The Nigerian experience is physical, emotional, and often international too. Every week, we talk about the experience of Nigerians who have settled in other parts of the world. Their relationship with where they currently are, the journey getting to that point, and where they hope to go from there.
This week’s abroad life subject is an 18-year-old student who’s experiencing Hungary while trying to figure out what to do with his life. He talks about his struggles with solitude, cultural differences and an educational system he was ill-equipped for.
When did you decide to move abroad?
It wasn’t up to me per se. My parents wanted me to study abroad, so it was just natural.
What’s your travelling history like?
Before I came to Hungary, I’d only been to two countries — the Benin Republic and Ghana.
How did the process of moving to Hungary go?
I was in SS3, in 2020, when my dad came home one day and gave me an admission letter to study software engineering, from a school in Canada. It turned out he’d applied to one of those schools in Canada that didn’t require the usual exams. I told him I wasn’t doing it.
LMAO. How did you guys get to that point?
It was in early 2020. I couldn’t write WAEC because of the pandemic. But I’d written GCE the previous year and passed. So he’d done the entire application process himself. Hence, the admission letter.
Classic African parents
I didn’t want to study software engineering because I wasn’t interested in anything related to computers. I told him I wanted to study biomedical engineering, and he said he knew this school in Russia that was very good for courses like that. In my head, I thought, “From Canada to Russia? Jesu”. But I was like, “Let’s have it”.
LMAO. How did that go?
Omo. We started applying to the school and there was nothing they didn’t ask for. They asked for my WAEC certificate, my school results and even my JAMB score. I’d written JAMB by then, so I just sent everything over.
Mad. You weren’t even thinking about Nigerian universities?
Most of my relatives studied abroad. So it was only natural for us to do the same thing. I actually applied to the University of Ibadan. But because we didn’t know anything about how Nigerian universities worked, we missed the deadline for the submission of WAEC results. So I changed my institution of choice to the University of Jos. I was offered admission a day before I left for Hungary.
Okay, let’s roll it back a bit. How did the Russian plan go?
I was asked to write a math and physics exam. It was an online test because of the pandemic. That was the hardest exam I’d ever written in my life. I was like, “They didn’t teach us all this one o”. It was so strange. I knew I’d flunk it, and I did. So they told me I’d spend my first year doing something called “foundation”.
It was meant to help me bridge the gap between what I’d been taught in Nigeria and what I actually needed to know. And it was a lot. What was even more interesting was the first semester would be a language immersion programme. COVID was still on so I was going to school online. I spent the first semester learning the Russian language. It was hell.
I had Russian classes from 5 a.m. till 6 p.m. every day for three months. When the second semester eventually started, I started taking math and physics classes, and they were teaching us in Russian. I just knew I couldn’t do it because I literally just started learning the language. I told my parents I’ll just end up failing school and I didn’t want to study biomedical engineering anymore. This was in February 2021.
We started looking for schools in different parts of the world. There was no country I didn’t research for schools. I even found one in South Africa and applied to it, but I forgot to upload my results. In April, my mom remembered that we have a relative who was a student in Hungary. She asked the person to link us up with their agent, and that’s how we started making plans for Hungary.
What was the application process like?
It was just me sending my personal and academic documents over to the agent. I was offered admission to the same school my relative was in and I was going to be studying physics. I got invited for the visa interview at the Hungarian embassy in Abuja. They asked me Hungarian current affairs questions. I got my visa approved in August 2021 and moved a week later.
Expectation vs Reality: Hungary edition
I honestly wasn’t expecting much because I just wanted to get to school and start sha. But I expected some of that European ambience. The architecture and all that. But it’s very mid. It’s probably the “middest” place I’ve ever seen. Everything about it is mid. The economy, the buildings, the roads, the social life, everything.
It’s even worse in my city. My school is in Debrecen, and the city is dead. Literally nothing happens there. No parties, no crime, nothing. I can’t even remember ever seeing the police. I don’t know where the police station is. Also, not even sure they have prisons at all. But on the other hand, the quiet helps me focus. Coming from Nigeria where there’s so much bustle, the quietude is what I really need for school.
What culture shocks did you experience?
Everyone here smokes like they’re drinking water. Whether you’re a man or woman, young or old, and even pregnant, or carrying a toddler. It was wild for me at first. Another thing is this liquor they have. It’s called Pálinka. It looks and smells like diesel. I find it disgusting, but they drink so much of it, and it doesn’t even get them drunk.
The last thing would be the educational system. When I got my admission, I was told I didn’t need to do a foundation year. It was odd because most Nigerian students have to do a foundation year to bridge the gap in our terrible curriculum.
I wanted to do a foundation year, seeing how I’d flunked my Russian test. But I was also glad I only had to spend three years instead of four. When I started, I saw shege.
School here is really hard. I literally lost weight after my first semester exams. People lose their minds over how difficult it is. Also, even though they teach in English, there’s some communication bypass that just makes things weird.
One time, I had an oral exam, and the examiner asked a question in English that made no sense to me because of how the sentence was constructed. I kept asking him to clarify, but he was repeating the same thing. He eventually called someone else who understood what he meant and answered correctly. He said he’d have no choice but to fail me. I was happy because I hadn’t prepared well for it, so I now had more time to prepare and retake the exam another day.
In my second semester, I realised that physics really wasn’t for me. I had chosen it because it was the only subject that I enjoyed studying in school. But what I was doing here seemed very different and I wasn’t learning much. So I wrote a letter to the dean of my school, requesting permission to switch to Computer Engineering. In the end, I went back to what my dad had suggested. I just started studying it, and I’m looking forward to what it holds for me.
What’s your social life like in Debrecen?
It’s almost non-existent. I don’t make friends easily so I have a very small circle of Nigerians here. I also have one Hungarian friend, but that’s about it. As for going out, Hungary is a dead place. I wasn’t kidding at all. It can be 7:30 p.m. and the streets will be empty. Nothing goes on here, so I just stay in my room and chill.
Also, Debrecen is a really small city. It’s smaller than Gwarimpa Estate, the biggest estate in Abuja. I think that size influenced the population, which could be a reason why nothing ever happens there.
Do you see yourself staying back after school?
LMAO. No, please. I want to leave this dead place and go somewhere else. I don’t want to start my career in Nigeria sha. Affliction shall not rise again. Maybe when I’m much older and rich enough to start businesses, I’ll consider it. Even as an undergraduate, I don’t think I’m going back to Nigeria anytime soon.
Because I like my freedom here. I can actually do what I want. I recently got piercings on both ears, and I know once my parents see me, I won’t get a return ticket to this place. So, no, thank you.
Hey there! My name is Sheriff, and I write Abroad Life at Zikoko. If you’re a Nigerian who lives or has lived abroad, I would love to talk to you about that experience and feature you on Abroad Life. All you need to do is fill out this short form, and I’ll be in contact.