As a Nigerian studying in the US, I have lost count of the number of times I have been asked the question, “So what comes next after your education?”  Sometimes, I get angry and frustrated, not because I am tired of responding to the same question, but because I have to deal with the follow-up questions posed by many Nigerians when I tell them I plan on returning to the country.  Aside from the look of despair and pity they lend me, I get questions like “Why would you even consider that?” or “Do you not know how frustrated you will become?” and my all-time favorite, “Are you not aware that power is still unreliable, how would you cope with the heat?”

I don’t know if I can particularly blame them for their reservations about this situation. Truth be told, sometimes I am tempted to question myself. Last summer, I went back home seeking a volunteer (non-paid) opportunity in one of the few research laboratories in Nigeria. I was told by the director general that there was no space for me in the organization since I didn’t pay the 50,000 naira internship application fee and the fact that he thought I should have applied a year in advance. His reasoning was that he wouldn’t just show up in the United States to ask to be a volunteer and expect to get it and thereafter, I was dismissed. Before I left his office, I made sure to remind him that his illustration didn’t particularly paint a good enough picture of the situation at hand as I was Nigerian and was returning to MY country to help in the best way I could. At this point, I could easily have been dissuaded and called it quits. Instead, I decided to use his rejection as a form of motivation and I got a job the following week.

One thing I have noticed is that most students who go abroad to study get used to having things done promptly, in order, and on a merit basis so that the mere thought of having to face things such as nepotism and bribery sends shivers up their spine. Don’t get me wrong, I am not against a functional society, but in my opinion, the true test of the value of one’s education is best displayed when an individual is able to thrive in a system completely different from what they are used to, especially one that is uncomfortable. The Scottish author Samuel Smiles once said, “The battle of life is, in most cases, fought uphill; and to win it without a struggle were perhaps to win it without honor. If there were no difficulties there would be no success; if there were nothing to struggle for, there would be nothing to be achieved.” I strongly believe that getting a diploma is half the uphill battle (although four years of college, a master’s degree, and even a doctorate makes it seem like a lifetime). Immersing yourself in a society where your diploma can make a difference is definitely part of the battle won.

Another concern I hear is that there are barely enough jobs out there, so with such high qualifications you stand the chance of being either “over qualified,” or having employers fear that they can’t afford to pay you enough. One thing I have learned over the past couple of years is that you need to do a fair amount of research so that you can tailor your specialty to the need of the people in your surroundings. This way, the demand for your services will act as an incentive for any business you choose to be a part of. In essence, carving a niche for yourself in your area of expertise will help fix this problem.

I am sure there is an endless list of reasons not to return home, but regardless of these I am very optimistic at the prospects of using my education to benefit a country that is lacking. If we seek a country that is comfortable and reliable, then we need to pull up our sleeves and get to work so we can build a society that we can rightfully call ours.

by Onyekachi Ononye