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  • Writer's pictureVivian Chime

I ALMOST MADE IT TO AMERICA

By Vivian Chime


A few days ago, Abiola, a family friend, visited my home in Port Harcourt, the capital city of Rivers State that lay along Nigeria’s lush green coastline with the Atlantic Ocean. Abiola graduated from the Nigerian Institute of Journalism in 2022 and is now participating in the mandatory national youth service. Every year, thousands of Nigerian university graduates are dispatched throughout the country to perform this civic duty meant to foster national unity. Many of them were placed in rural areas to work as teachers or volunteer community and healthcare workers. Abiola was serving as a teacher in a community school in Omoku, in the outskirts of Port Harcourt.


He went on and on about how he didn’t feel like Omoku was the best place for him and how he would have preferred to be in a bigger city like Lagos – networking, finding his feet and chasing better life options. Fuming with frustration over Nigeria’s labor market, he goes:


“...in short, I just want to leave Nigeria and go to the UK. That’s where everything is happening. I know I will be successful once I get there.”


The typical thought of most Nigerian youths.

My mind leapt back to the time when I was just like Abiola. Fresh out of university, enthusiastic, energetic and looking for the next big thing. Unlike Abiola who wants to go and hustle abroad, my own plans were to go there for school. I felt that would be the game changer for me – go there for school, graduate, get a good job, then bring my mum and siblings along. My great fortunes lay in greener pastures away from Nigeria’s many troubles, so I believed.



And so the search for a school abroad began.


I first signed up to several email lists that stuffed my inbox with scholarship opportunities abroad – which I never applied for anyway. I did not apply because I was not interested but because I didn't even have a clue about how to deal with the applications. Oftentimes they were long-winded with questions that I usually did not have the right answers to or the necessary supporting documents for, like an employee reference (of course, at this time, I did not even have employment yet).


“...in short, I just want to leave Nigeria and go to the UK.

That’s where everything is happening. I know I will be successful once I get there.”


In the midst of my confusion, Oge, a university friend, suggested the Columbia School of Journalism’s Master’s program scholarship.


“The best journalism school in the world,” she said.


I quickly Googled it and truly the school captured my fantasy – beauty, class, elite, immersive– and it had among its alumni some of the finest journalists, such as Damilola Banjo. To me, this was it! No other school would be best to groom me into the journalist I wished to become.


And so I began applying. Oge was also applying and this made it all the more interesting. She introduced me to Chikezie, a senior colleague, who was on a scholarship at the school and who was to help us review our applications.


I was beyond excited to finally put together an application to study abroad. I was so sure I would get in. Afterall, I was among the top ten best graduates at my undergraduate university department and I had done some journalism work as a student, so why wouldn’t they pick me?


Aside from the excitement of going to school, I was also thrilled that I would be in NEW YORK! – one of the finest cities in the world. I was already preparing for my exit from Nigeria and arrival in New York. I already had a song to use on my social media posts when I arrived: New York City by Chainsmokers. Mind you, I had not even submitted an application yet!



I eventually did and then went through the longest wait of my life. I submitted it in January 2020 and was anticipating a response in March. Those two months felt like forever.


On March the 12th in 2020, I was in the newsroom at the radio station where I was undergoing my national youth service when I got an email from Columbia. I snuck out in excitement and went to a confined area to open it.


“Dear Vivian,


The Admissions Committee has completed its review of your application to the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University. We received an unprecedented number of qualified applicants this year and although we cannot offer you a place at this time, the Committee was very impressed with your abilities and would like to offer you a spot on the waiting list, from which applicants are admitted if attrition occurs.”



Not quite the response I expected but at least they were impressed with my application and just maybe if I stayed on the waiting list a little longer, I could get in. So, I replied and told the admissions committee that I would love to be on the waitlist.


On April the 15th in 2020, I got an email saying I have been offered a place at the school. But the sad story was “we are not able to make scholarship offers at this time.” My heart sank. A scholarship was my only hope of achieving this dream. Without it, how would I – the daughter of a Nigerian civil servant widowed mum from the small town of Udi in the hilly state of Enugu – raise more than USD $120,000 to study at Columbia? This was a dead end. I shut that door with resolve. We live to fight another day.




And that was exactly what I did. In the fall of 2021, I began applying again. This time, I was not as ignorant as before. I was employed as the climate change reporter at TheCable, one of the best and credible online news platforms in Nigeria.


Me and my colleagues from TheCable

I had also been on a number of fellowships with different organizations including Dubawa’s fact-checking fellowship, Climate Tracker’s global media mentorship program, Maternal Figures solution journalism fellowship as well as African Resilience Network COVID-19 fact-checking fellowship. I had also traveled to countries like France and Cameroon as well as put in a good amount of solid work.




“...how would I – the daughter of a Nigerian civil servant widowed mum from the small town of Udi in the hilly state of Enugu – raise more than USD $120,000 to study at Columbia?”


I went through the application processes again, wrote the test, paid the mandatory $100 non-refundable application fee, then began the wait for response.


A response came on March the 15th of 2022.


“Dear Vivian,


On behalf of the Admission Committee, it gives me great pleasure to inform you that you have been admitted to the Master of Science program in Journalism, beginning in Fall 2022.”


This offer came with a $30,000 part funding. With that, I was left with at least $90,000 to pay up (inclusive of accommodation). And since I did not have a relative in the US, I had to find a place to live.


The remaining amount was still way out of my pocket but it seemed more ‘feasible’ than at first when I had no funding at all. So I began looking for loan companies. At this point I already made up my mind that I was going. I reached out to an international loan company whose offer seemed too good to be true. I ran the idea by a few family and friends including Chikezie and they all advised against it. They all knew I would end up paying through my teeth when it was time to repay the loans.


I remember Chika, my mentor, saying: “...I wouldn't advise loans. Loan debts are a terrible burden. Try to find other scholarship opportunities out there.”


It was a tough decision to make but I eventually let it go. The next time I wanted to try again, I talked myself out of it because the truth is, over the years, I have grown even without the master's degree. I have also become less rigid and more kind to myself.


“Vivian, you are doing well,” I would remind myself.


I have come to understand that I do not need the validation of schooling abroad to feel like I am a fine journalist of international repute. I have also decided to spread my search to schools in Europe. I love Columbia J school but maybe I’m made for somewhere else.


“I have come to understand that I do not need the

validation of schooling abroad to

know that I am a fine journalist of international repute.”


In the midst of all this, romance came along and viola I am now married! Did I think about my master’s degree before plunging into marriage? Of course I did! But I have come to the understanding that everything happens in its own time. I still look forward to getting a scholarship and going for my master’s abroad, maybe not so much as I did back in 2018. But when the time is right, I will welcome it with all its graces.


Me and my husband




Vvian is a journalist based in Abuja, Nigeria. When she’s not writing, Vivian loves to read and travel. She is also an editorial assistant for Diaspora.




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