In the words of Henri Miller, our destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things, and this thought finds resonance in the experiences of Itodo Lydia Nnenna and Ajayi Kemi Patience, two youngsters from the expansive African nation of Nigeria as they respond to questions from Dr. John Patrick Ojwando
Figure this. You are the last- born whose arrival in a new world brings forth unbridled joy and jubilation in a big royal African family and the community. As you find your footing surrounded by the trappings of royalty with just about everyone doting on you, your parents only take you to the best schools in the land. And then one day, all that changes. A decision is made and you have to leave all that you have become accustomed to, behind. With just your luggage for company, you traverse miles and miles to be exposed to an entirely different culture – different food habits, languages, smells, sights, sounds, people, social norms, and a new way of life. More often than not, such a change can be pretty scary and may mean that you have become lonely, resentful, disheartened or disillusioned, frustrated and miserable, fighting a totally different battle to stay afloat, right?
But not for Itodo Lydia Nnenna, the self-declared ‘happy person’ with a touch of ‘classy fashion style’ with family roots that stretches the entire length and breadth of Nigeria.
“Why change anything for now?” Itodo asks.
“I guess, it is me and studying excites me. So when it became necessary that I come to India, I did not think much about it. I am driven by science and just want to do well in the discipline at all times.”
Settled and enjoying a new beginning in the city, Itodo is one of the foreign students in Bengaluru pursuing her Masters degree in Science at Jain (Deemed-to-be University).
Before stepping out of her country, Itodo had the limited information about India and its city of Bengaluru. She delved on the rich biodiversity, and on Bengaluru being at the forefront of innovation and technology.
Yet nothing else had prepared her for what would unfold on her arrival in the country. If she thought Nigeria was a big country, India was equally baffling. “You only come to appreciate the diversity when you see with your own eyes,” Itodo says, adding “to overcome the initial hiccups, you need friends around you. I am seeing things from a different view and that makes it a unique experience.”
Itodo recalls a refreshing childhood spent in the serene and tranquil locales of Enugu, in one of the Kingdoms in Nigeria where she was treated as the ‘last princess’.
According to Nne, as she is fondly referred to at home, Enugu, also called the ‘coal state’ or ‘Wawa State’, came into prominence as a result of being the first place in Nigeria for coal to be mined in commercial quantity in the early 90s.
“Life was so beautiful,” she reminisces. “I grew up among people who loved and treasured me in every sense of the word. This made my life all the more memorable.”
As for her preparations before the trip, a lot of her planning had to do with packing the requisite essentials, aware that this was going to be a long haul.
“Once the decision was made, I spent the last days in the company of friends, family members, and seeking spiritual nourishment through visits to the local churches.”
Yet it was her setting foot in the city that came with great moments of reflection. “The first task upon arrival in the city was to complete the admission formalities at the International Students and Scholars Advisory Centre,” she recalls. “I was struck by the organisation of my university. It is unique since it is home to different faculties, each with its own campus.”
On adjusting to her new life, it has been satisfying in all aspects. “What I like is that there is beauty in our differences,” she says adding that so far nothing really stands out as memorable but all the same looking forward to an intriguing and captivating sojourn.
“Coming from a different culture can make life a trifle demanding but there are a lot of positives than negatives. It is an adventure in many ways and no one should feel intimidated, just enjoy it,” she says. “We have become one large family and that is what matters. I don’t have to keep cribbing about things that I cannot withstand. This is not my style. I believe I have to prove myself in class and do well. At the moment, science is providing me with the right company and I am hoping to make it count.”
With a growing reputation as a truly global destination for international students, the choice of Jain (Deemed-to-be University) was not a tough call in the mind of Ajayi Kemi Patience.
But trading the comforts of her home and raking in the miles for a totally different experience must surely have come after a lot of soul searching and countless reflections.
So you would think.
Yet several months into her educational sojourn, there is every indication that the change has not by any stretch of the imagination dented the spirits of the aspiring computer professional.
Kemi, who is from Ado Ekiti, a village in Ekiti State of Nigeria went to her high school at Petoa City College, an institution founded by one of her parents and then proceeded to undertake a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from Afe Babalola University, named after a lawyer and philanthropist, Afe Babalola.
Speaking on her arrival, she insists that she did not experience culture shock that confounds many of her ilk from distant places when she came to Bengaluru. She believes the people and students whom she met made it comfortable to settle in, despite never having lived outside her home country before.
“If you are talking of cultural shock, I did not experience any, because I was convinced I would have to experience some change coming here, so I was more or less prepared and as such did not have any difficulties,” Kemi said and proceeded to describe herself as ‘a fun and easy going person who likes going out with friends.’
“I guess the only thing I wish I could change is having my sister with me here so that we could share these experiences together.”
Reflecting on her formative years, Kemi says there were the usual challenges to contend with as a girl child but her parents were equal to their task and ensured that they did not lack anything that they craved.
“Schooling had its fair share of fun although a trifle tedious coping with extra-curricular activities and the numerous adventures youth engage in,” she recalls.
“I grew up in Ekiti, a place history tells us was first ruled by Oduduwa. People believed that Oduduwa, who was blessed with 16 children, represented omnipotence and had the ability to affect and reconstruct physical reality at will. The local language we speak is Yoruba and our staple food comprises pounded Yams taken with a soup called Isapa.
“I had read a lot about the city and India was in my recall for the many advances made in the field of medicine. So coming here riding on a piece of advice from a cousin who was already in Bengaluru was far easier,” she says.
“After I got my admission letter, I applied for my visa, then started preparing myself mentally because I was going to live in a foreign country alone for the first time.
So as days went by, I ensured that I had all my documents ready, bid farewell to my family and friends, before hauling my baggage and heading to the airport.”
Arriving at the campus, she was ushered into the International Students and Scholars Advisory Centre for the freshmen briefing about the University and life in the city. What must have come as a surprise to Kemi was the location of the campus in the heart of Jayanagar.
“I was not aware my campus was right in the city,” she recalls.
So how has it been adjusting to the daily schooling routine?
At first, it was difficult because I was staying far from the campus, so I had to wake up really early to reach my campus. But now that I am residing very close by, the hassles of daily commute are a thing of the past.”
For the second born in a family of three, coming to India has been a blessing in disguise. Initially, Kemi nurtured childhood dreams of serving humanity as a doctor. But that is how it all stayed, a dream.
“Originally, I wanted to follow my brother into the medical field but I soon figured out that with a phobia for blood, it would not be possible to work in that environment, not me!”
That dream already shelved, Kemi’s sights are anchored on a teaching career when she is finally done with her studies.
As for the lessons picked in the process, Kemi has come to accept it is far easier to complete tasks well beforehand and avoid a pile-up. On some of the things that have helped her cope is the realisation that in life, you should try to do what you can on your own but also be ready to seek assistance wherever possible. That openness has also given way to exploration of the city and its environs with a trip with friends to the Innovative film city and Kochi, in the neighbouring state of Kerala, already offering the opportunity to explore and take a break from the rigours of academia.