Jennifer Emelife is currently studying for an MA in International Education and Development at the University of Sussex under the Chevening scholarship program. Her work with curriculum development earned her a finalist position for 2019 British Council ELTons Awards for Innovation in English Language Teaching. Ayiba‘s Precious Obiabunmo interviews her about her experience studying abroad.

You tried multiple time for Chevening Scholarship. Why were you bent on getting the scholarship program?

At the first attempt, I was put on reserve and on my second application, I was selected. I had always wanted to do a Master’s outside of Nigeria. I wanted to learn and see the world differently but coming from a not-so-buoyant family and being a teacher myself, I knew there was no way I would ever be able to fund my studies outside. So, I resorted to scholarship programmes.

I started making active move towards applying for a Master’s program in 2016. When I heard about a lady I know who was on Chevening scholarship same year, I looked it up on the internet and read about it. It is fully funded, meaning that they take care of your flight tickets, to and fro, visa, complete tuition and even monthly living stipends. I was like, ‘Wawu! This is exactly what I want’. Following their Facebook page, I realised that Chevening is much more than a scholarship program, it is like being a member of a global community of leaders. You get the opportunity to visit lots of places in the UK during your studies, all organised by Chevening, and meet lots of people too. There are leadership programs you can attend and just the idea of being part of something remarkable beyond the borders of my country was enticing enough. So, I stuck to it and thankfully, got it at my second trial.

How did your parents feel when they heard that you’ll be studying abroad?

Oh wow, my parents were dumbfounded when they heard I’ll be studying abroad. I am the second in a family of seven and my older sister had just returned from her convocation ceremony for her own Master’s in India in the period that I received the news of mine. She had graduated with outstanding results and we were all still in that celebratory mood when I learned I got Chevening scholarship. So, my parents were too stunned for words. But of course, they were and are still happy about me studying here and are incredibly proud.

On-Campus, what challenges did you face? Was there an issue with your identity or colour? Please share what you learnt from the experiences.

I think the major challenge I faced was adapting to the UK weather. [laughs] It was September when I joined, and I found it weird that it was so cold even though the sun was out and shining. Then winter came with the dark evenings. 4 pm would look like 10 pm and that was just so crazy to me. And the cold, oh my God. About colour or identity, I didn’t really have a specific negative experience to that. Thankfully, my school, University of Sussex has a large number of international students. So yes, there are lots of people who look like me. In fact, in my class alone, we have about six Nigerians and some other Africans and of course, locals too. We also have a vibrant Nigerian Society of which I am a part of. Studying among all these people meant I felt less alone and more at home.

I remember now that the biggest challenge I had at the beginning was coping with my studies. It’s a whole different system here from what we are used to in Nigeria. I couldn’t catch up with fast pace at which our classes occurred: the long reading lists before each session and the level of conversations we had during our classes. I was learning about academic research and writing for the first time and it was all too overwhelming. I felt like I had to be on my toes to catch up with my English course mates. My first few months were really a struggle academically. I think what helped was me learning to plan my study time effectively, speaking to PhD and past students for guidance and being more open with my tutors about my needs.

All in all, it’s been a great experience, one that I am so thankful for. The pandemic came and spoiled lots of plans I had with friends concerning travels, but I’m grateful for the few ones we’ve been on. I’m grateful to be studying among people whom I consider family and for my teachers who continue to inspire me by their dedication and passion to teaching. I’m most excited about the knowledge that I am acquiring and how that is changing me to a better thinker and a better researcher. Studying outside Nigeria has helped me rethink a lot of things and that, I think, is one good benefit of seeking studies elsewhere other than one’s home.

Do you have any plans of coming back?

My scholarship program demands that I return post study. So yes. I’m happy to apply some of what I’ve learned as much as I can in Nigeria upon my return.

Jennifer Chinenye Emelife has a great interest in creating curriculum content that stretches beyond academics. In June 2018, she founded Teach for Change Nigeria, an educational initiative meant to address the problems of teaching Literature in Nigerian secondary schools. A secondary teacher of Literature, she has also written detailed and practical teaching guides for literary texts read in the Nigerian classroom.