My Experience In Germany As A Foreign Student
With a Masters Degree from a German university, Kester Audu could have stayed put in the European country, like many of his contemporaries are wont to do, but he chose to return home, albeit under a programme jointly implemented by the Centre for International Migration (CIM) GIZ and the Federal Employment Agency of Germany. He speaks with Dorcas Egede on the attraction and challenges of living and studying abroad, and why he chose to return.
Unlike many young Nigerians who travel abroad to escape the hardship in their country, Kester Audu, a graduate of Industrial Chemistry from the Federal University of Technology, Akure, Ondo State, took the decision to go do his masters degree in Germany, more out of curiosity, and “to see what obtains on the other side of life.” And so to Germany, he headed after his compulsory one-year National Youth Service Corps (NYSC).
True to his expectation, he did see what obtains on the other side of life. Starting from the minute he stepped foot at the airport in Frankfurt, Audu realised the reason for the strong pull on young people to go abroad. “I’ve never been so burdened for Nigeria as the first time I stepped foot in Frankfurt airport. That was my first time of actually travelling outside Africa. I was amazed that human beings could build what I saw there. And for me, it became like a challenge, that if humans could build the kind of airport I saw in Frankfurt, it means we’re sleeping in Africa.” He said.
Having been admitted into Brandenburg Technical University (BTU), Cottbus, Germany to study Environment and Resource Management, Audu soon discovered that achieving academic excellence abroad wasn’t so much a herculean task as in Nigeria. “I was able to finish my programme in a record time of about 14 months. One thing that helped me achieve that was the kind of training I had received in my Nigeria school. Unlike back home, here your lectures are flexible, you have teachers who interact with you on a personal note, you have enough time to do research works and of ctextbooks of text books at your disposal.”
Audu decided on the Diary of an international student “because of what happens to us Africans when we travel abroad. Many people feel that once they cross the border, they automatically make it in life.” But then, how realistic is this expectation considering the challenges international students face?
While Audu admits that international students grapple with economic challenges amidst other challenges, he strongly believes that the challenges they face are more social than economic. “Most times the challenges foreign students face abroad is more social. For instance, by the time you leave here to Europe or America for your master's degree, you’re already gone past the age of students in a masters degree class because you’ve spent a lot of time working to save up to travel. Anyway, age is just in the numbers, as they say, but of course, you know that at that age, there are also a lot of things that begin to impact on what you want to do.”
Now, you’re probably married and have kids or aged parents who probably cleared their life’s savings to make your dream to study abroad come true; maybe you even loaned the money to study abroad. Whatever the case, Audu says these things add up in no small way to the burden of international students. “Your counterparts in Europe, America and even China, don’t face that kind of pressure. And these impact on your quality of life and global competitiveness in the long run.”
Another social challenge which Audu observed foreign students face is in association. “When you travel abroad, the first set of people you meet shape your mentality, they shape how you see the society.”
He was fortunate to meet people who nudged him towards starting early to achieve his set goals. However, not every international student is as fortunate as Audu; some of them have first contacts who wrongly colour their impression. “When you meet a black person on the way, you definitely want to associate, so those people come to you and begin to tell you things about society. Things like it’s hard. You will need to get your residency. You will need to get your citizenship. You have to marry a white. You have to birth a child in society. What now happens is that, instead of our students looking to acquire the knowledge, skills and network to make them relevant, they begin a rat race for survival. This is why you can have a PhD student who has been doing his program for about five or six years; a master's students who have finished one master's program and after three years, go back to do another one, not because he’s truly seeking for knowledge, but because he wants to extend his stay in the society.”
Strategy is key
Audu is therefore of the opinion that those who seek to go abroad, either for work or study or as permanent residents, must have a strategy. “Many people travel without a plan, so when they get there, they get stuck, and it takes a lot of time, meaningful years of their lives before they find some kind of headway.”
“I was able to do some kind of humanitarian work in Berlin; attended a lot of conferences, where I met people to improve my network. I acquired some very good skills set and became knowledgeable in the issue of sustainability that helps me look at the problem as a whole and not just in part, like many of us do. That is why we have researchers who have had breakthroughs in their researches, but don’t have the skill to communicate these breakthroughs to policy makers. They don’t even understand how policy makers think to be able to adopt that research and use it for the benefit of society.”
He also thinks “The excitement and expectation of people going abroad have to be put in check. Yes, the environment is better off, if you want to compare it to what we have in Africa, but it’s not a walk in the park.”
Asked what he thinks is responsible for the inordinate desire of young people to go abroad despite sad tales of migrants drowning in the Mediterranean and slavery in Libya, Audu said, “First of all, the issue of migration is not just in part; drowning in the Mediterranean Sea is only part of the story. Let me tell you some facts about migration that can put this in perspective, it. Currently, in the world, there are 258million migrants. In 2000 we had about 173m and in 2018 alone, it has risen to 258m.”
