• Friday, May 24, 2024
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Nigerian education should be more practice-focused and closer to the industry – Osundolire

Nigerian education should be more practice-focused and closer to the industry – Osundolire

Ifelanwa Osundolire is a winner of the Innovation 360 scholarship awards from the British Council in Nigeria and the first beneficiary of a full scholarship from Birmingham City University in Birmingham, United Kingdom. In this interview with SEYI JOHN SALAU, Osundolire speaks about his experience in the US in line with his earlier published book ‘Black White’ in comparison to the current challenges Nigerian immigrants face in other countries. Excerpts:

I want us to start on a general note on a topic with wide acceptance; the ‘japa syndrome in Nigeria. Can you tell us your japa story?

I think for the last eight years I’ve been back and forth between the United States and Nigeria; my families were in the States and I was in Lagos. So, I’ve done that shuttling back and forth, but I then relocated fully in 2022. So, that’s the context for my own japa story.

How has emigrating abroad impacted your education?

That’s a good question; even though I’m mid-career right now – When I say mid-career, I mean not top but closer to top of my career. I find that in the last three or six months my learning trajectory has been very steady. Apart from the fact that I’m learning about how my profession which is real estate operates in a new society; I’m also learning a lot of things about technology and what is current; not just in my space but across the spaces in the world at large and that is a good thing for me. To put it in context – in the last five or six years of my career in Nigeria, I don’t think I’ve learned or have to study as much as I have in the last one year.

Looking back; what difference can you draw from your experience?

I think the big difference is that over here the system compels you to keep learning and I know there are lots of organisations in Nigeria that have training schedules; they send you on training and things like that but here it’s not so much the company. If you’re in a company that doesn’t really have a lot of training, you might find yourself being there for 5 or 10 years and not necessarily growing if you don’t take the initiative. But here the system compels you – for instance, the last two months I had a post-real estate licensing course; you have to do it. Before then I had arbitration courses – these things are mandatory beyond you deciding; I want to or I don’t want to learn anything: you’re forced to and that system keeps you moving forward.

Read also: Sanwo-Olu grants 90-day amnesty to property owners, developers without planning permits

With your background knowledge of both societies, what can we tweak to strengthen the education system, especially in your sector?

I think I’ll start with the professionals and I don’t say this to malign the efforts of professional organisations like the National Institutions of Architects or the National Institute of Estate Surveyors; no, it’s just that we can do better in compelling and instituting systemic learning – like you don’t have a choice. You know is like the teacher accreditation; you don’t have a choice; you must do it and is not just doing it for doing sake those things are reviewed. The curriculum is reviewed, the intentions or the objective of those courses and that every professional is at the top of their profession at every point in time – that’s from the professional angle. From the school angle, I’ll say a lot of the things I took away from Birmingham still remain to date. I feel that our undergraduate training generally is not as practice-focused as it should be; I think a lot of it is theoretical. Let me give an example; I have a friend who recently became a fellow – he’s a doctor and became a fellow here. When he got here about a couple of years back, he mentioned something that this is the first time he’s seen certain machines or understood how certain things actually work from a physiological or anatomical standpoint. So, it wasn’t that he didn’t know them in Nigeria but here practice became more real for him. So, education in Nigeria should be more practice-focused and it should also be closer to the industry. I think that there is a disconnect in what you learn in school and when you go out in the labour force. I feel that from the little I leant – from what we have learned here it’s as if they are training you from the classroom to be able to make expert decisions so that when you leave, you’re not afraid to take chances, you are not afraid to give your opinion and stand by it.

Let me take you back to the japa story again: as someone who has been abroad for an average of seven years. What are some of the challenges faced by immigrants, especially those of Nigerian descent?

There are many challenges but I would like to talk about language. I think language and the role it plays in social coexistence is grossly underestimated. Imagine for a moment being unable to speak, feeling the frustration of being unable to communicate. Now, shift perspective to someone who can speak but struggles either to comprehend or articulate effectively—unable to convey their intended message. One of the most striking realizations upon arriving in the US, somewhat humorously put, is that Americans speak “American,” not necessarily the English I’m accustomed to. Despite my proficiency, I’ve encountered instances where my articulation was met with confusion. Certain phrases or expressions used here differ from those I’m familiar with, leading to misunderstandings despite sharing a common language. While one might assume it’s simply a matter of English variation, the reality proves more complex.

Additionally, it’s important to acknowledge the presence of discrimination, although my personal experiences may not fully capture this aspect. Discrimination exists not only in the US but also within our Nigerian community. These conflicts compound the challenges of navigating a new environment while grappling with a sense of displacement and a loss of identity. Despite physically being in a different place, a part of you stays behind, tethered to your familiar roots. And this prolongs the transition period as you struggle to find your place in this brave new world. I find myself still struggling through this journey of adaptation and self-discovery, and grappling with its complexities along the way.

On the basis of that transition, let’s look at ‘Black White’; how does it help those who want to migrate understand the intricacies of moving from here to that place or moving around?

