Stephen Akinremi is one of the thousands of Nigerian students spread all over the world seeking knowledge and education from countries with better structures and processes. He is currently in the Netherlands for a Masters’ Degree. He had his first degree in Geology at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife. He had a chat with Rasheed Adebiyi on his experiences as a student in Netherlands and the fear that comes with hearing from home in this period of Coronavirus pandemic.
Stephen’s and his colleagues’ impression about the way Nigeria has handled the COVID 19 pandemic so far.
To be away from home and get to hear all the issues surrounding Nigerian government’s manner of handling the pandemic crisis could be more psychologically draining than one could imagine. When asked the impression he had about the Nigerian government’s efforts at containing the pandemic, he responded that he and some of his Nigerian colleagues usually paid serious attention to some of the issues being discussed in the media concerning Nigeria’s response to the pandemic. They shared in the sentiment that Nigeria did not respond early enough. They didn’t also like the fact government palliatives and relief materials did not get to citizens. This is unlike the experience they had in the Netherlands where citizens’ welfare is given top consideration. However, like every other Nigerian Diaspora, they talk endlessly about the situation at home and end with a sigh of helplessness. He said: “we are not just happy about situations at home whenever we have conversation on Nigeria and the way the government has been responding to the pandemic. All we just have to do is just sigh and just pray and hope that one day Nigeria will also be a country that has a system that works. Unlike here where we have constant power supply, we read about people at home in lockdown without certain amenities, especially power. It is really frustrating. Here, there is a welfare system that takes care of the citizens especially when there is a job loss. A Dutch man or woman would be paid 70% of his monthly salary to enable them to cope with the situation until they are able to secure another job. ”
His transition to the Netherlands and the Cultural Shock
For a foreign student in a new setting quite different from his home country, there is bound to be some kind of shock as a result of cultural, social and environmental differences. Stephen was asked how he has been coping. He categorized the shocks he has experienced into different types. First, he talked about the student-lecturer relationship and methods of lecture delivery and grading. He was amazed by the little gap that the system allows between the lecturers and students. He responded “The cultural shock I will first start with is the educational system, there are a lot of differences between what is obtainable here and what I passed through as an undergraduate in Nigeria. To start, the system of teaching is different and it’s actually better here. Also, the student to lecturer relationship is more cordial than we had it in Nigeria. They don’t even call them lecturers, they call them teachers. The relationship is different and it was a shock for me when some of my lecturers had to keep correcting when I referred to them attaching Sir or I put Dr in front of their names and things like that. They would ask you to call them by their first name. This promotes some kind of a personal cum informal relationship. I remember back in my undergraduate days in Nigeria, I barely had anything to do with any lecturer. The situation was just be on your own, attend classes, write exams and pass. But here you have reasons to knock at the door of a lecturer, ask for any meeting at any point in time. That was really different for me and I had to start to adjust to it gradually.”
He delved into the method of lecture delivery, the grading system, and the fact that students are briefed on the expectations of each course, how they will be graded and how they will evaluate if a student has been able to achieve the stipulated outcomes. This is unlike the Nigerian system where students do memorize concepts and pour them out during the examinations.
Stephen equally made reference to the open social interaction in the Netherlands. He spoke highly of their willingness to relate with foreigners who do not speak their local language. He described his experience, “the lifestyle back in Nigeria is different from the society here but I think the Netherlands is very better compared to other European countries because they speak English a lot apart from their local language. The language would have been the first problem for me but due to the fact that the Dutch speak English well even as a non English speaking country. When you are interacting with them and you just say “English please” or even when they say good morning in their language and you are saying good morning in English, they already sense that they need to switch to English for you. This happens everywhere you go, the supermarket, the hospital and other places. I know it’s not the same in Germany. I visited Germany and I’ve also read a lot about Germany. The system is so different completely. You hardly get over the cultural shock in terms of language. I almost got lost trying to find my way when I was trying to get a ticket for a train to connect to my nephews that I was supposed to meet, I almost got completely stranded because there was nobody that was ready to speak English to me even when it appeared they actually understand it”.
Differences in the Nigerian and Dutch food are another shock that Stephen has to cope with. He eats the local dutch food when he needs to socialize. However, he does not derive the kind of satisfaction he gets from eating Nigerian delicacies. He has to cook Nigerian food for himself. On the food, he has this to say : “if the only option I had was to eat the native food it would have been a big problem for me but since I still have option to, at my own time cook my own kind of food, so that really helps, and I must also say that the University really planned a nice orientation for us that really helped introduce us to the culture, the good, the bad and their general lifestyle. I’m not a person that is very adventurous when it comes to food, but we’ve had to eat the native food on many occasions and I just had to manage, when I just have to eat to socialize I would just have to eat to socialize but it’s not the same. I still cook Nigerian food for myself in my own room. that’s what I cook and I eat, but when we have to go out for functions, for social gathering, I just try to eat but we’re different, definitely we’re different, so that was a big shock for me,”
His experience learning amidst the pandemic
When Stephen was asked to share his experience learning amidst the global health crisis, he spoke glowingly about the ease of learning online in the Netherlands. He said : “taking online classes during the lockdown is very simple here. The whole system is something easy to navigate through. They made everything easy for us. They gave us a week for us to be able to adjust and practice with the system. We were allowed to practice with the conferencing tools that we are going to be using. So, it’s easy to adapt. It’s easy to change over to the new system. The only challenging part is that it’s affecting our psychology and mental health because there’s no physical interaction you are just in your room learning all day. There are some things you do not have to think about. You don’t have to think about power and the internet. We are living in the faculty hostel, so there’s internet. They connect us directly to the school server. Even our licenses for all of our softwares that we use are still very active even in this period.