This 2016 year end will be the 12th year that I have left my beloved country. While I am still work in progress, looking back these are a few of the things I wish I knew before I left
Love thy country, for you have no other
Yep, you were not born into a country by mistake. Learn more about your country’s history and culture-cherish it for there will be times when you miss it badly, and by badly…I mean BADLY…the food, the language, the culture, the people, (and in my case off course the dancing!Lol!) etc. As per my previous post, I left Congo knowing I would never go back as a student simply because I naively believed that everything was better in the other country. While true about opportunities offered by South Africa; a trip to Kinshasa made me question my decision to live in South Africa…I can blame the occasional homesickness for this…;-)
Make time for loved ones, esp. parents
What nobody tells you is that life outside of the country is tough. You may have electricity, water, internet, sumptuous meals without breaking the bank…..but it does not change the fact it is tough nonetheless. Why? Until such a time when you make new friends and build up your squad, you are pretty much on your own and need nerves of steel everyday to go through the cultural differences, long admin as a foreign student, and sometimes difficult finances as well. Cherish those who are there for you and encourage you. As you grow older that number will shrink incredibly fast-ensure you let them know how you feel and that you care
Seek advice from those whom you admire (want to become)
They say “your network will determine your net worth”, and in my case it has turned out to be very true. I made friends with a bunch of very ambitious and hard working friends who helped me realise real quick that my Francophone background was going to be a problem if I did not work twice as hard. Looking back, each one of my “squad” as I would like to call them taught me something (a post for another day)
-Do: Sleep, when failing will be of no value
-Tp: Chemical Engineering and glam do go together
-Re: She has taught me; pay attention to your words, use them to speak positivity into your life; your attitude determines your altitude, work hard and play hard
-Th: get organised or crumble, being at the top comes with the responsibility to pull others up and one need not be ashamed of having a soft heart-it is a BIG asset to treasure
-Ta: meek is not weak, this woman’s faith is exemplary
-Mu: hard work pays off
-Ch: when tired at midnight, taking a dance break will take you very far. It is NEVER too late for anything as long as you keep getting yourself up (I promise to do a separate post later, what a warrior)
-Pg: If being organised was a child, she would be its mother
-Al: hard work and discipline
-L: You need to look after your body, regardless of stress levels
Anyways, I could go on and on…but needless say that my friends played a HUGE role in motivating me when I had lost faith in myself (yep, those zeros eventually can weigh on you), and whenever I could-I did the same for them. We all came from fairly similar backgrounds (i.e. pressure from African parents…lol!), and understood each other’s struggle, fears and ambitions as well. I was closest to each of them at various times, depending on the season in my life but they always played that positive role and kept that one goal in mind (i.e. getting that degree)
A language barrier is a thing! Don’t give it too much power, but do not underestimate it too
Anyone who has moved into a country where a different language is spoken will relate. The first year was BRUTAL, and even more brutal if that year was spent directly at university/tertiary level. In my case I spoke French, even did the TOEFL in Kinshasa (and got great grades) but that still did not prepare me for Shakespeare in matric (the shock and horror,lol!). My first grade for my essay was 32% and my saving grace was getting used to the language (and culture) in a slower pace before University. I got used to hearing English, Writing in English, Speaking in English and reading texts in English. While merely scratching the surface, it gave me a head start to cope with the fast pace at University. My honest advice for anyone planning to study in an English speaking country is to not leave until you have done the TOEFL (or whatever the equivalent is for other languages e.g. Mandarin, Portuguese, German, etc.).It will help!
Choose whom you date wisely-ain’t nobody got time for anything else
I am in my 30s and single, did date during my student years….but did not work out somehow. The truth is I really just simply could not be bothered as my priority was my degree and I let nobody/nothing get in the way… Many heartbreaks later, looking back…I wish I had put more effort into selecting whom I dated and chose to entertain…Some of the best couples I know met in Varsity….my advice to you is do put yourself out there (as a Christian-know your values and boundaries…).
Explore, explore and explore!
Varsity is THE only period in your life where you will probably be able to have 2-3 months of holidays(yep, those days will be long gone and you will be reminiscing HARD). Do not waste that valuable opportunity sleeping and watching TV…look for internship opportunities, volunteer abroad programmes, work on a dream and/or join a club/develop yourself-why not start your own business ventures/side hustle? The world is truly your oyster.
Pocket money does not need to come from parents alone: work for it
This is probably very relevant for Central/Western African kids. I often found that my Southern and Eastern African friends always had some sort of side hustle to make extra money (esp those with wealthier parents funny enough). In central Africa, we were raised to be content with what was given at home…I had to break free from that cycle, and understand that I needed to help myself. The different types of job available as a student are: waitressing, tutoring, shop assistant, blogging, data capturing, etc. Depending on schedule, I would recommend you do at least 2-4 different jobs (for a minimum of 3 months each) as a student.
Most universities have SO many different societies that can help you develop your soft and interpersonal skills. Find one that works for you depending on your interests and schedule and commit to it ;-)! I remember being part of (at various times) Black Management Forum, Congolese Student Society, Investoc, Girl Eng, SAWomeng, East African Student Society, Kolbe Catholic Society, Ballroom dancing, Angolan Society (could not resist these Kizomba lessons).
Play hard, work harder
Balance is key. Yes, you are here to work/study/etc, but we are human beings. Make sure you make time for that hobby, passion and/or simply relax. For many, the outlet was the gym, some church activity or youth group, going out and dancing, etc. The only way to stay motivated is to take a step back once in a while, give your body and mind some rest and then come back to your grind
Information is key
Seek information like it is gold! For the most part of my uni days, I used my friends (Point 3). However, many universities have lecturers/tutors/mentors with an open door policy. Approach one of them, make time to ask for help and prepare up front. The other bit (esp. as a student) will be past exams, past tests, tips from elders in a superior class, tips from people from your country who have been there before, etc. Remember what they say ” fail to plan, plan to fail”…
Avoid toxic friendships
Life is already very stressful as is, a friendship should be something enjoyable, that helps you to grow, provides emotional support, the opportunity to laugh and relax as well as the assurance that the friend will not stab you in the back. If any of the friendships you have fail to meet the above, then remain civil and keep a distance. You do not have time to waste on friendships that drag you down…
Nationality is not what determines a great friendship
I enjoy meeting people from all sorts of walks of life (unfortunately/fortunately there was only one Congolese in my class and he was a guy…while good friends with him, I knew I needed girlfriends). Some of my besties ended up coming from all over the world e.g. Uganda, Lesotho, South Sudan, Malawi, South Africa, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Poland, Kenya and Swaziland. Do not limit yourself, you will be surprised how much you have in common once you start that conversation. The most valuable reason why having friends from all over help, especially in my case was all of them were native English speakers and understood the system a lot better than I did. This made a huge difference as I knew who to ask for help whenever confused.
I hope you enjoyed this post. If yes, leave a comment down below. I will post separately about tips for studying and things I wish I knew as an immigrant/foreign student.