So, I’ll say ‘Black White’ was or is my experience, and everybody’s experience will be different. So, to that point I’ll say ‘Black White’ cannot be a panacea or can’t be a template for everyone. But these are just my unique experiences and I think by reading or experiencing those things through me or through my own eyes – People can take what they can out of my experiences and adapt. But there are certain things that still cut across; things like loneliness. Loneliness has an entire chapter or sub-section in Black White because it’s a real thing. You’re standing in a crowd but you are alone – that’s a real thing because you don’t feel connected to that crowd and it is by no choice of yours – it’s not like it’s intentional. Is just that it just the way it is; how do you deal with that? I had a friend who relocated to Canada who said she will be on the train coming home or bus and she will just start crying or she will be in the mall buying things, doing regular things and then just break down because she has never felt more alone in all her life than she did in Canada and those are real things. And, I don’t want to go to finding a spouse – they are real things that you have to contend with.

Is about a decade since you wrote the book ‘Black White’; can you give us deeper insight into the book?

You know it has been such a long time and even though it’s my story a number of things have faded from memory. But I know the structure of the book which resonated with me when we were creating that structure; myself and the editing and publishing team. It took me from Ondo town where I grew up and went through the different states through which I passed and when I say state I don’t mean that as in state-state; but metaphoric state. So, I’m moving from one place to another and I’m experiencing and capturing my experiences across the different phases and that’s the general thing of ‘Black White’ and at the thematic level it’s very optimistic for the future of my country; even in the last chapter I’m optimistic. So, it’s all about optimism and change.

Earlier, you spoke about the language barrier; personally, what are those cultural shocks that you experienced since you left Nigeria?

Plenty; there’s one day I was driving and I saw that when they say they cancel a street in Lagos you put a canopy and I was like can this happen here? In the line of my profession, there’s a story I came across where someone did an entire development without approval and I was shocked is it even possible to build without getting city approval? There are many certain things that you observe here and there every day that shock you. This one sounds unbelievable and I must say that we’re not very different as humans – what moderates our perception is the system in which we find ourselves, but as human beings, we broadly have the same motivation, same behaviours and we would likely respond in the same manner given the same circumstances. So, that’s one of the things I’m finding out that a lot of things that make America different from Nigeria; maybe how people act in America different from how they act in Nigeria is that there are systemic edges that keep you in place or not keep you in place.

So, which one will you consider most striking since you’ve been there?

Most striking for me will be homelessness – so when you watch Americans on television, I don’t say this to slight Americans because I am in America, and I think it happens in many societies, even Dubai. What you take away from the narrative you are fed from the realities you see in the media or firms is that this place is nice, and it is nice. Okay, this place is well-structured but then when you come here closer and you contend with things like homeless people or people drinking in traffic or people holding up placards – it’s shocking for me because I had imagined that from a high capitalist and part welfarist society, they have all these things covered. I don’t think anyone ever has everything covered regardless of society. It’s just that it’s crazier in some societies than in others. But homelessness was one of my biggest shocks like you’ll see people out on the street in the cold.

In relation to homelessness: how would you relate your experience in ‘Black White’ to the present reality?

So, I think the current realities are dire and I think things are two ways – the economic situation relative to when I travelled in 2010. If you look generally at foreign exchange even though I don’t have all the details now – but I think things are generally and progressively worse and I think that might be one of the biggest motivations for people trying to leave for better climes. But to how my situation and some of these situations where you find people being stranded, I want to relate this back to my experience when I won the scholarship to go to Birmingham; that wasn’t the first attempt to go to the UK – ok; my first attempt was I had received an offer for the University of Reading and they ask me to pay; I think I mention it in Black White story. But the story I want to tell is that I went to a bank then and I said I wanted to collect a loan; no, I went to someone and I said please give me this loan – school fees money when I get to the UK I’ll figure out how to pay and that was a stupid decision because a lot of people have this belief that don’t worry let me get there first – when I get there I’ll adjust, without any concrete plans. Now how would I have raised £13,000, if that person had lent me that money – I would have struggled. Some people do but not cut and dried. I’ll still say that a lot of the reasons why we may be stranded was because we were over-eager and we have this general belief that don’t worry let’s get there first; when we get there we will adjust. I think we need to adjust our thinking about it, and I think doing more planning would help our objectivity in how we respond to the questions around us; what will I eat when I get there, what is the daily expense that will make me survive when I get there, what are my plans – those questions will need to ask them at a little more objective level as we consider moving to better climes.

On a final note; just like an advisory for those who might still want to Japa. What will be your advice to them?

So, my first advice will be if you can and I say this with all sense of humility – if you can, go through a legal route because of the downside. I mean the attraction is there, I can find my way but I’ve seen people who have been locked in this society for 8,9, 10 years and are unable to legalise their stay; meaning they can’t be visible and a lot of them can’t expand to their full potential simply because they have to live below the radar. While our experiences are different, where you are coming from is different. There are many nuances to it and I’m just being careful saying this and I’ll say as much as you can, come in legally – that really takes away half of your problem. The second problem which I am experiencing too is at some point you also have to leave the past behind. If you hold on to the past or keep holding on to the past, you might not meet your full potential. I mean you might be here doing things but you might not thrive as much as you should or as much as you can if you don’t unbundle your mind.