The struggles of being an international student

Hello Wild Ones 🌸🌸🌸

I hope you are well and that you taking good care of yourself. I hope that you are loving on yourself and giving yourself grace for the things you fail to do for yourself. I am currently slightly struggling emotionally but I have a whole bag of self love and grace so I will survive this💓 .

Whenever I tell someone that I study in Rwanda, I am sure to get two reactions. One is “Wow, you are studying outside the country!!” and the other is “Why but Kenya has a better education system”. I hate both reactions. The first one is because Rwanda is just 50 dollars away from Kenya if you travel by bus so I never really consider it a big deal. The second one is because I hate having to explain why I chose to go but that’s a story for another day. Today I will be talking about the struggles of being just 50 dollars away from home and how sometimes it’s a bigger deal than I ever want to admit. Rwanda is in East Africa but it is so different from Kenya.

  • The pressure to succeed – Every first year in my school goes through a program called Leadership Core and it’s hectic and intense. I remember I was always on the run to do an assignment or struggling not to fight with a peer member on whether they have done their part. The program is built to build character and resilience for anyone working in a fast-paced working environment so we always had some assignments or projects or just too much competition to be the best. I had to deal with all of this while still feeling the pressure of being a scholarship student who has to pass and being the successful daughter that went to study outside the country. It is one thing to drop out of school when you are in your home country but it’s a horror to even dare think of it when you are studying outside of the country. I remember the number of times I used to call my mother on the verge of tears about how hard school was and she being a typical African parent would always hit me with a classic ‘Well, you went there to study so study!’ Of course, I eventually developed a backbone for the pressure and learned how to juggle a million things at the same time but if that was really hard for me.
  • Language Barrier– When I first arrived in Rwanda, Kinyarwanda sounded like Kikuyu, in fact, I could understand somethings and their love for potatoes just made me feel like I was home. Well that’s before, some Rwandans thought I was Rwandan because of my slim face and a big forehead and they would often go on and on in Kinyarwanda before I would find the perfect opportunity to mutter ‘Kinyarwanda, No.’ Most Rwandans don’t know English or Kiswahili, they speak French or Kinyarwanda. So you can imagine how hard it can be to navigate around a country with only a few words to help you. Eventually, I learned the important phrases for survival like how to negotiate for the price of a motorcycle ride (it’s the most common means of transport) or greeting ‘Amakuru’ (Although sometimes I confuse ‘thank you’ and ‘how are you’)
  • Cultural Shock – My love for Rwandan cuisine starts with the potatoes and ends there. I always turn to food when I am going through something so imagine my disappointment when I couldn’t find food that I really enjoyed. Not that Rwandan food is bad, it’s just so different. Their ‘ugali’ is more sticky and smooth, they prefer amaranth instead of sukuma wiki (kales) to go with it. It is hard to find Kales or ndengu (Green Grams) there and these were such key ingredients to my daily food. There is so much more about their cuisine that I struggle with but I will leave it at that for now. But I will admit that Rwanda has the best Samosas especially the ones with hard-boiled eggs in the middle. Another thing about Rwandans is that they are laid-back never as loud and fast as Kenyans and this can be weird and a little frustrating when you are used to the fast-paced life of Nairobi. You need a lot of patience and empathy if you are going to survive in Kigali.
  • Money– Between the money that I got from my mum and my scholarship stipend, I was close to a millionaire when I changed my money into Rwandan Francs so you can imagine my shock when month three came and I was very broke. Rwanda is landlocked so everything that comes from outside the country is more expensive compared to prices in Kenya. Also when you are a millionaire no matter the type of currency, you tend to feel yourself a little so you know I spent a lot of money on Samosas at Simba Supermarket. Other than that, the struggle of having to convert prices to Kenyan Shillings just to weigh if the price makes sense had me buying stuff that should cost 5 dollars at 50 dollars (See maths is important). I eventually found a way to save my money, became better at math, and also learned to use Kinyarwanda when I am buying stuff because foreigners always get overcharged everywhere but not before skipping a few meals because there was no way I was going to tell my mother that I had lost my millionaire status.
  • No home– When something goes wrong, you just pack your bags and go home but not when you are in a different country and short of cash. I often used to underestimate the proximity of my mum when I needed her until I was in a different country and always on the verge of tears. This is where the Kenyan community in Rwanda came in handy, there’s nothing more exciting than meeting a Kenyan in Rwanda. You immediately switch to Kiswahili and turn into instant best friends. You exchange numbers and give each other tips on the best places to eat and party especially at those embassy parties held every Kenya public holiday. These groups help you settle but make sure you have made friends outside of your Kenyan community. (I still learning this)
  • Adulting-Adulting in your home country always comes with an allowance to make mistakes but not so much when you are an immigrant somewhere else. You know how when you were applying for your ID you knew who to ask everything? Well, it’s not the same when you are applying for your student visa or looking for a house or arguing with your landlord who speaks only in Kinyarwanda and you in English. Your mistakes come with more consequences because you are often alone but that just teaches you to be more confident, modest, and careful.

