Education Advisor, Chinenye Uwadileke (left), during the 2016 pre-departure orientation at the U.S. Consulate General in Lagos

A recent pre-departure orientation programme organised for some Nigerian students who were admitted into various higher institutions in the U.S., showed that the attraction for foreign education by the youths lies in the availability of quality of education, Peace Obi reports

Education they say, is power. And for those who appreciate the enormity of the power of quality education bequeath to every mind that diligently seeks it for the purpose of personal and general good of mankind, cost, distance and even race factors become inconsequential. And for some Nigerian youths who have discovered the potency of education for general wellbeing of any people, there seems to be no boundary, no obstacles that worth bowing to and there is no looking back while searching for quality education.

Lion-spirited and dogged in their pursuit, they are ready to weather any storm and make the best of any opportunity within their reach. And that is why despite the pendulum of foreign currency and economic realities of the present day, Nigerian youths are not deterred from seeking and aiming for such educational opportunities that have the capacity to empower them to compete favourably with their counterparts around the world. For Nigerian students, their presence are felt in every education hub around the world from Europe, America and in other continents where they are making waves with their academic exploits.

And recently, the U.S. Consulate General in Lagos played host to about 120 Nigerian students at a pre-departure orientation. The students, who have fulfilled the necessary requirements by the various American institutions were admitted to U.S. higher education institutions for both undergraduate and graduate courses. The EducationUSA Advising Centre had, as part of its preparatory programmes for students traveling from Nigeria to the US, organised the orientation to provide the students with necessary information that will aid their preparation and stay in the Country all through the duration of their studies.

Filing into the orientation hall, one could see the dream of being great boldly written on the foreheads of these young Nigerians. Though they appeared in different shapes and sizes, yet, they have so many things in common. They are young, bright, intelligent, ambitious and determined. They are like a selection of the best brains where you have the likes of Korede Akinpelumi, the best graduating student of University of Lagos for 2013/2014 academic session going for his Ph.D studies and alumni of various secondary schools who finished as the valedictorians of their going for the undergraduate studies.

A brief chat with these young Nigerians reveals the passion in their hearts to make Nigeria proud while their studies last. They can be best described as sojourners who in search of the best ideas and ways to better their country are willing to give up the comfort of their homes and loved ones to set out on a journey for a brighter tomorrow. They want to be change agents and they all seem to be saying ‘we just want to be emboldened by knowledge, get more experienced and exposure for the task ahead.’ And so, seeking such opportunities that will likely make their dreams come through, starts with getting quality education.

The newly admitted students who will be leaving the shores of their father land this August, during the orientation were provided with practical experiences by some students currently studying in the U.S. as well as some former students whose experience count. With a number of speakers sharing their experiences cum counselling, the students enjoyed a wide range of practical advice about U.S. culture and educational expectations to set them up for success. Among such tips provided by the various speakers notably believed to aid their personal commitment to succeed in their academic pursuits include building positive relationships with professors and peers, time management, and balancing course workloads with a strong social and community life.
The EducationUSA Advisers Chinenye Uwadileke and Adeola Oseni led the session with 11 current and former students from Nigeria who shared extensive wisdom from first-hand experience.

The Acting Public Affairs Officer, Frank Sellin in his opening remarks welcomed the students, noting that they are beginning a life-changing educational and cultural experience. Restating the EducationUSA commitment and willingness to prepare the students through the provision of relevant information, he said it is aimed at adequately preparing and setting the students up for success. “This is about setting up Nigerian students for success. If they have gone through the hard work of applying, they have the admission and they have found ways to fund their education and they have done a lot of that in consultation with us, EducationUSA. We don’t want to hold back information, we want to make sure they have information about visas, about life outside academics, about staying safe, all those things they need to succeed,” he said.

In a brief chat with the media, Sellin who noted that the safety of the students was guaranteed and that despite the global security challenges, the United States of America remains a very safe country. According to him, “We have thousands of universities in the United States, you don’t hear any attack on any of them. As much as I know, we have never heard about a Nigerian student or any other being affected by these things.

“We do our best to make sure they have a safe environment. There are university police forces and security forces. And the towns where they go are also surrounded by the police forces. All our forces also know that they are charged with protecting every student in the university within its safety programme and environment. We are a big country of about three hundred million people, most people never had to experience that,” he assured.

Toluwanimi Ogbonimide, a Rising Sophomore, Liberty University, Virginia, who majors in Biochemistry, sharing his experience both on his academics and social life, especially on some of his exploits in sports, harped on the need for students to strive to live a balanced life. According to him, the success in ones academics depends largely on hard work, the student’s ability to rightly manage their academic workloads, student/teacher relationship and social life.

