Just Touched Down In London Town – Tolu’s #AbroadLife.

October 18, 2019

When I think of London, I think of structurally lullabies on structurally unsound bridges, the London underground and the really cool London Eye.

The subject of this week’s #AbroadLife probably thinks the same with a little allowance for assignments and group projects. Tolu moved to London for her masters in September, she’s telling us all about the move and how much she had to spend to make it. Spoiler alert: not a dime of her money.

It’s about that time to re-ignite visa lottery prayers. On a scale of 1 – 10, how much better is living in London compared to Nigeria?

Ah, that scale might break oh. The funny thing is, when I was moving here, I had been told all sorts about London being just like Lagos that moved abroad —

Oop, someone took ‘Small London’ a little too literally.

Haha maybe. But it might be because I live in Central London, which is a pretty posh part, everything is so calm. People are so willing to help  — when you ask  — like genuinely happy. But on the flip side, they take minding their business a little too seriously here. I mean, you could literally be dying on the floor and they’ll just walk around you to get to their destination, so that’s weird compared to ‘neighbours come and see o’, that I’ve been used to in Nigeria.

Interesting. So in today’s class, we’ll be learning what we need to make the move from Nigeria to The UK for school. What’s your first lesson, Professor?

Come correct with your clothes! I cannot stress this enough. When I was moving here, I don’t know where my head was at, I thought it was Nigerian hot girl summer all year round. I really brought all of my skimpy-skimpy. When that cold hit? Hmm. 

Just make sure to check ahead what weather the UK is experiencing at the time, because you honestly won’t be able to function if you don’t dress appropriately. 

Clothes, got it! But before we move ahead, where was your head at when you were leaving Nigeria? Till we meet again at the feet of the Lord or I’ll be back?

Oh, I could come back, it’s not something I would write off.

I see. We’ll pray about this potential fumbling of the bag in a minute. What did you need to get a student visa to study in the UK?

Just the usual. I had my TOEFL results from two years ago, IELTS,original academic documents, my visa, passport. Like, you don’t need to carry hand luggage to apply for the visa.

And how long did it take?

Let’s see, I got a scholarship in July and had to be in school for September, so I had about three months to prepare right? But the Nigerian government was funding my scholarship —

Please hold, I think this line is breaking. I almost thought I heard the Nigerian government was funding your scholarship.

LOL, but it was.

Please use all your chest to explain this thing.

So I applied for this PTDF scholarship back in 2018 and I got accepted in July this year. The government allows you pick a school of your choice, any school at all and they fund it. I jejely picked the most expensive school for my masters in the UK – Imperial College ⁠—

Enjoy that national cake, sis!

Abi oh. So the government paid for everything. They even give us allawee of about a thousand pounds every month. But to the visa application, there were a few delays, so I ended up having to apply within a week, paid for priority visa on let’s say I applied for the visa on a Wednesday, after 5 working days I got it, the next day I was on my way to the UK.

Okay, catching flights! What was the most stressful part of the application process?

If I’m being honest, nothing really. The government handled everything for us, down to the tuberculosis test requirement. They were funding about 200 people for their Masters and I doubt anyone of us got rejected. On the off chance that they did get rejected, the government would handle the re-application process.

This same government? Hm. So what was getting ready for your move in just a week like?

A week? Try a day. I wasn’t sure when the visa would be approved, so I just kind of went about my life after I applied. When I got confirmation a week after, you should have seen my friend and I, who also got the scholarship, hustling to buy pepper, ogbono and elubo in the market. I had like a number of hours to say goodbye to friends and family, it was hectic, but we move.

I can’t even imagine the drama the day you were leaving.

See. So I didn’t tell my dad anything about my visa application or scholarship until the very last minute because he’s the type that just wants me home and around him. I sha told him the day I was leaving that I just sharply wanted to reach London —


Haha. He was so mad when I did, but that was like the most dramatic thing that happened though.

And how was it when you first landed in London?

See, you won’t believe the stress.
You know it took me like a day to get sorted for my move, so there wasn’t enough time to properly plan my accommodation. When I landed in London I was meant to stay at my uncle’s friend’s home until I had sorted myself out. But here’s what happened. I landed Heathrow with my 56 kg bags and wanted to enter a cab to the house. They said cab was 120 Pounds oh, a whole 56k.

Say whet?

That’s how I started lugging my bodyweight around London. Decided to get accommodation somewhere around my school, so I got opened eye, got into a train that cost like 6 Pounds headed there. But Google Map had other plans for me. For some reason, since I moved here, it always directs me to go in the opposite direction of where I’m meant to.So if it says left, I’m really meant to go right. That’s how I spent like hours with my load, looking for somewhere that was literally 5 minutes away from the train station.

International hugs from over here. But how has settling in school been?

It’s been very interesting. Maybe more interesting because I am literally the only black girl in my class. Like not even any mixed-race people, the next gradient after me is full white. And there are about 70-75 people in my class.

Why do you think that is?

Well because the college is so expensive. If you’re not from money or on a scholarship like me, chances are access to the school are limited. And there just aren’t very many scholarship options around.

Upsetting, but understandable. How has attending Imperial College been so far?

Very, very interesting. I’m looking at it from all sorts of angles. Yes, it’s the top school for science and technology in the UK, but it’s also an incredibly prestigious school with a truly notable alumni. You’re also attending school with children of some of the most high-placed members of society, so while yes, academia is important, I’m also focusing on building a strong network from within the school.

That’s the spirit! Tolu rise, don’t waste Nigeria’s money!

LOL. Plus it’s actually a really great school, like the value for money is there. Companies come here to recruit, so you don’t even need to stress about life after school. I’ve been to about two or three job fairs already.

Get it girl. So this is random. What’s the nicest thing a stranger has done for you while living in London and Nigeria?

Hmm. In London, when I first arrived and was lugging my suitcase about, I was going up and downstairs, carrying load, just sweating and trying to find my boundaries. A very kind, kind Muslim man who couldn’t speak English and only told me ‘Bismillah’, helped me carry my load own the stairs. I almost cried, I was so thankful. And in Nigeria, well…

That I’m still trying to remember anything just goes to show sha.

It be like that. Any tips on student living while in the UK?

Clothes, again! I can’t stress this enough, don’t let your case be one of had thy know. Come prepared.

Try not to eat out too much. Your friends will want to pop to the Italian place, then the Mexican place after class, before you know it, you’re spending 40 Pounds a week on food that doesn’t even slap. No pepper, nothing.

LOL. Lord!

True though. Limit eating out to once a week. Get an Oyster card for transport, and always, always ask if there’s a student discount. Like I got a student discount at the Nigerian market when I was buying palm oil the other day, I don’t play at all. Then know how to split your time, it’ll save you a lot of heartache.

Got it! Now back to your plan to maybe return to Nigeria.

Tolu on a makeshift swing attached to a neem tree in Borno State.
Image courtesy Sustyvibes.com

See, let me be clear. It depends on opportunity. I worked in Borno for a year in the IDP camps and I loved being able to help. If I can get a decent paying job in that field, I’ll take it. But if Dollars or Pounds call my name around this side, then, yes, I’ll remain.

Okay good. Just checking!

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.

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