new realities does not mean letting go of one’s core values. Instead, it is by having a liberal mindset that one can decide whether those core values are worth ‘doing life with’.