Urging the students to maintain originality and consistency in their names as international students, Ogbonimide said that they should never feel awkward about their names because it makes them unique. And that being identified by their local names will attract their teachers’ attention as well fellow students who would always like to find out some things about their country.

“Maintain consistency in your name. In every class, your name is like moved round the class and everybody sees your name. It may be awkward at first, but that is how your teachers will start knowing you. They start asking you about your country.”

Speaking further, Ogbonimide informed the students that they need to realise Nigerian students are more like exotic students to the whites. “You are interesting students to them if you really don’t know. You might find it easier to make friends but let them know that you are an international student. Whenever the opportunity comes, make yourself known as an international student. Look unique with your traditional clothes. They admire it. It makes them want to be involved in your culture.

Speaking on managing school workload and social life, Ogbonimide advised the students to make their studies a priority. Noting that although there are so many distractions, he urged them to always work in advance as there is always a deadline for assignments. Sharing further tips, he said, “get to know your professor early enough and build a good relationship with him/her. Know their office hours and go to them to share any problem you may be having with your studies. And even when you don’t have any problem, you can just say hello to them. Manage your workload, put down the necessary dates such as exam date,” he counselled.

For every speaker that mounted the podium, there is something new to offer. And for Amarachi, the light was beamed on managing newly found freedom, language barrier, being homesick, managing distractions and remaining focused on the real business, managing ill health and dealing with some embarrassing questions. Encouraging the students to make proper and maximum use of the opportunity their admission into the various institutions of learning has brought their way, Amarachi advised that they should enjoy their freedom with caution. “There are enough distractions around but you need to be focused. Do not get involve in some things that will not add value to your life and studies.” Noting that the students may in the process of adjusting to the new environment experience such challenges like language barrier, reaction to food, water and may even fall ill, Amarachi urged them to endeavour to take right steps and actions. “When you are having challenges in your studies, please confide in your professor. And when you have such issue like ill health to deal with, don’t go on self diagnosis or self medication, go to the clinic, it is important she stressed.”

Drawing from his wealth of experience, Mr. Oluwafemi Esan who had his Masters in Applied Geophysics from the States, with a sense of maturity told the students that it is important that they maintain a good relationship with their professors. According to him, “one principal thing students need is the interaction with their professors. Professors in the US are not exactly like professors in Nigeria. Here, we have them as teachers and that is what forms most of the core responsibility of our lecturers but over there, it is research.

“So, you may have a professor for a whole semester he has not taken any classes. Look for professors in the line of the research you are interested in and start communicating with them,” he advised.

Speaking further, Esan advised the students not to cut corners. Stressing that hard work would earn any diligent student good grades. “Manage your time well, do not cut corners. If you do the hard work, you can get “A”. And getting “A” in the U.S., some people say it is easy and some will say it is not. But if you have chosen to work hard, and will not wait till the last minute before you study, then getting “A” will be easy.

“If you are interested in cramming and you wait till the very last minute, you will find the U.S. educational system very, very difficult. Because in most cases, by the time you get to the exam hall you are only struggling for may be 30 or 40 per cent. Every class matters. And once you finish a class, go over your notes. Form a relationship with your classmates.”

Urging them to maximise the opportunity that their studentship as well as the environment would be bringing their way, Esan advised them to do volunteer works like volunteering to work as a research assistant to the professors. “You have a lot to learn and those contacts matter at the end of the day. What you can also do is to join professional associations and as many as possible. For most of these associations, student membership is free. Most oil companies go to specific schools to recruit and if your school is not on the list, you may not be able to interact or do internship with them. Who knows you matters and not necessarily who you know. So, look for opportunity for people to know you, print your own complimentary cards, introduce yourself when you attend professional association meetings and conferences,” he counselled.

For the visibly excited Osifalujo Aderola, an alumni of Federal Government Girls College, 2014 set, who will be studying Psychology as a premed in the Northern Kentucky University told THISDAY, “Right now, I am at the pre-departure orientation programme for students who will be going to America this August.

“I find today’s programme very, very educative because I have learnt a lot about what to expect when I get there and how to adjust to life in the university education system over there.”
Asked why the choice of a foreign university, Aderola disclosed that her findings revealed that the U.S. educational system is globally acknowledged to be more advanced in terms of research and practical aspects of education. According to her, “Like I said, I want to study psychology and my course of study has to do more with research and class works. I just want to have a balanced education. And I have discovered that American educational system is a more advanced system and it is a known educational system, globally.

