Studying abroad & feeling inadequate: Why it’s perfectly normal & should not hinder your awesomeness

Hi ASA fam

I wrote this post two months ago and struggled to make a story out of it… Today, I decided to take the plunge ready or not & speak about feeling inadequate, why it’s perfectly normal and what you can do to ensure it does not affect your student years negatively.

Let’s face it “the imposter syndrome” is something all of us experience at least once in our life whether justified or not regardless of age, gender, sex, race and culture. In this article, I present a few myths that might be causing this feeling as an as an African student abroad & practical tips to tackle them.

You are from the “bundus” (literally…)

“Bundus” is a term used to describe the village life: where you have to fetch your own water, collect wood to cook your food and have no tv/internet/cellphone (African parents will often threaten you with this when being unruly…All the damn time 😦 !).

In my case, it was true to some extent i.e. I was from the bundus e.g. when I left the DRCongo in 2003, my school (despite being the best public Girl School in Kinshasa) had just gotten a computer lab (which we were only allowed to use once a week as final year students… what a privilege: lol!). So you can imagine that when UCT gave first-year students a computer aptitude test (luckily after accepting me already), I did in fact fail it for the first time… ;-). Because I knew that I was not a computer genius, I observed a lot & used any group work session as an opportunity to learn re-short cuts in MS Excel, etc. I later passed the test after studying hard for it…lol! Nowadays, students are so fortunate to have Youtube : you never have to know this struggle because you can practically learn everything.


Y’all know that the language barrier esp. for non-English speakers is not just real, it can be! In my case, I was aware I had an accent & struggled to articulate my thoughts well…which kept me from asking any questions in class at least for the first two years in varsity, and sometimes even from making friends. Do not let this stop you: the only way to speak a language is to actually speak it (mistakes’n all!). I find that English speakers tend to be a lot more forgiving towards grammatical errors compared to the French… E.g. a very close friend of mine later confessed to me that she did not understand how/why I was admitted into University as I could not speak proper English lol!… Fast forward a few years later…she is one of my #rideordie…and we can now laugh about it lol! Also, the only year I actually did make the Dean’s Merit List was my 1st year when my English was probably at its worst… Use your language barrier to motivate you to work harder.

A new system

In my case, it was not just a new country but also a new language (O_o)! Looking back, I can only laugh at the roughness and the many MANY embarrassing moments I had while figuring out how South Africa worked. For example in Congo, a good uni student is one that does exactly what he is told to do…does not question too much his/her lecturer and treats them like a half Gods (while it does not guarantee good grades, at the least you do not make enemies out of your lecturers). In the anglophone world, I find that you are expected to contribute from the moment you get invited to the table: a good student is one that engages, asks questions, and brings his own angle/thoughts to a problem. Quite often, African students get wrongly accused of being non-engaging, lazy, etc meanwhile it is a cultural difference and a shift needs to happen depending on what corner of the world you find yourself in.

You are on your own

Many of my South Africans classmates had parents/siblings that had done Chemical Engineering at the exact university before and came with an established plan (or so it seems) of what to study & how…The above is a luxury many African students simply do not have. In my case, there was two Congolese students in class and we were in fact the first to be admitted into the programme EVER… This is why it is important to recognise that “everyone you can learn from will not always be/look like you”in the words of Phutyi Mahanyele

Money (more like lack of it)

This is not always true as I know many wealthy African students abroad….Angolans and Nigerians take the cup…(y’all need to share some of that oil moolah… 😉 lol!). There were also these very lucky students from Gabon, Botswana, Lesotho and South Africa who were sometimes sponsored by the Government and came from families with a comfortable income who basically had a double source of income from both parents & scholarships. However, for the rest of us….money was pretty tight as it came directly from our parents’ pockets…and we came in numbers (e.g. My parents had to support all three of us at some point at University… You simply do not get extra money beyond rent and food, lol!). Safe to say that we were not always able to afford living in the cool suburbs, go out and splurge, buy the latest gadget and/or fashion trends….However, we survived it: as long as you have a roof over your head, food and your fees are paid-trust me life is good!  If you fall into the comparison game, you will live a very unhappy life… learn to be grateful for what you have while striving for more… It is important to know that money is probably the least relevant point of all mentioned here…as you can do something about it by earning cash through a part-time job, you can find creative ways of shopping i.e. less for more (e.g. factory shops, affordable shops/brands e.g. MrPrice & LAGirls Cosmetics),etc.

I hope you enjoyed this post and would love to hear from you…If you have never experienced the above and can’t relate-congratulations, you are pretty special :D! I want a cup of coffee with you…(deal?!). Until my next article…


Related articles:

International Students Insurance 

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