Studying abroad has a lot of advantages. When you study outside the country, you gain access to bouquets of courses that aren’t coming to Ghanaian institutions any time soon. Other than that, there’s also the whole experience of it. A lot of us imagine that experience and see nothing but novel and exciting things. We just brush off any unpleasant thoughts. But what’s the reality actually like? How is it studying in a different country?
We talked to two engineering students taking their Master’s in China. Mirabel is Ghanaian, and she just completed her Master’s in Biomedical Engineering. Joan is Nigerian with one more year to go, also in the Biomedical Engineering field.
First Week In China
According to the girls, the first week after they arrived in Chengdu—the capital of Chinese province Sichuan—was marked by Jet Lag. It made them feel exhausted, but at the same time, there was so much that had to be done. And then you have to factor in the fact that in that first week, they both kept getting lost. It’s hilarious to hear about but not to experience.
The girls’ first weeks weren’t great. You have their registration process which was hardly straightforward. And then they had to keep hearing the same Chinese phrase over and over when they tried to ask for directions. Well, at least now they know that it means ‘I don’t understand.’
Things didn’t get any better with their first classes. It’s hard to imagine class making anything better in any context. Joan recalls her first class. She was excited about being back in class, excited about experiencing that academic feeling all over again. She wasn’t ready for that quiz that she went to meet on her first day. As for Miri … well, let’s just say she walked out of her Signal Processing lecture, and she never went for another class—she dropped the course.
Jumping To Earn Some Extra Money
In the girls’ school, there are quite a number of international students. According to them, Ghanaians have the largest population of international students, followed by some Asian countries—Pakistan, Bangladesh, etc—and then there’s a few Nigerians, Cubans and Rwandans. You could get a project, and then have to learn about these different people in order to work with them.
It’s natural for international students to explore working to earn some extra cash. If you’re in a country where wages are higher than they are in Ghana, what are you going to do? Yes, you’re going to want to work. Even a part-time job can give you some real paper for when you’re back here. Think along the lines of GHs100 an hour for a part-time job (this is a conservative estimate from the girls, by the way).
Anyway, although the fact that they could work was advertised to international students, getting a work permit was a … well, not a simple process. The jobs that you could then do were odd jobs. You know; cutting hair, drumming for festivals, DJing and a job that sticks out; jumping.
Jumping is what the girls call teaching English to Kindergartners. It’s called jumping because you have to be active to make the children focus. And you did that by dancing, putting on short choreographies and … jumping. Sounds like a pretty fun way to make some cash if you ask me.
It’s An Engineering Master’s Program. In China
You would expect a Master’s program to be tough. Surprise—that is exactly what this was. From the get-go, the classes were fast-paced, and in order to keep up, you had to review the lectures after each class. Also, it didn’t help that the girls had this one lecturer who kept expecting them to know stuff already saying, “I am sure you must have learned that in your undergrad.”
According to Mirabel, a Master’s abroad isn’t really a “fun” experience. It has its moments but you’re always thinking about something academic. You’re always thinking about some work that needs to be done—by you. In Joan’s words, it reminds you that you’re growing. You have to take care of a lot of things. You’re adulting while dealing with coursework that is really intense.
One thing that the girls could look forward to after stretches of academic abuse was going out to eat. They’re in a region known for its spicy food and hot peppers, so that took some adjusting to. However, now “they handle it alright.” The girls love Hot Pot. It’s a fish meal that you eat while it cooks at your table. They describe it as being fun to eat with people.
Dealing With COVID-19
You can imagine being in China when the Coronavirus hit. Being that close to the source, measures were strict, as you can imagine. Classes moved online, students were under lockdown and the only food that you could buy was from the canteen. In addition to that, there was only one school shop that still opened—for maybe 2 hours a day.
The students were taken care of though. You would write a list of food stuff that you wanted and there were deliveries every week. If you wanted to go out, there was a way to do that too.
You had to download an app. I kid you not. And then in the app, you would record your temperature. Every day. For 14 days. After that, you could apply to go out of campus. And, of course, if you missed a day of temperature recording, you had to start all over again.
Thankfully, things are looking up and those measures have been eased somewhat.
My Master’s Abroad is a weekly Kuulpeeps series that brings you the Ghanaian post-graduate schooling experience—from other parts of the globe.