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 Abroad Life subject is a woman who left Nigeria in 2016 to study in France. She talks about how her love for travelling has made her visit thirteen countries in the past four years, and how, now that she’s settled in Germany, she’s noticed that everyone minds their business too much.
First things first, what are you doing in Germany?
How do I put this? I work as a research assistant, but that’s not the whole story because my research is supposed to count towards getting my PhD. I’m working towards my PhD, but I get paid as a researcher. This means I can apply for my PhD whenever I wish to.
What do you do as a researcher?
My research is on fluid mechanics. I was going to say Mechanical Engineering, but that doesn’t quite tell the whole story, so I’ll say fluid mechanics. I’ve been in Germany for about 2 years.
What happened before Germany?
I was in Paris for about six months, in the Netherlands for another six months and in Nances, a city in France, for another year. I was moving around because in the space of those two years, I took two Masters. One started in Paris, with its second semester in the Netherlands, and the other was fully in Nances.
That’s a great quest for knowledge. Is there a reason for that?
Well, the first Masters was a scholarship from the French and the Nigerian government. It was meant to last two years, but because I already had a five year engineering background, the school decided to waive the first year and just have me do the second year. Big mistake.
So, I did that one year and since I had one more “free” year, I decided to just take another Masters in Nances. It was a tough choice between getting another Masters and getting a PhD, but I decided on the former just to bridge the gap on the one year I missed from the first Masters.
How many countries have you lived in?
Apart from Nigeria, The Netherlands, France and Germany. Three.
How many countries have you been to?
It’s really not that mind-blowing. They’re all Schengen Area Countries, so when you’re in one of them, you can easily go to any of the others.
When did your traveling start?
It started when I got to France. In my first year of Masters, I only visited Italy.
Can you give me a list of the 13 countries?
France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Spain, Czech Republic, Hungary, Russia, Finland, Switzerland and Lithuania
Where’s a place you’d love to visit again?
France, but not because of Paris. Paris is the most overrated city I’ve ever been to. After seeing The Eiffel tower and The Louvre Museum, there’s nothing left to do. You might enjoy it as a tourist, but living there isn’t so nice.
I remember my first morning in Paris, I was like, “Oh welcome, abroad. I won’t have to struggle for the bus.” Then I stepped out and saw so many people running for the metro. I was so confused. The metro also smells really bad.
Wow. So why France?
A city called Colmar. I went to Colmar when I did a mini trip to France earlier this year, and it looks like something out of a fairytale. It has really nice houses, flowers and small rivers, and they’re so well preserved. It’s not a big city, but it’s spectacular.
Where’s one place where you don’t want to visit again?
Russia. I can’t really say it’s the worst. I’ll say, maybe, it’s the place where I’ve felt the least comfortable. It was probably because I already had an opinion from reading stuff about them, that they’re racist.
I didn’t really get a chance to explore the city where I stayed, but I like the metros in Russia. They’re really deep underground, probably one of the deepest metros I have ever seen. But I couldn’t enjoy the place because I didn’t want to be out late and have someone appear behind me and start asking me questions.
What enables you to travel so much?
I have a sugar daddy.
Just kidding. I live in the Schengen Area, and if you plan your trips well, you’ll get cheap flights and buses. One time, I took a 2 hour bus from Lille in France, to Ghent in Belgium for €5. You could also get really cheap flight tickets within the region to countries with heavy tourist attraction centres.
What do you mean by cheap?
It’s actually really cheap, trust me. On some days, you can get a plane ticket for about €50 euros to Spain. Generally, the key to exploring Europe is getting a visa to one country in this region. I even recently found out that once you have a Shengen region country visa, you don’t need a visa to travel to some countries that are not in the Schengen region, like Croatia.
How easy was it getting the French Visa?
Pretty easy. The scholarship was government sponsored, so that wasn’t hard at all. The German permit also took me about four days to get and I don’t know why. Normally, it takes about three weeks.
How have you dealt with the language?
In the Netherlands and Germany, you’re more likely to find people willing to speak to you in English. In France, not many people would speak English to you, but my Masters program was in English, so I just had to learn basic French for survival.
In Germany, my first contract was a six-month internship program. I was meant to work 42 hours a week, but it was a 50% contract, so I worked 20 hours a week. I used the other half of my time to learn German, and in eight months, I could speak fluent German.
To me, it doesn’t matter whether you speak to me in English or German because I think I can speak enough German to get by.
When did you first leave Nigeria, and have you been back since then?
I left Nigeria in September 2016. I’ve been back only once and that was last year.
Are you coming back?
When I was leaving, I had all intentions to come back. But after my masters, I realised that because of my field of study and speciality, the job prospects would be really limited. I was speaking with my South African friend recently and we agreed that she had a much better chance of going back home and getting a job in her field than I do.
Another question I would ask before coming back is “Who can match my current salary?”
What is a Nigerian reality that has shaped your Abroad Life?
Addressing your superiors at work. My supervisor is in his early 60s, so it was super hard for me to start calling him by his name every time. This man is old enough to be my grandfather and he wants me to call him his first name. I’m getting more familiar with it, though.
One of the things I don’t like about being abroad is the fact that everybody minds their business. It is a double-edged sword. In Nigeria, you don’t like people being in your business, but sometimes, you actually need it.
Last year, I was sick. I had an emergency operation so I couldn’t go to work for about a week. I was in my house and the next thing, I was in the hospital, so I couldn’t inform anybody. Not a single person called or texted me. Not one. Not even the HR person. I left a cup of coffee on my desk the day before the incident and when I came back one week after, I met it right there with mold in it. Sometimes, it gets really annoying in Nigeria when people put their noses in your business, but I’d rather have that than have nobody care at all.
I always like to say that if I died in my apartment, nobody would know until my body started smelling because even my rent would automatically pay itself from my account and the landlord wouldn’t care to check on me.
Wild. In all your travels, have you been treated differently because you are black?
Not really, no. People always assume that I’m either South African, or from the UK and it’s interesting to see. But one time in an Airport in Milan, I got specially checked. Only me. Turns out I was the only black person on the flight I came in. My documents got checked and everything, and then they asked me to go.
Sorry about that. Do you ever find a Nigerian community wherever you are?
In school in France, they have an active Nigerian community on WhatsApp, so it was easy to find a community. In the Netherlands, I wasn’t really searching, but my landlord was Ghanaian so I had all the feeling of home I wanted.
I’m very sure they’re Nigerians in Germany, but for some reason, I can’t seem to find them. I live in a small city and I’m more likely to run into francophone Africans than Nigerians. The lady that makes my hair is the only other Nigerian I know here.
What’s one thing you miss about Nigeria?
Food and familiarity.
What is the best thing about living in Germany right now?
The transport system.
Not the popular events like Oktoberfest?
I’m not a beer person. I feel like beer is the devil’s piss.
I think the other thing about Germany is that it’s quite an interesting country. You never hear of Germany being a tourist attraction, but it has really nice places. Germany has a lot of tourism potential, but I don’t know why it’s not being marketed.
I really enjoy travelling in Germany.
What advice would you give a Nigerian trying to move to Germany or any of the countries you’ve been to?
The best route is usually as a student. Be ready to learn the language if you’re moving to a non-English speaking country. Learning the language is an advantage and a great way to connect with the people.
Want more Abroad Life? Check in every Friday at 12 PM (WAT) for a new episode. Until then, read every story of the series here.