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 subject on Abroad Life moved to Russia in 2013 because she was denied admission into the university in Jos. She talks about the misconceptions people have about Russia, experiencing racism as a Nigerian, and not wanting to go back after her privacy was blatantly invaded.
When did you decide that you wanted to leave Nigeria?
2013. I was born and raised in Jos. I did all my schooling up until I finished secondary school there too. When I tried to get admission to study medicine in the University of Jos, I was told, straight up, that I couldn’t because I’m Igbo. It was something about catchment areas. My WAEC, JAMB and Post UTME scores were splendid, but I was denied admission into the school because of a tribal issue. When we tried to appeal it, my dad was told to pay ₦400,000 ($800) for me to be considered for admission. So we decided to drop it.
Damn. What did you do next?
I started looking for ways to study abroad. At that time, I had a cousin studying in Ukraine, so I decided to go there too. Omo. After getting admission to the school and all that, it was time to apply for a visa. That’s where I saw madness. First of all, the embassy in Abuja was packed. It was like everyone was trying to go to Ukraine. They couldn’t even handle the crowd. People were paying outrageous amounts in bribes just so they could get visas. Someone paid $5000 and still didn’t get their visa.
So with Ukraine out of the window, the next option was Russia. I discovered that studying medicine was cheap in Russia so I decided to apply. I wanted to make sure that I got into school the same year I finished secondary school. I didn’t want any delays.
What was Russia’s process like?
It was expensive and stressful. You had to first wait seven weeks for the school to get back to you, and then you had to do your medicals. At the time, they only accepted medical reports from some hospital in Victoria Island, so I had to travel to Lagos. Then, I had to do some NDLEA testing and find three people to sign an undertaking saying that if I ever pushed drugs in Russia, they would be held accountable. I started the process in July and got to Russia in November.
What did you expect before you got to Russia?
People told me that it was always going to be cold, that Russians were angry people, that I was going to a terrible communist state, and that I wasn’t going to be able to freely express my religion.
Was any of that true?
Only the cold part was partly true. I have experienced -46°C. But I have also experienced 30°C in the summer. Russia has extreme weather.
Russians are not angry or aggressive, they just speak an aggressive-sounding language. And religious freedom? I’m Catholic, and I am able to freely practice Catholicism here. The way it’s different from Nigeria is that places of worship are only allowed to exist in government specified buildings. You cannot just have a church anywhere you like.
Maybe the reason people hate it is because you can’t build wealth here without owning a side business. Doctors here earn the same thing and live in the same type of housing with cab drivers. Oh, yes, housing. Almost all Russians live in the same type of apartment in an apartment building. The only big houses you’ll see are on the outskirts of cities.
Many of the natives I’ve met don’t have a problem with the pay structure because of other systems like health and education work. As a foreigner with a student visa though, it’s harder for me because I don’t have the same benefits citizens have.
What was school like?
Studying medicine here was super hard. First of all, Russians have a strong sense of discipline, so if I had a class by 7:00 a.m. and got to class by 7:01 a.m., the lecturer would send me back home and I would miss the class. Also, there’s a difference between lectures and classes here. With lectures, the lecturers teach you and you learn. But with classes, you have to repeat everything you’ve been taught, and it goes in your continuous assessment. We did this for every course. If you failed the class five times, you had to repeat the entire year. If you’re doing six courses and you fail one, you have to retake the entire year too.
Whoa! That means Russia is producing top class doctors.
That’s what it’s supposed to mean, but it’s not the case. When I was in medical school, there were about 200 Nigerians there with me and we all did very well. Nowadays, I hear that the Nigerians there are kids that just want to party and drink, so they cheat their way through. Nobody cheats as much as Indians, though. It’s surprising how Nigerians think India is the place to go when they have medical issues because Indians make it through medical school by cheating. It’s so blatant and disgusting to see. But I guess if you are in medical school for almost seven years, you’ll pick up a thing or two.
Indians cheating? I’ve heard that before. What happened after school?
To practice here, you have to do your residency. In the past, the government used to do horsemanship programs after medical school, where doctors would get paid to learn how to practice. But they’ve scrapped that now, and it’s the other way around. I had to pay $12,800 for my residency. It’s two years, and I don’t get paid. Without this, I cannot practice medicine in Russia. I’m done with my first year of residency, and I have one year left.
How do you survive financially?
My parents still send me money, and I have a job where I teach English online after work. It pays me over ₦50,000 ($100) weekly. In the summer, I work longer at the teaching job because I have more free time, and I make nothing less than ₦400,000 a month.
