The Nigerian experience is not just what happens within our borders. It’s beyond the physical. Sometimes, it’s emotional and international too. No one knows it better than our features on #TheAbroadLife, a series where we detail and explore the experiences of Nigerians living abroad.
The subject of this episode of Abroad Life is a 24-year-old Nigerian who, on paper, left Nigeria to do her Master’s in the Netherlands. But the real reason she left was to meet her boyfriend. She talks about the stress of dealing with immigration, settling into school, and her current state of homelessness.
Where are you right now?
I’m in a city called Arnhem in the Netherlands.
Why did you decide to move to the Netherlands?
Please don’t judge me, but I actually moved because my boyfriend moved here. He’s a tech bro, and about 11 months ago, a company in the Netherlands reached out to him to apply for a job. He got the job, they sponsored his move to the Netherlands, and that was it.
I had only two choices: break up with him or follow him. I decided I would move to the Netherlands to be with him.
God, when? What was the process of moving like?
He’d moved to the Netherlands because he got a job, but I needed a reason to move, so I decided I would do my Master’s there. I was still in my service year while all this was happening, and even though I’ve always wanted to do a Master’s programme, I didn’t plan for it to happen so fast.
I had pretty good grades from university, so I thought it’d be fairly easy for me to get admission to schools in the Netherlands. LMAO. The breakfast was hot. I’d never seen rejections come in so fast. I applied to three schools at first, and two rejected me the day after I applied. I was in shock because, how could you even make a decision so fast?
LMAO. Did they explain why?
Yeah, they did. It turned out it was because of my degree. I studied chemical engineering at the undergraduate level, so I got a Bachelor of Engineering (B.Eng). The course I was applying for at the graduate level was a research course. I needed to have a Bachelor of Science degree to apply. My B.Eng. degree was too specialised, so the other things weren’t even considered.
I took the feedback and started looking for schools that didn’t have the B.Sc. requirement. I found another school and applied. This time, I got admitted. Around the same time, I also got admitted to one of the schools I’d previously applied to. It was now time for me to plan my move to the Netherlands.
Sweet. What was that like? The immigration process
The school applied for a visa on my behalf. So all I had to do was go to their embassy in Nigeria, drop my documents, have my biometrics taken, and get my passport stamped. Pretty straightforward, right?
The first problem was the Netherlands had no embassy in Nigeria. Their closest was in the Benin Republic, so I had to travel there to get my passport stamped. It was my second time out of Nigeria, and I was shit scared.
When was the first time, and what happened then?
A couple of months prior, actually. I followed my boyfriend to get his passport stamped at the embassy in the Benin Republic. My parents didn’t even know I made the trip, but it stressed me out so much.
My boyfriend has dreads and it blares off all the alarms in police officers’ heads. We saw about a million checkpoints between Badagry and the Seme border. At every one, they asked us for money. The wild part is it wasn’t even the Beninoise policemen making life difficult for us. It was Nigerian policemen and immigration officers.
At one point, they asked us for our visa to enter the country. I’m someone who likes to do things by the book so I tried to explain that we had ECOWAS passports and that meant we could travel anywhere in West Africa without a visa. Zilch! They didn’t listen till we gave them money.
Was the second time different?
The second time, I was more prepared. My parents thought it was my first time, so my dad actually followed me. He was surprised that I seemed familiar with everything, but I just lied that I’d read about it. Because I was accompanied by my dad, I didn’t have to deal with the annoying line of questioning I did the first time. He basically answered all the questions.
When we got to Benin Republic, I entered another wahala. Typically, getting your visa approved and having your passport stamped takes three weeks. But when I went with my boyfriend the first time, it took two days. We dropped the passport on Tuesday, and by Thursday, we were called to come and pick it up. I thought my case would be similar. LMAO. I played myself.
I ended up having to stay about two weeks in Benin Republic. I’m not even sure what caused the hold-up. My dad had already left after the second day and he was telling me to come home, but I didn’t want to go through the stress of facing Nigerian policemen and immigration officers at the border again without having done what I came for. So I chose to stay.
Those were the most miserable two weeks of my life. I only carried clothes for two days, so I was basically recycling them. I decided to use the time to visit their local markets, beach and so on. But I quickly ran out of places to go to, and I was just frustrated. They eventually called me to pick it up my passport, and I travelled back to Lagos.
Finally. What happened when you got home?