Which point was most interesting to you? If an international student, which point did you resonate with?

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Today’s tip

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With looove and joy,

Jackie

24 Comments Add yours

  1. This post really resonated with me because I’m about to become an international student. Moving somewhere new can be so stressful and the culture shock, as well as not having a home can really make the situation more negative. Thanks for sharing this xxx

    1. jackie says:

      Well, I hope your transition will be smoother. Thank you for reading💙 💙

  2. Silver says:

    A lot of this resonated with me, though I guess as I was lucky going to the UK from Norway, speaking English. The university I went to had a huge two-week orientation programme for international students, having talks from the police, showing people how to register with a GP, where the shops were, how to register for a bank account etc.

    I was also lucky because my university guaranteed all international first-year students a space in their student dorms. So I didn’t have to navigate having to find somewhere to live before coming to study.

    Student top tip: Travelling home for Christmas/Easter/Summer holidays and need to take a lot of books with you, but can’t take them in your carryon or checked luggage as you will exceed the luggage allowance? No problem, carry them in your arms as you go to check in, go through passport control, and board the aircraft. True story. I was never challenged as I was being very studious XD

    1. jackie says:

      Eiiy💞💞 Thank you for that tip. I will definitely try that the next time I am going to school

  3. Msdedeng says:

    Whoo Jackie, I totally indulged in this.
    First of all, I fall in the “wow” category when you mentioned you studied in Rwanda, so I apologize for offending you. Second thing, I have never been to Rwanda except when I connect my flight at Kigali airport, but I am told it is an expensive country. Still, I plan to to visit the city for a few days sometime soon, because people say it is very clean with nice roads.
    Thank you for this fun read and hey, keep your head up. Sounds like you have found your way around already.

    1. jackie says:

      I wasn’t offended💞💞 You should visit, it is so beautiful.

      1. Msdedeng says:

        🙂

  4. PoojaG says:

    I went from Kenya to Canada to study and I can really relate to this post. I especially relate with the culture shock and missing home because I felt the same way. I really just want to go home sometimes but being so far away that’s really not possible.

    1. jackie says:

      Yeah, that feeling is the worst. Thank you for reading and commenting.🌹

      1. PoojaG says:

        My pleasure!

  5. You write so well. Very descriptive with reliable content. Your step after step experiences with beneficial encounters makes someone feeI like they were there too. I found “Adulting” and “No home” experiences more interesting 😇

    1. jackie says:

      Thank you for reading and commenting🌹🌹

  6. … And oh, cultural shocks too somehow, tickle my fancy because I am a time-honored foodie! 😁

    Awesome piece. 👏

    1. jackie says:

      Thank you🌹🌹🌹

  7. Insightful post!!! You write so beautiful ❤️❤️ now I know what to prepare for when I’m going to study abroad

    1. jackie says:

      Thank you 🌺 🌺 I am glad it helped

  8. tossie_able says:

    Very interesting, nodded a number of times as I thought, “that was me” resonated with all except the first one. Thanks for sharing 💕

    1. jackie says:

      I am glad you could relate. 🌺🌺🌺

  9. Freya * says:

    Hey jackie I did not know that you study in Rwanda, I have always wanted to be there, I hear it’s a beautiful place plus they have nice songs🤗 Nice one

    1. jackie says:

      It’s a beautiful place and they dance really well. You should definitely visit.

  10. All relevant struggles international students have Jackie! That currency bit is common and switching time zones and bank accounts can be confusing sometimes.

    1. jackie says:

      Yes. it is! I forgot the time zone. it’s also a little hard to adjust to sometimes.

      1. Ha! Thanks for acknowledging.

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