A new language, a new country, and a whole new life await international students in Europe. While some basic tips such as how to get a student visa and how to acquire health insurance are relevant for international students regardless of their origin, there are some things that are especially important for Nigerian students in Europe.
I migrated to Europe from Nigeria several years ago. While the primary purpose of my journey was to enroll in a Master’s degree, I did have one more excuse – my husband resided in Germany, and migrating to Europe just made sense. Still, there were many challenges ahead.
My first week in Germany (or, how to prepare for real winter)
I arrived in Germany with a four-month-old baby on a cold December morning, so it’s safe to say that my first week was tiring and a bit stressful. I had a first glimpse at the local way of life, and more importantly at the European winter.
My first week in Germany started with going from one office to the other to complete the necessary registrations. I had to bring certified copies of my birth certificate including religious orientation, to make sure all of my information and background are properly documented. I was busy booking doctor appointments for insurance purposes, and other types of necessary bureaucracy when migrating to a new country. Another important aspect for me was to set up a trustworthy banking option that will allow me to both manage my finances in Europe and provide an option to send money back home, to Nigeria.
However, the most intense experience was facing the cold weather and snow. Not only have our bodies not adjusted yet, but also, coming from a warm country, the idea of a truly warm jacket just doesn’t exist (if it did, we would collapse from the heat). So buying winter clothes for the first time in Europe is tricky and exciting.
School is in English, life is in German (or, how to learn the local language)
Skipping to a much later stage for a moment; after rounding up my Master’s program in the engineering sciences, I was faced with the hurdle of getting a job. I submitted close to 1,000 job applications, attended some job interviews, and got zero positive feedback.
When I did go to job interviews, I found that language skills were more important than I thought. At the time, my communication in the German language wasn’t as proficient as it is today, and as all the interviews were conducted in the German language, I found myself communicating a mixture of German and English. While this was an entertaining anecdote and a great ice breaker on job interviews, I quickly realized it’s not really helping me land a good job.
So, I made some local friends and enrolled in an online language course. Within a couple of months, I went from mumbling German to speaking the language. Of course, I can’t say that I spoke like a native, but it was good enough for that point in my journey.
Making friends in a foreign language (or, why friendships matter)
Making friends is important wherever you are. Did you know that friendships can extend life expectancy and lower changes of heart disease? I think it’s safe to say that making friends is a basic survival need. So, I made some local, German, friends with whom I have much in common.
In the beginning, we met on a weekly basis to hold interactive discussions on some interesting topics of choice. At first, I found myself thinking of how to articulate a sentence and making a lot of mistakes while doing my best to say it out loud. But then, at some point, the conversation became more fluent as the topics became more interesting and engaging. This strategy really boosted my German speaking skills, which helped me both on daily matters and with nailing job interviews. More importantly, it helped me make dear friends.
Being homesick is normal (or, how to find friends from back home)
I cannot tell you of a single immigrant who isn’t homesick on their first day abroad. Perhaps, for Nigerians, whose hearts always remain in the motherland, it’s even more so. The food is different, the language is different, and even the clothes are different. Sometimes all you want is the taste of homemade garri.
The good news is that you’re not alone. Odds are that there are other migrants from Nigeria in the same situation. You can find each other on designated social media groups for Nigerians in Europe. Who knows, you might see someone you already know. Together, with new friends from back home, you can find shops that import food and spices from Nigeria, find other Nigerians in Europe, celebrate traditional holidays, and whatnot. Making friends from back home won’t eliminate your homesickness, but it will surely relieve it.
Experience can trump education (or, how to find a student job in Germany)
Probably the most important piece of advice you’ll ever hear as a foreign student in Europe, who also wants to eventually find a job in Europe is this:
Find a student job that is relevant to your profession.
When you graduate and start looking for a full-time job, you’ll see that German companies (this is probably true for all European companies) are more interested in your experience than in your final grade.
The competition is fierce. So it’ll be wise to gain some experience and perspective, which will place you ahead of other qualified candidates.
Moving to a new country with an entirely different culture, language, and weather is never easy. But it can turn out to be a once in a lifetime experience. One that leaves with profound friendships, new skills, and a lot of self-confidence.