What motivates people to embark on study trips outside their home countries – search for higher standard, better facilities, need to brighten career prospects or sheer adventure? For Yemi Ogunnubi, a senior Editor/Producer with the Voice of Nigeria, it was a combination of all of the above and more. Here is her story.
Studying abroad is a global phenomenon. African or international students desire to broaden their cultural and intellectual horizon or seek knowledge and skills to give them a competitive advantage in the job market.
Naturally, African students leave their countries for many reasons; some due to strikes, insufficient resources by the home universities or perhaps the universities do not offer the required courses.
Like most people, who go overseas to seek greener pastures so it is for me to seek educational advancement in terms of developing myself personally, academically and professionally thereby positively influencing my career path, promoting my world-view as well as boosting my self-confidence.
For many years, I contemplated studying abroad but this did not happen until March, 7 2013 when I got to South Africa after securing admission to undertake my Master’s program at the University of Fort Hare.(Which by the way, is an Alma Mater of Tata Nelson Mandela).
Studying abroad means different things to different people. With me, I’ve had to struggle with the negative stories that I heard about South Africa as an unsafe place to live much less as a study destination
Studying abroad has presented me with great opportunities to learn new languages, to travel more widely within and around the country, upgrade my career development, have a completely different perspective of my host country, experience new cultures and form new friendships with other international students.
Just as there are prospects so are there challenges to studying in other countries as well. Mostly, challenges such as tuition fees, travel costs and student visas are usually on the high side to obtain especially for students like me from developing countries. Health and safety concerns are important factors to consider as an international student going to other parts of Africa. Vaccinations and medical insurance are very compulsory in order to prevent unpredictable events during stay.
As a Nigerian visiting South Africa for the first time in March 2013, I observed that South Africa has a different style of education. At a point I became homesick and yearned at different occasions to see my family since I had never spent much time away from home. At the thought of obtaining a Master’s degree I soon overcame that feeling by mingling with other international students. I learnt a lot more about myself during a particular semester than I did many years back home during my first degree. I had so much opportunity to operate in a new and unique academic environment. I became truly independent and challenged to really develop myself having to look after myself, overcoming homesickness, and sort out my own affairs.
This international experience prepares me personally for future careers since I am open to new knowledge and expertise easily applicable and adaptable to situations requiring international interaction. I believe it will enhance my future job prospects.
Before embarking on the journey to South Africa, I had applied for and secured a supervisor. Academic programs at the University of Fort Hare are less rigorous but meaningful. Moreover, most of the postgraduate students I come across are matured enough to study on their own and able to access online materials, use all forms of social media to search for related research topics in audio and video format, including scholarly articles, books and journals.
Majority of the postgraduate students have access to computers at home, in the school library, on personal laptops, smart phones and computer laboratories even though the University of Fort Hare is equipped with the basic technological devices which such students are able to efficiently access at any time any day except on public holidays.
Within the academic environment, the use of social media is promoted because such platforms are seen to have enhanced students’ education as well as research activities. Students like me utilize various forms of social media platforms to gratify their social integrative needs each day thereby combining learning, education and research as the fundamental elements. Students use social media for different purposes as individuals tailor their usage to fit their specific needs each day. Individuals have therefore in one way or the other differently incorporated social media into their lives. This suggests that matured postgraduates already considered circumstances where technology could improve their lives as they become more familiar with social media technology. I can say that based on my personal growth, studying abroad serves as a catalyst for increased maturity and self-confidence. I am now more exposed to doing things in better ways.
Managing my finances
For many people, studying abroad is usually very expensive. For me, it is worth it. In most cases, international students are usually not eligible for some grants and scholarship opportunities. As an international student and independent adult, I had to cut my coat to my cloth (no unnecessary spending as I buy what I need at a time) since I am far from home and families.
One of the major challenging aspects of studying abroad is the ability to manage one’s finances till the end of one’s study program. Apart from my salary as a major source of income (luckily I’m on study leave with pay), it is my responsibility to pay for my accommodation, tuition, clothing, groceries and transport bills in order to avoid embarrassment.
Typically, students back home can borrow money from their families, friends and colleagues but that is impossible because of distance. Severally, I have had cause to try and borrow money from fellow students but all to no avail. Furthermore, living outside my country also forces me to familiarize myself with the country’s currency.
During the school’s short vacation of about 3 weeks, students are moved to another residence until resumption. As a postgraduate student, sometimes it is hard to go on vacation because of costly flight tickets and when you have workload of research work to submit to your supervisor, who also submits a progress report every 4 months to the school authorities.
