Students in Nigerian universities have stories to tell, but hardly anyone to tell them to. For our new weekly series, Aluta and Chill, we are putting the spotlight on these students and their various campus experiences.
This week’s subject is Nathe Esther Yila, a 500 level student of Law at Bowen University. She talks about leaving Kaduna State to study in the South-West and the struggles that came with dealing with the culture shock and process of fitting in.
When did you get into school?
2015. I was raised in Kaduna and had my primary and secondary education there. Ahmadu Bello University was the closest choice for university, but my dad wasn’t sold on the idea of me studying there. He went to ABU too, and between the strikes and everything, he didn’t have a good experience. We started looking into private universities in the South-West. We narrowed the search to Babcock University and Bowen University. We settled for Bowen. I applied to study Law, wrote the Post-UTME exam, and here I am.
How much did the idea of studying in another region appeal to you?
I read a lot, and everything I knew about the South-West came from books. This was an opportunity to explore, and I was open to the experience.
Lit. What did you make of the university when you first got there?
The culture shock hit from the moment I stepped into the school. During registration, the only thing I heard everywhere I went to was Yoruba. I felt alienated immediately. Luckily, my mum’s friend who spoke Yoruba was with me and she handled the language part. Also, the people I felt met didn’t come off as helpful and the ones who out expected a reward. Everything was just so new to me, and to be honest, it was overwhelming.
How easy was it to get past that?
It was a process, and I wouldn’t say I got past it immediately. There was a general assumption that I was Hausa and a Muslim when in reality I’m Tangale and a Christian. I remember this conversation I had with another student in 100 level and how he was visibly upset when I stood my ground and told him that I was from one of the minority tribes. This guy kept saying it to my face that all the tribes are the same. That kind of ignorance can be difficult to deal with sometimes.
But that’s only a bit of my initial experience. A lot of people from the school were surprised that I was at the school.
What do you mean?
When some of the students realised that I was from the North, they became curious. It became a regular occurrence at the time for people to ask me how I knew about Bowen.
At first, it was cute, but I started to feel like I wasn’t supposed to be here — that my world was far apart and I should have stayed there. I got a lot of questions about how I got admitted into the university like I couldn’t have managed the exams I needed to write.
There were also lots of questions about Boko Haram. But it wasn’t about the questions but how they asked them. People went on like I knew the terrorists and lived next door with them. There was a time someone asked me how they were treating us. And this was a trigger for me because I’ve lost family members to Boko Haram and I know people who have been displaced from their homes. I get the need to ask questions, but a little sensitivity would have gone a long way.
How did all this make you feel?
It was somewhat tough at first, but I didn’t feel entirely bad about it. Now that some years have passed, I remember these events and just laugh.
How did these first experiences affect your relationship with other students?
It wasn’t a conscious attempt but I think I was forced to withdraw into my shell. I was wary of everyone because I wasn’t sure what they would say to me. And maybe the most difficult part of this was that I felt like I had to behave or I would run into trouble I couldn’t get out of.
When did it feel like you started to fit in?
I didn’t really notice the process, but I know that I started to enjoy my time in school when I got to my third year. 100 level was hard and 200 level was a blur. But there was this clarity that came when I got to 300 level and I’ve been running with it since. And my grades had a role to play in that.
I had some issues with a course in 100 level, and it was primarily because the lecturer spoke a lot of Yoruba, which I hadn’t quite picked up. All the code-switching made it difficult to catch up. I lost interest in the course and didn’t do well in it and this affected my grades.
I’m sorry about that.
It’s fine. There was still a lot of adjustment in my second year, so I lagged behind with my academics. At the start of my third year, it felt like I’d finally found my place and that was the turning point for me with everything. I got my grades up and started to mix in with the crowd. Now, I might say that this university has become a second home.
That’s really heartwarming. What’s the best part of studying in a new region?
I’m learning about so much more than academics. I’ve spent only a few years here but I can say that I’ve learned so much about a new culture and its people. And while my Yoruba may not be the best, I have a basic understanding that I wouldn’t have learned elsewhere. So, there are these perks and they’re so fascinating.
What are you looking forward to now?
I’m looking forward to finishing my final year project. I’m researching gender-based violence in the North-East, and it’s so important to me. I can’t wait for us to put this Coronavirus thing behind us so I can go back to school for the last lap. Naturally, Law school and NYSC after that. At the moment, I’m hoping to do my Masters in a Scandinavian country. We will see how this goes.
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Can’t get enough Aluta and Chill? Check back every Thursday at noon for a new episode. Find other stories in the series here.