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.
This week’s subject on Abroad Life was applying to universities on a whim, during her NYSC, when one suddenly offered her a scholarship. She shares the quirks of living in England, including the bitter cold of winter, overt classism and the slow healthcare system.
When did you decide to move abroad?
I never decided; I would say it happened on a whim. During my NYSC in 2021, I decided to apply to a couple of universities for a Chevening scholarship because someone said I could write. And I got admission, with a partly-funded scholarship worth 50 per cent of the tuition, to study cyberpsychology at Nottingham Trent.
What did you study before this?
I got into the University of Lagos to study law in 2011, but I switched to psychology in 2014 after I was diagnosed with a mental illness. Fast forward to 2019, I graduated and deferred my NYSC service year until 2021 due to health reasons. Then I worked in an advertising agency until I got laid off in March 2021. I was out of a job until May when I started working with a fintech startup. NYSC posted me to Abuja, where I started working at a psychiatric center.
Then you got the scholarship admission?
Yes, didn’t finish my NYSC. I also applied for a visa. It wasn’t exactly planned because I left in a bit of a rush, but it wasn’t difficult. An agent did everything for me for almost nothing.
Yup. There are agents who help you process your application, visa, and everything else for free. They get paid by the school when you pay your fees. The only things I had to spend money on were printing, photocopying and the visa application fee.
When did you arrive in England?
In October 2021 at around 5 p.m. I must say, there were a lot of checks at Heathrow, but once you get past them, you’re good to go.
Did you experience any culture shocks?
Oh my God, a lot. Especially because of my health. My first winter here was hell. Do you know how they say the seventh circle of hell is freezing cold? That’s how it was for me. It was lonely, but adjusting to the cold was one thing. In Nigeria, you don’t need to do so many registrations to access basic services, but that’s not the case here. You have to register your address with a general practitioner (GP) to get access to healthcare. You need to get a phone number to work legally. Also, it’s an English-speaking country, but I don’t understand what the hell they’re saying half of the time.
It’s like they’re talking through their noses half the time. I’m sure most people thought I was illiterate my first few months here because I was trying to understand even the tiniest of sentences. The education system is also very different from Nigeria’s which is more knowledge-based. In England, it’s more analysis-based and focuses on critical thinking.
How’s school going?
I’m currently extending my studies without a scholarship. I couldn’t complete the coursework in the first year because of my health. I’m currently working and using my living expenses to pay the fees.
What about friends? Have you made any?
I only have like one or two friends. None of them are purely British. I tend to make friends with Chinese people because I can relate more to their culture and worldview. They understand things like background, respect, etc., more than Caucasians. I’ve not had any run-ins with disrespectful white people, but that’s the general vibe they give off.
Tell me about how health affected your studies
I became suicidal in January .
OMG. What happened?
So, in England, you have to register with a GP. You can’t just walk into the hospital and get attended to. Appointments have to be made months in advance. I started my GP registration in October 2021. However, my first appointment to see a psychiatrist was in February 2022. The medication I brought from Nigeria finished in November 2021. By January, I had to go into the emergency room because I was suicidal. I had a couple of friends in healthcare in Nigeria, and luckily, two of them are psychiatrists. When they saw the warning signs of depression, and a constant desire to be alone, they advised me to go to the emergency room.
So sorry you had to go through that. Has the healthcare system improved since then?
Nope. It’s still just the worst. When you pay for a visa, you pay something called the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) that covers hospital visits, GP registrations, tests, and whatnot. Things like dental and optical services are not covered, but I don’t really need them. The one thing I know I have had to deal with that’s NOT covered is medication. I’ve had to pay for it out of my pocket per prescription.
So here’s how payment per prescription works. If I’m prescribed three different meds, and each of them goes for £20, £30 and £40 respectively, no matter how many pills are in the bottle, I’d still pay that amount. I could be made to pay 40 for one bottle of 10 pills, for instance, which is a ridiculous amount of money. In Nigeria, the price of drugs is dependent on how many tablets you buy.
The healthcare system here is just really slow, inefficient, and they don’t really care. The hospital staff sees taking care of you as just “doing the job”. It’s not about improving your life. In a way, I understand because the NHS is overworked and underfunded. But the healthcare service is definitely my least favorite thing about England.
What else don’t you like?
Hmm. The classism. I once had a shift at a race course in Cheltenham, and you could easily differentiate who was poor from who was middle class or posh without even talking to them. When the “posh” people do talk to you, they do it with a subtle air of arrogance.
Do you have any favorite things about England?
Definitely the standard of living; it’s much higher than that of Nigeria. Also, it’s an easy country to live in once you’ve adjusted to the system, in terms of access to basic amenities and whatnot.
Would you ever return to Nigeria?
England is cold and boring compared to Lagos life, so I know I’ll come back at some point. However, I don’t think I’d like to give up the standard of living here. In my fintech job, they paid me ₦150k a month. But I can get so much more than that in the same role here in England. Nigeria will always be home, but it needs to be fixed with structure before I can go back.