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 on today’s Abroad Life failed to meet the financial requirements for staying in the UK on a student visa and had to stay out of school in the fear of deportation for a whole year. She talks about mistakes she made over the years and how she’s now completely bounced back.
When did you move to the UK?
I moved to the UK when I finished secondary school in 2013. My parents were keen on getting me a good education, so they had me write both WAEC and Cambridge exams. I didn’t write NECO because my parents wanted me to study for IELTS instead.
What did that period feel like?
It was stressful having to study for two exams at once, but I knew I had to do it.
What happened next?
My parents processed my application, and I got admitted into Leeds university, but they still weren’t sure if they wanted me to go there. They were considering sending me to do my A-Levels first. A family friend eventually helped them make the decision.
She went to visit her daughter in Leeds and the feedback she gave my parents was that they shouldn’t send me there because all the Nigerian students there were “wasting their parents’ money” and “doing anyhow”.
So my parents decided to send me to do A-Levels. They made this decision in late August, and classes started in early September, so I had to leave in a haste. My dad used his contacts at the embassy to fast track my visa, and I got it in two days. A few days after deciding on A-Levels, I was in the UK.
Omo. What was that like?
I’d been in the UK before, but this time, it was different: I was staying. I didn’t fit in at all. I hated the food, and I wasn’t mixing with my classmates. I kept to myself most of the time. In my first term result, the school indicated that I was good at school but not good at interacting with my classmates and that needed to change.
In the second term, things became a bit better.
I went out and interacted a bit more.
What happened next?
University. And one of the worst periods of my life.
In my first year of university, I failed the financial requirements for students to stay in the UK and so I technically became an illegal immigrant that could be deported at any time.
Because I wasn’t very involved with my enrollment process, I didn’t know about the financial requirements. To qualify to stay on my student visa, I had to be in a school, and I had to have a couple thousand pounds in my bank account to prove that I could stay in the country. I was in school, but I didn’t have that money in my account. I didn’t know I was meant to.
So what did you do?
I called my dad. We immediately started trying to get it sorted, but guess what?
I couldn’t get sorted until after a full year — the process was that long. I was out of school for that long.
I hardly open up about that period of my life because it was depressing as hell. I completely withdrew from everything and everyone. The anxiety I suffered because I blamed myself for everything made me miss two exams when I resumed school.
I went to Nigeria for the holidays after that semester, but the school told me to resume early to rewrite the papers I missed. I couldn’t bring myself to tell my parents that I’d missed some papers because I felt guilty, so instead of changing my flight schedule, I went when the semester had resumed and thought they would allow me rewrite the papers. They didn’t. They made me retake the entire year. It was like repeating in a Nigerian secondary school.
My parents were mad at me because, once again, this could have been avoided. It was after this happened that I decided to take my life seriously. I like to tell myself that I needed that extra year to get my shit together. I got a job in school at the information and communications office. That ignited my social skills and helped build my confidence. I was terribly lacking confidence in myself since the visa thing happened.
From there, I made friends with people in my new class and got involved in extracurricular activities. It was in this period it dawned on me that I was now legally in the UK and could not be deported anymore. That made me settle in better.
In my second year, I joined my university’s engineering society where we did a lot of outreach programmes to children in primary schools. At the end of that year, I was singled out for praise and recognition and advised by an officer in the society to run for an officer post. I became an outreach officer and got more access to people I typically wouldn’t have — post graduates, people already in the workforce, professors, etc.
The next year, I became president of the society, and it was voted the best society in the university.
Haha. Last year, COVID made things weird, so I dropped society duties and am now focusing on my PhD.
My university course offered both a first degree and a master’s.
Nice. What’s your social life like?
Having a social life is hard because of the pandemic. It’s one thing to make plans with friends, it’s another to actually meet up. My PhD is in the same school where I had my first degree and things are a bit mellow because of the summer break for non-PhD students, but once things kick off again, I’m sure I’ll find some stuff to do and some more societies to influence.
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.