South Africa is a well organised nation in terms of quality services which include prompt payment of salaries, grants and bursaries to her citizens’ accounts. The payment is electronically done from the fifteenth of every month to the last day. These citizens swipe their bank cards to obtain money to pay for services, which include buying groceries, house rent and electricity bills.
The weather in South Africa
There are four seasons namely autumn, winter, spring and summer. I love and enjoy all the seasons. Of all the seasons, winter and spring seem to be the freezing point for me. I have to wear 3 or 4 items of clothing plus a winter jacket to keep warm. I have to put on the heater to keep my room warm. I also have to wake up early in order to fetch water from the hydro-boil tap for bathing each day. During summer, people wear light clothes while some come out virtually naked.
A Change of my world-view of certain countries, particularly South Africa
Studying at the University of Fort Hare in South Africa has changed the negative image and perception I had of the country before now. I have been able to expand my field of view to understand and analyze problems and phenomena from a longer-term, worldwide perspective, tolerate differences, and recognize and appreciate diversity. This is based on the fact that I have a field-view having stayed in the country from March 7th 2013 till date.
Aside the recognition of the University of Fort Hare for academic excellence and research, criminal issues, racial issues and prompt response to students’ unrest are handled with utmost seriousness. I now understand the reason behind South Africa being known as the most dangerous country especially for rape and other high rate of crimes such as bulgary and killings committed in the country (attributed to poverty, low school rates, amongst others).
During the vacation, I was able to visit four of the most beautiful and recognized South African cities. One of the seaside cities is known as Cape Town in Western Cape. Another city is Port Elizabeth in Eastern Cape in addition to Pretoria in Gauteng, which has numerous international embassies, monuments and museums. Pretoria is to South Africa what Abuja is to Nigeria while Johannesburg, like Lagos in Nigeria, is the financial and entertainment epicentre of South Africa.
Other places I hope to visit are Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu-Natal, Polokwane; Great Limpopo Transfronteir Park, Kimberley Mine Museum in Northern Cape, and Bloemfontein, known as the ‘City of Roses’. I have only visited Rhodes out of the top ten towns in South Africa.
Experiencing a new culture and intercultural development
Studying abroad has many goals, one of which is to train potential world leaders to be more effective, respectful of other cultures and political and economic systems, and be willing to take a stand for the world’s welfare. As an international student I have spent time exploring other cultures in order to understand the cultural values of other people. I have had the opportunity to witness a completely new way of life, new foods, customs, traditions, and social atmospheres.
At first, it was difficult for me to know the locals but afterwards, I found that some are warm and inviting while others are hostile. They are of the opinion that international students are in their country to tap their available resources educationally. From a large community of students both from the local area and all around the globe I’ve had the opportunity to establish lasting friendships and network with students from Ghana, Kenya and Zimbabwe, which I pray blossoms into a long-lasting one for future trips and good basis for international professional network.
I’ve understudied other cultures by trying to immerse. For many international students, I’ve tried to develop skills for a new foreign language called IsiXhosa, by practicing the language spoken locally. This is possible since I am near the native speakers and I can easily immerse myself in the language through daily interaction in the Eastern Cape. Language barrier is the greatest challenge for non-speaking IsiXhosa students other than English language spoken on a regular basis. International students like me, who live in apartments or residence halls with local students, have to speak foreign languages on a regular basis in order to pass a message across.
At first, I could hardly pick IsiXhosa because only few students speak English. Most of the courses are taught in English, particularly at graduate level. I had the challenge to develop and speak IsiXhosa quickly. South Africa has eleven official languages: Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Sotho, Swazi, Tswana, Tsonga, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu but there are still other languages. In Eastern Cape, where my university is situated, more than 80% of the population speaks IsiXhosa. According to South Africa’s 2001 census, 23.8% of the population speaks IsiZulu,followed by the 17.6%, who are Xhosa speakers. Only 8% of the population’s mother tongue is English. The total population of South Africa was last recorded at 53.0 million (the actual is 52.98 million) people in 2013 from 17.4 million in 1960, changing 204 percent during the last 50 years.
Fighting stereotypes by educating others about what I represent.
Naturally, every student studying abroad is a representative of his or her culture and therefore faced with the challenge of educating other international students from other cultures and backgrounds about one’s identity as an individual. People particularly students may get frustrated when the same stereotypes from their home-country follow them overseas. I see studying abroad as an avenue for me to educate my friends in comparison to what they have seen and heard about Nigeria in addition to serving as a cultural ambassador to dispel others’ misconceptions.