When I got home, my folks asked me not to mention to anyone that I was travelling abroad, like village people will follow me or something. Even things like entering a bus became an issue of “It’s not safe o. What if something happens?” But I think the urge to hide things didn’t last longer than two days. I have very good people around me, both friends and family. So I don’t think there was anyone who didn’t know about my travel plans before I left. I even had “last time together” meetings with some of my friends.
Sweet. When did you finally leave?
I left in August and landed in Amsterdam first before coming to Arnhem.
Was it what you expected?
To be honest, I didn’t really have expectations coming here. Obviously, I expected it to be fine and better than Nigeria, but apart from that, I had an open mind about the place. But I think what struck me most was how intentional the planning of this place was. It just feels so organised, and everything works at an unbelievable level.
You see this on the streets with the way people behave, and everything else. Even down to the little things like hailing a cab. If you call a cab on an app, and it says it’ll be there in two minutes, it won’t take a second longer than two minutes. It just makes life easy, and it makes me realise how much of my everyday life in Nigeria was filled with needless struggle.
Another thing is how little crime there is here. People just tend to follow rules, and it makes everything feel safe and easy. In my entire time here, I’ve probably only seen a police officer once or twice. If I lose something somewhere, I can be sure it’ll still be there when I go back. Things hardly ever go missing here, except it’s a bicycle sha.
LMAO. Why would someone steal a bicycle?
Bicycles are everywhere here, and no one really guards them like that. Because of how narrow the streets are, and how laid back everywhere is, people tend to cycle or trek to get around. In fact, I think there are more bicycles than human beings in this place.
Tell me about the people
The people here are extremely polite, and it can be unnerving sometimes. Especially coming from Nigeria where politeness isn’t what you’d naturally expect from a stranger. It gave me the creeps at first, but I’m used to it now. Also, even though the official language is Dutch, most people speak very good English. So, I don’t really feel out of place or have a hard time socialising. But most of the people I’ve made friends with are from school.
How has school been so far?
I think “wild” is the only word that describes it. First of all, I’m kind of homeless at the moment. There’s a student housing crisis in the Netherlands right now, and it affected my ability to find accommodation.
The problem is universities in the Netherlands don’t have hostels on campus, so you have to look for accommodation in the city somehow. Sometimes, the school helps with this. A lot of people find it hard to find accommodation without the help of the school.
Did you seek the school’s help?
Before I came to the Netherlands, I was asked to pay my tuition, living expenses and accommodation fees. The accommodation fees were for the school to help me find a place to stay. For context, I got my admission letter in April and was asked to pay all the fees before June 15th. I sent the money on the 6th of June, but because of Nigerian banks and CBN’s forex issues, it didn’t get to my school until July 27th, more than a month after the deadline which was slated for June 15th.
The school refunded my accommodation expenses, and I had to start looking for accommodation on my own. It’s as hellish as looking for a job in Nigeria. It’s just so hard to even find an available space anywhere, and it affected how quickly I could settle into school.
So when you say “homeless”
I’m not living under a bridge or anything, but I stay in an apartment that belongs to someone from the church my boyfriend attends in Amsterdam. I know it’s temporary, so I’m not relaxed at all. I’m basically living out of my box. This has also influenced my ability to have my boyfriend over as much as I’d like because I’d like to be settled first. The distance thing is still there, but now it’s by choice and not by design. Netherlands is a small country and I can easily decide to get on a train to Amsterdam and go be with him.
Me too. How’s education in the Netherlands different from Nigeria?
Hmm. Where do I start? It’s much harder because it’s not like the regular Nigerian system where you can just chill till exam, read for a few days and pass. They teach you as if they want you to actually understand things at a granular level.
Sometimes, it gets really hard for me. I finished from what’s probably the best school in Nigeria with pretty good grades, but I’m still scared I’ll fail here. I have exams in a couple of weeks, and I’m working hard as hell to make sure I don’t.
I’m rooting for you. Do you see yourself staying in the Netherlands after school?
Of course. I didn’t really come here for school. I came here for love. And apart from the fact that my boyfriend is here, I feel very safe. I could live here for a long time and enjoy myself because everything just works. I also like that I have family in neighbouring countries like Austria and Germany, where I can easily travel to because they’re all in the EU.
My main focus is getting through school and making sure schoolwork doesn’t finish me.
Good luck with that
Thank you. I’ll need it.
Want more Abroad Life? Check in every Friday at 9 A.M. (WAT) for a new episode. Until then, read every story of the series here.