According to Audu, “One out of any 30 persons is a migrant, 48% of migrants are women and out of this 258m, 50m are children.” He said that one fact about migration that most international media don’t talk about is that most migrants move through safe and legal means.
Continuing, he added: “Migration should be an engine for economic growth and entrepreneurship, anywhere. In 2017 alone, migrants spent approximately $450m in remittances to developed countries. Now, this is three times the amount spent globally on development aid.”
Noting that a huge sum of migrants’ earnings is pumped into their host countries’ economies, Audu said, “Migrants spend 85% of their earnings in their host countries, so it’s the other 15% that they try to send back home.”
Audu said people migrate because “they are looking for better opportunities.” He however strongly believes that if Nigerians had access to basic amenities to make them comfortable in their country, they won’t need to go anywhere. “It was shocking to me when I got to Germany and realized that many people there see Africa as a country. They don’t know much about us. What does that tell you? It’s possible for child to be born in Germany and hasn’t visited more than four or five countries. What this portends is that where people find opportunities, fulfilment, and full expression of their liberties and rights, they may not have any cause to leave those places.
“So, when you see young people on this side of Africa, who, maybe because they cannot afford to go through legal means like going to school and stuff like that, want to go abroad by all means, just know that they must have perceived their socio-economic conditions as very bad.
“I say ‘perceived’ because it’s not like going through the illegal means is cheap. Many of them have savings, but they just feel that the return on their investment will be higher if they find themselves on other shores.”
Audu attributes this belief to misinformation. “The media, what we see in the movies. Many people don’t know that there are beggars on the streets of New York, or that there are homeless people in Europe. Movies will not actually show you all that, but the fine cars and houses, and the colourful ambience.”
But Audu believes that the migration story is not told in a balanced manner. It is told in such a way that makes it look as if migrants cost their host countries a fortune, but they fail to talk about how robust their economies become because of migrants. “If you’re telling us about the remittances to developing countries, also tell us what goes out to developed countries because of migrants’ activities. For instance, the German policy requires that the student who wants to study there would have to have at least 8,000 Euros opened in a German account. So, imagine you have 500 students who leave Nigeria to study in Germany. Multiply 500 by 8,000 Euros, you know how much that is into their economy.”
What the international community is doing
“For me, another thing that strengthened my resolve to return home, which is something for which I really give credit to the German government, is that, as part of their plans towards solving some of these migration issues, they created a platform such that after you’ve studied and trained in Germany, if you choose to go back home, wherever you find yourself or whatever you want to do, they will give you certain kind of support for some period of time.
“Now, imagine if other countries adopted that kind of strategy. Those of us who chose to return on the platform provided by the German government were few at first, but now the network has grown and we are close to 30 already.
“The United Nations is talking about what they call the global pact for safe, orderly and regular migration. That is the new agenda of the UN and it has clear objectives to make migration safe and regular, to address the concerns the of the government and to reinforce national sovereignties, to recognise the vulnerabilities faced by migrants who travel through these irregular means, to make known the benefits of migrants to their host countries.”
What our government can do
To solve migration problems, Audu says the government can do a lot. “With our growing population, we have to create jobs. The government has to engage the teeming youthful population and we have to throw open the manufacturing space. We can’t make jokes about manufacturing.
“Nigeria is one of the biggest markets for automobiles, yet how many cars do we manufacture? The manufacturing sector is a sector that can absorb people in numbers.
“We have to develop vocational skills. Our graduates are not even well groomed for the labour market. So, vocational skill isn’t something we should take lightly.
“Another thing we must take seriously is agriculture. Soon, the world will begin to look to Africa for food security. We have the land, the weather, the human capital. So, what the government needs to do is take care of basic things such as power, job creation, etc. and once people are engaged, they begin to find fulfilment. At least, they have the ability to feed and shelter themselves, just the basic necessities of life.
“The health sector must be revamped. If someone is sick he should be able to have health insurance that helps him. This is why people don’t want to return home because those basic things are catered for abroad. This is why a Nigerian will do anything to be the citizen of another country. This is why you have a lot of elites and the middle-class wanting to have their children abroad. Once those things are fixed, I’m telling you, you won’t have people thronging abroad the way to they do.”
According to the young man, the government needs to brace up. They need to set up policies that make things work. They need to strengthen ties with our diasporas and tap into that network. They need to strengthen policies, health care policies, set up educational policies that achieve four important things, namely: (1) make us know more about ourselves, our family, background, history of our country and continent. Many of us don’t even know where we are from. (2) Help us study our environment, economically, politically, socially, geographically. (3) Help us identify our problems and (4) we have to develop an educational system that will help individuals to solve these problems that have been identified, because that is one thing we are lacking. We know the problems, but many lack those critical problem solving skills.”
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