“Chester Can Be Very Lonely, But I Like It Here” — Abroad Life

January 13, 2023

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.

This week’s subject on #TheAbroadLife was a Unilag student who got a fully-sponsored internship in 2022 with an investment bank in the UK. He talks about living in a minor city where he’s often the only black person around, how he’s adjusted to it and why he’s considering a permanent stay in the UK.

Where are you right now?

I’m in Nigeria right now, but that’s only because I came back to enjoy my December. But I live in Chester in the UK.

When did you decide to leave Nigeria?

I didn’t really decide to leave, but everything was set in motion in my penultimate year in Unilag, when I got a summer internship at an investment bank in the UK. It was a fully-sponsored internship and it prompted my move.

Goals. How did you get the internship?

Some global investment banks recruit interns from African countries, as well as other parts of the world. So, it was a typical job application experience. I saw the opening, applied, got invited for a test, a recorded interview followed by a live interview. 

With these internships, you’re usually applying to a range of divisions within the bank. Divisions like investment banking, capital markets, human resources, technology, etc.

I started the application late in 2021, and a few months later, I was offered an internship position. It was only meant to be ten weeks long, but my visa allowed me to stay a while longer than that. They initiated the process for me to move and work in their office in Chester, UK.

That’s sweet. What was the visa application process like?

The bank uses a travel company called Fragomen to help with the immigration of their employees. They assisted me from the point of getting an offer letter and applying for a work visa to getting my biometric done and my visa approved. I just had to take my documents to TLS, a UK visa application centre in Ikeja, and they mediated everything else from there on out. The process normally takes about six to eight weeks. But due to the war heating up in Ukraine at the time, it took about ten weeks for me to get a decision.

My visa got approved and the next thing was for me to move. I left Nigeria for the UK in June 2022. The company handled all expenses including my accommodation in the UK.

What were you expecting when you left for the UK?

I had an open mind. This was my first time leaving Nigeria at all, so I only knew as much as I’d heard. One thing that struck me about the place is how different Chester is from the more cosmopolitan cities like London. 

99% of the people are white. I can be sure that when I enter any gathering or location here, I’ll be the only black person. I’m often the only black person on the trains. It makes the experience lonely, but at the same time, eye-opening. The loneliness can be very face-slapping sometimes sha. One time, it got really bad that I decided to try a local dating app, and I couldn’t even find any black person on it.

Was it the same at your internship?

Not really. We had way more diversity where I worked. The company hired about 30 Africans, and around 12 of us were in Chester. So, at least I had people I could relate with much better. Of the 12 Africans, one was Nigerian and fluent in French.

The company itself has a culture of inclusion, and it showed. I met interns who were military veterans. I met someone who could speak up to seven languages. Another has a YouTube channel with over 100k subscribers. Another was a trans person. It just made me realise how much more people could be outside of the straight line of going to school and “reading book”. 

Also, it made me see how narrow my worldview had been up until then. The experience really widened my psyche, and I’m grateful for it. 

What’s Chester like?

It’s an old city built during the Roman empire, so it still has buildings with that ancient feel, places like the Chester Cathedral. It’s a naturally beautiful place, where you can just take a short walk outside and randomly find a spot to take Instagram-worthy pictures. Also, they have the second biggest zoo in all of UK.

The city is very community-centered. You’ll see families walk their dogs and old people holding hands. They also have a lot of space. Because of that, horse racing is very big in Chester. In fact, it’s almost a weekly festival. You know how families dress their kids up to go to church on Sundays? That’s exactly how entire families dress up to go watch the races on weekends here. It’s so nice to see. Never seen a more laid back group of people before.

Tell me more about the people

They’re extremely polite and always want to make small talk, even about things that aren’t exactly their business. They’re also very accommodating. Even though it was a predominantly-white environment, I never felt like I was treated differently. In fact, they always seemed so excited to meet someone who’s new to the place.

One time, I and a friend — also an intern — were going to a place we’d never been before, and we were talking on the bus, trying to figure out where the right stop was. This woman sitting behind us overheard and politely interfered to tell us where the right stop was. After, she started making small talk about where we were going, and just like that, she became our friend for the rest of the ride.

Have you had any culture shocks since getting to the UK?

Ah, yes. Where do I start from? The food! Oh my god. I have to carry pepper with me every time because the food is always bland. And it’s impossible to find African restaurants here. It’s impossible to find Nigerian food unless I cook, which I absolutely don’t like doing. I’ve been to London a few times since I’ve been in Chester, and I always have more food options there. 

Another thing is the cold. I arrived during the summer, and the weather was 14oC. How in the world is it 14oC during summer? I carried a lot of regular shirts thinking I could make do with them since it was summer. LMAO.

The accent here is another interesting thing. It sounds like English, and it’s actually English, but you can’t tell for sure when they’re talking to you. Their accent is very similar to Scottish, so it’s different from what you’d hear in places like London. It used to be a struggle when I’m in conversations, but I’m better at understanding it now. 

Another thing is how much people smoke here. Everyone has a vape pen. I love the people here, but the smoking makes me scared for them sometimes.

How long was the whole internship experience?

It was ten weeks long.

How have you been able to stay so long then?

After the internship, I applied to extend my stay to get a better feel of the city. On top of that, the company I worked with reviewed my performance and offered me a full-time position. But I had to come back to Nigeria to complete my education first. 

Now that I’m done, I’m going back to Chester because what am I looking for in Nigeria?

So you’ll stay in Chester for as long as possible?

I’d prefer to move to a place with more variety, especially with the food. London would make sense. But I also like Chester, so I can definitely settle here.

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.

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