Dr. Funds! What’s it like living in Russia?
I like to divide my experiences in Russia between Kursk and Moscow. Kursk was where I did my medical school. It’s a small quiet town with a lot of students. I was able to settle well there because it reminded me of Jos. My nice apartment was ₦42,000 ($84) a month, with utilities. Food was also cheap.
Moscow is a different ball game. It’s large, super expensive, and very fast-paced; it’s like Lagos. There are scammers everywhere. My rent went from ₦42,000 to ₦150,000 ($300) a month, for a much smaller apartment.
But overall, Russia is beautiful. St. Petersburg is one of the most beautiful places you’d ever visit.
What are the Nigerians in Russia like?
You’ll mostly find students in Kursk. Young people who have people that pay their fees live in nice apartments and all that. When I moved to Moscow, I experienced a big culture shock. It was like the universe handpicked the worst Nigerians and put them together in Moscow. The Nigerians there give Nigeria such a bad name. If they’re not there illegally, they’re either trying to scam people or causing a nuisance.
During the World Cup, all you needed to get into Russia was a ticket to the game you wanted to watch. Many Nigerians used that avenue to move here illegally and then tried to migrate into Estonia.
Do people treat you differently because you’re Nigerian?
One day, I was leaving work at around 10 p.m. when a cab driver approached me to ask if I wanted to sleep with him. I said no, and he was surprised because how could a Nigerian girl refuse sex? He kept offering me money and saying, “But you’re Nigerian” and that caused a scene that made people laugh.
Another time, some Russian girls told me that they thought every Nigerian girl, including me, in Russia was a prostitute because that’s what the Nigerian guys say all the time. Apparently, Nigerian guys go around telling the white girls that they don’t want to be with Nigerian girls because all we want is money for sex.
One time, I had an incident in a metro station in Moscow where a man stalked and approached me aggressively, calling me chocolate and saying he wanted to sleep with me. Nobody around did anything. I had to hold my phone up, record, and try to escape at the same time. Because it was the metro station near my church, I couldn’t go to church for a while.
I’ve even been called a monkey by some random girl in the street who found out I was Nigerian when she stopped me to ask where I was from.
I have really long natural hair, and one day the head nurse at work said I can’t carry my hair because it “obstructs her view”. I cried that day. It’s in the same hospital that other nurses just come and start playing with my hair without permission like I’m an animal at a zoo.
Do you think you’re going to stay in Russia when you’re done with your residency?
I came to the UK a few days ago for the PLAB exams and I don’t want to go back to Russia because of what happened to me on my way here. At the airport, when I was leaving Russia, the person that looked at my passport started asking really weird questions about what I did in Russia and what I was going to do in the UK. After some time, he asked me to wait, called a superior over, and told him, “She’s Nigerian”. They held me in a room for over 20 minutes, leaving and occasionally returning to ask questions. When I got infuriated, they asked me to unlock my phone and on it, they did a few things that made a code pop up. They scanned the code, gave me my phone back and let me go.
That was when I decided that I wasn’t going back to Russia. It was an invasion of privacy. Are they tracking me with my phone? Why was it only me, a Nigerian, that they did this to?
What’s going to happen to the year of residency you have left?
All that’s left is the clinical attachment phase of the residency. I’ll be able to complete my program doing a clinical attachment either in Nigeria or wherever I am. It never used to be like that before, but COVID has changed things. Once that’s done, I should be able to get a job here in the UK. If that doesn’t go well, I am already applying for a masters in public health here in the UK and in Canada. Nigeria is my last option. I don’t want to practice medicine there.
There’s a sense of insecurity that shows from Nigerian-trained doctors towards foreign-trained doctors. We’re not treated well. I did my hospital practice in Nigeria in 2018, and it was terrible. First, I didn’t get a place to practice in Jos because of the same tribal issue, but my dad eventually used his connection to get me somewhere. When I resumed, everything I did was somehow related back to the fact that I studied abroad. If I didn’t hear what someone said and needed them to repeat themselves, they would first say, “Oh so because you studied abroad, you can’t hear me”.
Generally, higher ranking doctors speak harshly to junior doctors, but it was worse for me because of where I went to school. Almost everyone I know who studied abroad has experienced the same thing in Nigeria.
I couldn’t even correct a senior doctor that was doing something wrong. One time, some guy died because of a senior doctor’s apathy and negligence, but I couldn’t say anything.
Medicine is already too tasking and I’d rather not practice in a place like Nigeria.
Hey there! My name is David 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.