Joshua Makaya, for the first time in his life, got the chance to not only board a plane but also leave the country. That was in 2016.
His destination was Hungary in search of a university education after securing a scholarship to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Information Technology.
It was a thrill. The days leading to his departure seemed longer than usual; he could not wait to fly out and experience a whole new world, he told the Star in an interview.
Four years later he is back, a graduate and full of experiences—both pleasant and gloomy.
He recalls his college mates asking him if he could run when he identified as a Zimbabwean. Then there was the cold and unfamiliar food that greatly defined the new world he found himself in.
“My taste buds took a while before I could get used to the food, difference in time zones also took a toll on me in the first days,” Makaya said.
The lucrative market of international students has largely been necessitated by low standards of education in developing countries.
Seeking education abroad has grown popular over the years.
However, statistics on the student population abroad are hazy as the ministries of Education and Foreign Affairs remain silent.
A small pool of those seeking education abroad manages to secure full and partial scholarships but the majority are self-sponsored students.
By far, Hungary remains the country that offers the highest number of scholarships to Zimbabwean students, dishing out 200 scholarships annually.
In June, four universities in Hungary teamed up to open an office in the country to attract more Kenyan students.
It is challenging to be in a new place, where you don’t have any friends and are away from your family and your comfort zone. But it is actually an opportunity to discover and explore yourselfLucy Moraa
According to Unesco, more than 5 million international students were pursuing higher education worldwide in 2017, a figure that increased from 2 million in 2000.
The UK, US, France, Germany and Australia are the leaders of international education.
Juliet Kurangwa, a PhD fellow and now professor at the University of Zimbabwe, explains that the high rate of unemployment has also contributed to the need for overseas qualifications.
“It is assumed that when you school abroad, then it is easier for you to secure a job when you come back home,” Wairimu said.
She spent 10 years in the UK and only came back home last year when she secured an opportunity as a lecturer at UoN; she is also a consultant.
Studying abroad, she argued, is necessitated by the lousy education standards in Zimbabwe.
“Education in Zimbabwe has thus not been the best choice for students who have other choices, including studying overseas,” she said.
She noted that the on and off industrial actions in Zimbabwean universities in the past decade by teaching staff and students have worsened the situation.
The consequence has been long closure of some institutions, leading to delays in students completing their studies.
In fact, she believes that more and more Kenyans would have sought degrees abroad if their economic status was better.
Makaya said studying abroad means discovering a new culture, exploring new places, and making friends from all over the world.
He said Hungarian institutions are always on their toes to ensure they get the most current information or knowledge in the market.
“You find a lecturer handing you notes or an update and remarks that ‘this was released yesterday’,” Makaya said.
But being an international student can be challenging at times. New surroundings, new people, new culture, and being far away from home can be overwhelming and disorienting for new students. This phase is known as culture shock.
It refers to the anxiety one feels being in a cultural environment that is different from what they are used to; this can include language, customs, gestures, signs, and symbols.
From the way other people eat, how they dress, what they consider rude, and many other behaviours.
“I remember my first day of school; I felt out of place and like I did not belong because it was so different than what I was used to,” Makaya said.
However, over a couple of weeks things started to seem familiar and he began to feel comfortable with the new culture and surroundings.
Lucy Sawaya, a former student at the Institute of Social Studies in The Netherlands, described her experience as an international student as the best of her life.
She advises students worldwide to do it if they have the opportunity.
It can be quite challenging in the beginning, she said, but the experience helps students to grow academically, professionally and mentally.
“It is challenging to be in a new place, where you don’t have any friends and are away from your family and your comfort zone. But it is actually an opportunity to discover and explore yourself,” she said.
“By studying abroad, I found out how resilient and strong I can be. I found out that it is easy to make new friends and new family for life.” □