The Nigerian experience is physical, emotional and sometimes international. No one knows it better than our features on #TheAbroadLife, a series where we detail and explore Nigerian experiences while living abroad.
The subject of this week’s Abroad Life has chosen to be anonymous. She is a 21-year old International Economics and Relations student who left Nigeria for Ukraine when she was 17. She talks about racism and why she’s done with both Nigeria and Ukraine.
First things first, what’s a 21 year old Nigerian woman looking for in Ukraine, with no family there?
I’m in university, studying International Economics and Relations.
What happened to UNILAG?
Haha…The atmosphere in Nigeria is not a very good place for studying. If we’re going to be frank with each other. I have watched people ahead of me do six years for a course that was meant to last four years. There’s always a delay, somehow, as if it’s a curse. Personally, I’m not about to go on a break in between school, so that’s one major thing.
So when did you decide that you were going to leave?
It was June 2018. I had just finished secondary school and I had a friend in Ukraine already, who was studying medicine. It was her uncle who set up everything for her. She told me to come because the process was easy and I told my mom. My mom linked up with the uncle and he actually did the processing.
I thought this was one of those scam stories.
Haha.. Nope. We needed some documents, which we were able to present. I had to go to the embassy at Abuja, and I got my visa. So from the time when I decided I was going to study in Ukraine, when I applied to the school, and I told my mom, and I got my visa, it took about two weeks.
Two weeks. Although, I really don’t know how much it cost and all that because at time I was still 17 going 18 that month. My work was just to make sure I appear, and present all the needed documents and I did that. I left very shortly after.
Considering how short the time was, you didn’t have much time to say goodbye to friends and family. How was that?
It was actually cool for me, I’m not that person that has a lot of friends and all so it wasn’t too dramatic. We are in the 21st Century where you can just text “Hey, I’m leaving to study in Ukraine, I’ll see you in four years.” or make a call and you’re good. It’s never as deep as going round visiting. My family followed me to the airport. It was just normal.
So you’re arriving in Ukraine, a place where you’ve never been before. What hit you the hardest?
My God, it was the language. I didn’t have any time to learn so it was super complex. Even now, I’m always on my phone using a translator. Luckily for me, as you enter the country, the people that check the visa and your documents speak English so that helped me at least get myself into the country. I had booked for someone to pick me from Kyiv to my city, and that was a six-hour drive. After that, I found a way to settle. Google Translate everywhere.
So if I’m coming to Ukraine, I know I need to learn the language, thanks. What else do I need?
Should I be honest?
Don’t come to Ukraine.
I’m just being honest with you. You know that racism thing that they’re shouting in the US? Hmm.
Every time I enter a bus here, people act like the grim reaper has just entered and they have to avoid me at all costs. You see people instinctively using their bags to occupy seats and moving away. If you sit beside one white person, odds are they’ll stand up and leave you with an empty seat.
I’m probably just a very self aware person, but these things get to me. It’s weird feeling like you don’t fit in society and whenever you try to fit, society looks at you and says “Nope, you don’t belong here”. In my experience, it’s also been really hard to get a job, and it doesn’t help that black people pay more for stuff like housing than locals.
Why is that?
I don’t know. But me and some other black students pay $250 a month for rent in our different apartments. In the same building complex, whitestudents pay $150 or even less. Wanna hear the worst part?
It gets worse?
We have separate classes for blacks and whites.
That’s not possible!
I’m dead ass serious about that
What’s the name of your school?
I’d rather not say. In fact, I want to be anonymous.
There’s also the little things like being on a queue for something and not being attended to until all the white people have been. But you know Africans are free spirited, so we don’t take things to heart, we just deal with whatever comes.
What is the distribution of white to black people in your city?
There are actually a lot of black people here, you’ll find Ghanaians, Kenyans, Tanzanians, Ethiopians, South Africans, people from Swaziland, there are plenty black people here. My city isn’t very big so maybe that accounts for why they treat us like this.
Do you think nationality doesn’t matter when this racism happens?
Yes, every black person is treated the same. Recently a boy was stabbed, and they’ve been dragging the case for a while, but now they want the case to go because it’s a black guy and they’re making his murder his own fault.
Why am I speechless?
There’s NUGS (National Union of Ghanaian Students) there’s NUNS (National Union of Nigerian Students) here though and they play their parts in expressing our interests.
I feel like I have to clarify though, that they won’t violently attack you. In fact, as a black woman, I can freely walk at any time of the night and feel safe. You just won’t have the same rights as everyone else.
That’s crazy, and I hate to hear that you’re experiencing that. So how many years is your course and how far gone are you?
I’m doing a 4 year course and by God’s grace I’ll be in my 3rd year by September.
Are you planning on leaving once that’s done?
Definitely. I do not see a future for myself here.
Okay so you can’t wait to leave and come back to Nigeria?
Nah, not Nigeria. Somewhere else maybe. I’m done with the two countries. Living abroad has made me see how much we suffer in Nigeria.
Gun to your head, pick a place to stay, Ukraine or Nigeria?
I’d pick Ukraine.
Balance me here real quick. So you’d rather stay where you face racism nonstop?
There’s tribalism in Nigeria that let’s people get more opportunities than others. They’re brothers. Nigerians even get violent sometimes. I’d stay here if it was the only choice. If I’m getting treated differently because I’m black, and I’m also getting treated differently because I’m Yoruba, what’s the difference?
That’s…interesting.So, how is daily life in Ukraine?
One thing I should let you know; feeding is cheap.
Cheaper than in Nigeria?
Wow! What do they eat?
We have African stores here so you’ll buy your stuff. But food generally, is cheap.
What do Ukrainians eat?
Apart from their traditional food, they eat a lot of junk. They have their own food but I haven’t tried it because I’m not interested.
So you’re not immersing yourself in their culture?
No. I don’t feel accepted so it’s not natural for me.
Apart from food, how would you say it’s different from Nigeria?
Nightlife is very safe; you can walk on the roads at night even as a girl. I’m an introvert so I’ve never been to a club here but I hear it’s cheap to enter. I’ve got just a few friends, I’m not a people person. Transportation is also pretty chill. We’ve got buses, rail, and taxis, or you can ride your bicycle.
But everyone here obeys every single traffic rule. Like robots.
How’s the weather?
The weather is harsh. When it’s cold it’s extremely cold and when it’s hot it’s extremely hot.
What is it right now?
I don’t know if the world is coming to an end. But it’s summer right now and it’s extremely hot.
Hang in there!
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