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.
Today’s subject on Abroad Life went from being sceptical about studying abroad to trying to go to Canada three times, then finally going to an Ivy League school in the US. He talks about the things he did to travel, how they didn’t work out, and how he’s decided to never try to go to Canada again.
When did you first try to leave Nigeria?
2009. Right after NYSC. I went through the trauma of attending a Nigerian public university, so the plan was always to leave immediately after NYSC and probably never come back. I’d already been trying to leave even while I was in school.
What did you try?
I first tried those European schools — Ukraine, Russia — and there was always some scepticism about the application processes. I knew people who got in and were willing to help me get into whatever country they were in, but I didn’t even fully trust them. Most of them were into illegal businesses, and I wasn’t about to get myself into that.
What did you try after that?
The UK, the US and Canada. I didn’t get into any schools in the UK. In the US, I got admissions to schools in states where I would rather not have gone. The very white states. Even the schools I got admissions for were very low demand and high acceptance, so it’s not like it was anything special.
I decided to go to Canada. I’d gotten a nice school there and the application process was running smoothly.
So what happened?
My visa got denied the first time due to proof of funds. I’d tried to play a fast one on the system by using my dad’s friend’s business account as my financier, but there were too many holes in the operation. We didn’t have the same surname, there was no history of transactions, he already had about five dependents, and it was a business account. I learnt from that process and decided to try again.
What did you do differently?
While I was trying to go to Canada the first time, I already had a job. It didn’t pay great, but I was working a lot, and my bosses were noticing. I’d also gotten close to some of them because I was pretty useful around the office, and I’m a problem solver so they knew I was valuable.
The second time I tried to apply, I told the CEO of the company, and he was more than happy to use the company’s name to say they were sending me abroad for school. I remember him saying, “You’re definitely abroad material. You’re brilliant.” We made up a bunch of stuff to strengthen my chances. We changed my salary to make it look like I was a high earner, we sprinkled in a few promotions along the way and all that. HR didn’t know about any of this.
I can’t quite remember what happened that the visa didn’t come through, but I knew that the next time I applied, it would come. I’d gotten everything under control. I understood what I needed to do.
So, what happened next?
I tried again. I’d gotten the admission again and they were already asking me to pay some acceptance fees. I remember it was ₦1 million. I didn’t have that type of money, so I asked my dad. He basically said, “You know I’m not involved in your travel plans. I don’t have that type of money and there’s nowhere I can find it now.” My mum also didn’t have any money, but she asked me how much I needed and we prayed for that exact amount of money.
Shortly after that, my friend went on a game show and won some money, and one coincidence led to another, I got on the game show too and won exactly ₦1 million. I remember wishing I’d told my mum that I needed ₦10 million instead. Maybe I would have won that.
My excitement was cut short when I found out that I wouldn’t get the money immediately and the money I got would be taxed.
I had to find a solution, so I went to my boss again and asked him for the money. I promised I’d refund it when I got my game show money. He was eager to tell the finance guys to give me the money. He didn’t even want a refund.
I paid for my admission, and the only thing left was getting a visa. I remember the day I went to the embassy. Some guy was shouting that they had to renew his visa or he would burn the whole place down. I was just there thinking, “I don’t want to burn anything down. I just want a visa.”
For people that were trying to get a student visa at that time, the embassy told us that that year had a particularly high number of applicants and they were having a tough time processing all the visas, so we should consider reaching out to our schools to get a one-semester deferral so that we would get our visas in the next window. If our schools weren’t willing to do that, we should get back to them.
What did you do?
I sent them an email saying my school wasn’t willing to give me an extension and that was the only chance I had to go to Canada. Fastest email reply I’d ever received. They asked me to come and pick up my passport the next week. I was so happy.
I bought my plane tickets almost immediately and packed my bags. I was leaving on the night of the day they asked me to pick the passport. The guys who were in the same situation as me and had gotten extensions on their admissions felt so bad because they could easily have done the same thing and been asked to pick up their passports too. I remember that my passport almost didn’t come out on time, and I had to hustle some people to get it out so I could make my flight.
My friend was dropping me at the airport, my parents were on the way to the airport too with my boxes.
Immediately I got the passport, I rushed into the car and I’m like, “Let’s go!”, but my friend wanted to see what the visa looked like. I hadn’t even looked at it. I didn’t want to miss my flight, so I dismissed him, but he pestered. We opened the passport, and on it was a rejection stamp for the same reason — they were not convinced I’d come back. My entire world came crashing down.
That sounds terrible.
I called my parents and told them my flight had been cancelled, and that I was leaving the next day. I went back home.
That night, my mum used the opportunity that I was still around to re-open my box and show me where she put my garri and all the other perishables. I couldn’t even say anything.
The next morning, after family devotion, I broke the news to my family. I was so broken. It was so sad. I went back to work on that same day. I cried on the bike as BoB’s “Don’t Let Me Fall” played on my headphones. After a couple of months, I resigned. I was so defeated. I had to take a couple of steps back to breathe.
It was. It was even more painful for me because the others that deferred their admissions got their visas months later. I spent the next few years in Nigeria taking on more lucrative projects and spending my energy on things that I was passionate about. I became an entrepreneur and spent my time building myself.
Did you ever try to go back?
I tried to go to the UK and to the US to visit, but my visa kept getting denied. Canada? Never. That experience was too hurtful for me to try to go back to Canada. It felt like a personal attack on me.
After that experience, I told myself that Canada would somehow have to invite me into their country by themselves. I’m no longer begging them for a visa or anything like that.
Have you ever left Nigeria?
I visited a few African countries over time, and then at the turn of the decade, I stumbled upon a course offering in an American Ivy League university. The program aligned perfectly with the person I’d become. So I applied, got accepted and went to the US to get my Ivy League degree.
Nice! Why did you come back?
When I was leaving, the plan was to not come back for at least the next 10 years. I was obviously tired of Nigeria. After my degree, I could have stayed and gotten my doctorate in the same school or gotten an amazing job and just moved on with my life, but I decided to come back because I knew it was the right thing to do at that point in my life. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I want to stay here forever.
After my masters, I travelled around the US a bit, took some time off, prayed, read my bible, talked to my professors and some other people, and from all of that, I decided that I needed to come back to Nigeria. It was a terribly tough decision to make, but I’d invested so much of myself into seeing that Nigeria becomes better, even on my own small scale, that I couldn’t just up and leave. I chose to listen to God’s voice over my own over calculative thoughts.
My experience in the US also reawakened my appreciation for my culture and my home. I got a deeper appreciation of Nigeria and its potential, so I became even more invested in seeing that Nigeria becomes better.
It’s unpopular, but I’m one of those people that want to be involved in making sure this country works.
So you’re staying?
“Staying” is a bit extreme. I’m one of those people that are neither here nor there but are here and there at the same time. Completely leaving right now that I actually can? That’s not an option for me anymore.
Want more Abroad Life? Check in every Friday at 9 A.M. (WAT) for a new episode. Until then, read every story of the series here.
Hey there! My name is Sheriff and I’m the writer of Abroad Life. If you’re a Nigerian and you live or have lived abroad, I would love to talk to you about what that experience feels like and feature you on Abroad Life. All you need to do is fill out this short form, and I’ll be in contact.