Crossing the Seas: Behind the Blood and the Hope of African Students 

“I don’t know what I am doing here,” he said. This is a statement I heard recently from a colleague from the African continent studying at McGill University. Poking further, I needed to understand the perspectives, his challenges and what could have led to making such a statement. My understanding through relating with many ambitious young people over the years is the level of resilience and the ‘can-do spirit’ they possess. So, when a truly ambitious young person suddenly makes such a statement, you will be interested in knowing more. 

Over the last couple of months, beginning my study along with a couple of colleagues has witnessed some twists and turns. From the culture shock to the time difference to the sharp change of weather to the hustle and bustle of the Montreal city to the hard-hitting deadlines of assignments just when you are so subsumed in the never-ending articles, books and materials to sieve through to better prepare yourself as a graduate student, these are but a few of the challenges international students might be facing. So, when someone then asks a question like “what am I even doing here?”, you can understand what they go through or are going through and you conclude that perhaps they are not merely asking a rhetorical question – but indeed they actually require a genuine answer. 

The Blood and the Hope 

Hold on. Let me put it in context. By blood, I do not mean BLOOD literally; the one that gushes when someone gets injured, no but I still mean blood (smile). I know what you might be feeling and what you might be thinking, ‘why is he confusing me?’ Well, I don’t intend to. I just needed you to be here. 

Now let’s make this make sense. By blood, I mean ENERGY. There you have it. So, how does this relate to African International students at McGill University? And how does this connect? With a population of over 1.3 billion people where about sixty per cent of the population are below age 25, Africa has been designated as the youngest continent in the world. Not only that. The young people of Africa, like many of their counterparts on other continents, are energetic, enterprising, ambitious and effervescently determined. In fact, many young people today are truly driving the sustainable change the world needs. 

In my experience, for example, I was passionate about graduate study outside the shores of the land of lush green. As it was for me, so it was (and still is) for many young Africans. To explore, experience a new environment, a mixture of interrelating with students from different parts of the world sharing unique experiences, impressive educational opportunities that a top-class university like McGill offers and an opportunity to advance one’s educational career is then the hope.  

The Realities 

After crossing over 10,000 km from different parts of Africa, hundreds of bridges and bodies of waters, several hours of flights, should one then call it quit or push on? Should one come to terms with the realities or deny them? 

  • As an international student, one of the first reality checks which I experienced as well, was the time difference. For someone coming from Nigeria, the time gap of Nigeria was five hours ahead of Montreal at the time of arrival in August and you can imagine how difficult the mental switch was. It was difficult keeping in touch with families back home for the support I needed being in a new environment. The same fate probably applies to many others.  
  • Another challenge, which I believe some, if not all international students might face, is the language barrier. In this case, not even the French language. Montreal might be a French-speaking province but Montrealers are great people that do not find it difficult to switch to English for one’s convenience. But what I found first challenging was the speech comprehensibility of some even when speaking in English. But what I did was to listen more and pay keener attention when someone speaks and it got better. Well, I am still learning to listen more (smile) and if you are experiencing the same challenge, I encourage you to invest more in the conversation and you would gradually adjust to the pace or audibility of whoever is speaking. 
  • For want of space, let me address another very key issue and end it there. Hoping that you will keep asking questions and finding support from several services provided by the University and the various departments. Before coming to McGill University, I have heard and others have confirmed the same that McGill University is an intensive institution that prepares you as a sound graduate. The richness of the course materials, the vast array of assignments and the challenge to explore wider resources have all transformed the assumption into a reality. This was the challenge my friend was facing. As a brilliant student himself, the educational experiences are quite different and the approaches to them are dissimilar even though the end result are similar. 

However, while I don’t want to sound like a counsellor for I ain’t one, I can only say to you to take it one step at a time. Organize your schedules, relax your mind, take good sleep, eat well, exercise, watch movies or your favourite sports, and have fun along with the core of the academic activities. But if you feel overwhelmed, please talk to someone or access support from the university’s Wellness Hub

I hope the energy you expelled to be selected to study at the university and the hope of coming out more refined and prepared to tackle world challenges will keep you going. 

See you on the other side. 

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