“It has more exposure in terms of research and practical aspect of education. And as I learnt, in the U.S., students grading is divided into assignments, projects and exam. The exam is based on like 40 per cent. It is a place of opportunity that if you put so much into your academics, you will also get so much as well. It is a privilege to actually go to a place where there is more exposure and flexibility with ones choice of course of study,” she said
Aderola, who is going on a free tuition studies, revealed that she finished her secondary education in 2014, and she spent two years working and searching for admission. “I am on free tuition to study in Northern Kentucky University. I got some funding from the International Students Department and I got some funding as a merit scholarship based on my CGPA and my external exams.”

Sharing her dreams with THISDAY, Aderola revealed, “At the completion of my four-year programme, I hope to return to my country to utilise the acquired knowledge for the good of my country and the people. Most of what I will be interested in doing is helping people.

“And in this country, there is so much opportunity to do that, either voluntary through community service, may be in medical centres where one can render medical services. It can be in academia where students need people who will be passionate in passing useful knowledge to them. I am interested in putting smiles on the faces of my people at the end of this journey,” she submitted.
Speaking with another student, Ifeanyi Mba who is going for his doctorate in Civil Engineering, who also told THISDAY that the attraction to a foreign institution was based on availability of necessary tools, equipment and infrastructure that will aid his studies, especially in the area of research work.

Mbah, coming from the University of Lagos, renowned for producing some of the brightest academics in Nigeria and around the world, Mbah, hinted, “My experience at the University of Lagos gave me what I was expected to get. Civil Engineering in Nigeria is so much biased towards structural and I am looking out for something that is geodetically aligned.

“I wanted to do a research in geotechnics. We don’t have certain facilities like the geo-centrifuge for example. In the U.S., you have as much as 20 of them. So, that for me is the key reason for applying for American schools for my Masters and Ph.D.”

Disclosing that his opting for a foreign institution for his postgraduate studies was not meant to serve as a career boost, the youth said, “I am not doing this because I think it is a career boost for me. I am doing this because it is my goal, my personal dream to be a researcher and being an environmental engineer is just a past time for me to achieve.”

According to him, “Nigeria has need for civil engineers and I know there are opportunities here in Nigeria to work with either the government, the academia or set up a private practice as an environmentalist. For example, many parts of Nigeria still have ground water pollution even in Lagos. And the need for civil engineers will always be there. Nigeria is still a developing nation. It cannot achieve development without having civil engineers to build its cities.”

Speaking on how he wish to impact his fatherland with the advanced knowledge on the successful completion of his programme, Mbah said, “My passion has always been the environment and being an expert in environmental matters in Nigeria, will help me first of all get the attention of all Nigerians to know the importance of their environment, how it affects their health.

“You find out that in many developing nations, much of the issues with their public health is just their environment. If we have really clean environment, we will have significant drop in health related matters,” he disclosed.

Speaking with Ilemona Ameadaji, an alumni of Dowen College, Lekki, and at the moment, a student of University of California, Beckley, studying Molecular Biology as a pre-med, she told THISDAY that she was not on scholarship. “But I am applying for a number of scholarships.”

The Rising Sophomore, while sharing her experience with the new students said, “generally, there is some culture shock. They are quite different from us, like their environment, culture, academic system, among others. You can hear some people here say that their professors are informal, more accessible.

“They make out more time for their students just to talk to them and help them out. They have more resources like helping you with project papers. They want to make sure that you are not failing and there are more resources for that.

“Pay attention during the orientation time, that is when you will get to know all the resources that are at your disposal. Be proactive, don’t shy, speak for yourself,” she said.

Ameadaji who said she is not a very social person, however said that there are a lot of organisations for one to socialise. “They encourage extra-curricular activities. They take extra-curricular activities so seriously and work experience during the school period. In fact, it is almost mandatory that you work during your summer holidays. They don’t have room for such programme like Industrial Attachment we do here, but they expect that every summer holiday, you are doing internship. There are a lot of hands-on things, practicals and research. A lot of their professors are involved in research, if you are proactive and you are good in your course, you might get an opportunity to work as a research apprentice or assistant to your professor. And you will really learn a lot from that.

Sharing her experience on the flexibility of the U.S. education system, Chidera Egbuche who first registered to study Information Technology, said “everything went on well until we got to programming and I failed it.

“In the U.S. anything below 70 per cent is D. But when I tried to find out why I failed, I discovered that it was because of omission of some little things like colon, semi-colon. When you are doing programming, everything has to be perfect and I am not that kind of person who is given to that kind of detailed life.

“So, I had to look for a course that matched with my personality and talent. So, going through the courses online, I picked this course, e-business. One thing that I noticed is that it is the future of technology in business, sales and marketing.

“Right now, I am taking the minor requirements in order to enter the programme. Over there for every course you are going for, like medicine, you are required to do the basic requirement before going into the programme fully,” Egbuche disclosed.