I brought most of the staple Nigerian food for consumption before I could adapt to eating many of the traditional Southern African dishes which include rice, potatoes, bread, vegetables like spinach and mielie pap (smooth maize meal porridge) Mielie pap is usually taken with a variety of savouries made from green vegetables and flavoured with chilli. Mielie pap is a traditional porridge made from mielie-meal (ground maize). It is like akamu amongst the Igbo and ogi amongst the Yorubas in Nigeria, though much coarser. Mielie pap is a staple food of the Bantu inhabitants of Southern Africa (the Afrikaans word “pap” is taken from Dutch and simply means “porridge”).
Dishes similar to pap include isidudu, uphuthu, umpokoqo and umngqusho (made from white maize and sugar beans, a staple food for the Xhosa people). Since mielie-meal is inexpensive, poor people combine it with vegetables. Meat (beef or chicken) is also a large part of South African eating habits. Beef for preference, it is difficult to find any South African family without meat as the main portion of any meal. This is the main reason Braai (barbecues for the uneducated) is a popular activity every weekend.
Another dish I have tasted is Chakalaka, a mixture of garnished food which is eaten with mixed onion, garlic, ginger, green pepper, carrots and cauliflower, spiced with chillies and curry. As a lover of fish I eat smoked Snoek, a particular regional gamefish traditional to the Cape.
Education and Career Attainment
My studying abroad has enhanced my thinking faculty as well as elevated my personal involvement with South Africa. South Africa is described globally as the rainbow nation. Apart from the majority black citizens, there are Whites, Indians, Chinese and Portuguese whose parents and grandparents were born in South Africa. As an editor and producer, I have been opportune to explore South Africa.
As I plan to return home soon after study abroad I will return with a new perspective on culture, language skills, a great education, and the willingness to learn. One of the achievements of my South African experience is the opportunity to meet new lifelong friends from different backgrounds, I have been able to adapt to unfamiliar environment (cold weather) while learning from different teaching styles (organized workshops, talk shows and seminars).
Furthermore, I have been able to learn how to effectively communicate among diverse groups, have developed the willingness to challenge myself within the comfort zones and attain knowledge of a foreign language.
International students are of the opinion that there are certain benefits which attract them to South Africa. Some of these include the level of development in South Africa which is comparable to that of most European countries, which offer interesting and professional prospects for students. Its public universities are of high quality with massive online open courses and distance education programs (representing 40% of education dispensed by its universities). In my opinion, there is less bureaucracy to attain a visa than for European and American countries; it is less costly than Europe; and it is accessible, dynamic and stable.
According to Science Guide article published in 2013, over 68,000 international students in 2011 were enrolled in South African universities, and of those, almost 40,000 studied on campus while the remaining were distance education students. South Africa’s increased popularity with international university students includes its relatively direct visa processes, distance learning offerings and reasonably priced standard of living.
There are some challenges though. South Africa’s higher education system is presently faced with such challenges as domestic demand, lack of funding, low student completion rates as well as financial pressures. These last two factors are affecting the country’s higher education system and leaving many South African students without sufficient education or skills to penetrate the labour market. It must be pointed out however that there are a lot of scholarship/bursary opportunities for exceptionally brilliant students, including foreigners, especially if they are permanent residents.
Nevertheless, South Africa has become the most popular place to study in Africa and is one of the world’s top 20 host destinations for students from the U.S.
South Africa ranks 11th in the world as a destination for international students.
Has my story excited you into contemplating studying in South Africa or sending your child/ward here to study? Then be mindful of some critical requirements including the following:
- First, decide the institution of your choice by doing some research online. All South African universities have functional websites. There you would normally find all the requirements but there are special requirements for foreign or international students that must be met. One of these is re-certification
- Re-certification is carried out by the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) and it is meant to verify the authenticity of the applicants’ qualifications as well grade them in line with South African standards. The Nigerian Senior Secondary School Certificate, for instance, is a grade lower than the South African Grade 12 or Matric, which guarantees direct entry into the university with all the needed credit passes
- A child in Nigeria with 9 distinctions in SSCE would still need to do an extra year of high school or take the Matric exam as a private candidate before qualifying for university admission.
- SAQA normally sends the certificates tendered (originals) to the home universities/institutions for verification, so the earlier you apply the better
- There is also what is known as the benchmark exam to determine suitability for the different courses
- Usually, a one-year honours degree has to be acquired after the regular 3-year Bachelor’s degree before proceeding for a Master’s but this can be waived depending on the working experience of the applicant, in which case a detailed CV is required.
- Transcripts (original copies) of previous degrees are a must
- Foreign students are usually charged double the tuition fee paid by the citizens, except for citizens of SADC countries.
Are you already on your way here? Bon voyage!