Hope and Nostalgy away from Home

When you're abroad, you begin to evolve and to develop some aspect of your life. Summer reflection is the best tool Daniel used.

Hope and Nostalgy away from Home

Summer was fun. Beautiful sunshine that made you sit outside, receiving fresh and warm air, and the noise of children playing at the playground at the back of the HSE Building in Zaporozhskaya. Most times, I found myself standing close to the window, with a wide smile, watching the children play. I imagined my life in Nigeria. In the evenings, I would dress up and go to the market to buy foodstuffs, always haggling prices and trying to judiciously utilize the money. And also to save some money for myself.

Saint Petersburg’s white nights sometimes deceive me into thinking that it is already morning. Once, after the end of the 2022–2023 academic session, I woke up, following the afternoon nap I took, and thought it was already morning. I thouhgt that I had to go to the grocery store right behind my dormitory to buy some necessities. I dressed up. I washed my face, wore a cologne and my shoes, and got ready to go downstairs. I had to go with my phone. It was when I picked up my phone from the reading table that it dawned on me that it was 10 P.M., yet it was so bright and very morning-like.

Nights in Nigeria are regulaer nights, at all times and in all seasons; dry seasons, rainy seasons, harmattan, nothing is ever different. I have been living in Saint Petersburg for close to eight months, but sometimes I still feel Nigerian. I thought I wanted to leave home. I wanted to go abroad. But the truth began to jump right into my senses. I might, as the dictionary would suggest, call my feeling to be nostalgy or homesickness, but what I was feeling wasn’t any of those. I started thinking that I didn’t dislike Nigeria after all. Although the political and socio-economic reality in Nigeria and many other African countries is below average, I began to realize that all my resentments and complaints have been yearning for and asking for improvement. They are just saying that I want more. Just more. That was all I wanted. Not an abrupt dislike of my country. By all means, I wanted to get home, to be with my family, to be with my friends, to go to church and chat with the children, to sit in the third row of the pew during Bible study, listening as contributions were being made, flipping through the scripture to understand better, and to contribute my own understanding of the Bible. I missed everything. It was not just that I missed those moments; I started developing appreciation and gratitude. I started being grateful for almost every part of my life in Nigeria. I began to realize how distance can sometimes give one the privilege and opportunity of thoughtfulness and immense gratitude.

I started thinking about my journey so far in Russia. I had moments that challenged me and forced me to withdraw from people. Moments that made me question my own self-worth, But Russia is beautiful. The beauty of Russia isn’t just the buildings in Saint Petersburg; the idea of Russia is beautiful, at least to me. Russians are welcoming. They don’t have the widest of smiles, but they also don't have a truckload of disdainful characters. They’re just humans. They’re humans with their moments of joy and moments of fear. They certainly don’t have a perfect history—no country has, certainly not mine. They’re people. Simply human. Humans with flaws, humans with strengths, and humans with weaknesses.

I think that I was lucky to have come to HSE University. My being lucky wasn't a result of being admitted or being inferior. Obviously, not that. But I am lucky because if I had waited for years to compete at the HSE Global Scholarship Competition, now known as the HSE International Olympiad, I would not be eligible anymore. I participated in the Olympiad as an undergraduate at the University of Ibadan. I was eligible that year because high school graduates are allowed to compete. After the year I competed, high school graduates weren't allowed to compete the following year. Changes have been made again. My friend, X, was preparing to compete after I had won, only to discover that they were not eligible to compete again. I didn’t think about the luck or opportunity. Summer made me think about them. The summer break made me more reflective and grateful.

I am optimistic as a person. I am one of those people who someone will say knows exactly what they want to do with their life. Maybe because I am an adult. Adults are expected to be thoughtful and decisive. At some point in my freshman year, decisiveness began to elude me, and self-doubt began to dominate me. Self-doubt and self-belief are both necessary for one to succeed in life. (In fact, the rate with which technology is beginning to replace humans in the job market should give one concern.) Summer break helped me to reclaim myself, to look beyond the obstacles I faced and those yet to face, and to be more grateful to God, to myself, to HSE University, and to the gift the universe has offered me. It made me develop an openness for friendship, for bonding, and for knowing people.

Reflection is important. It gives you the tools to ask relevant questions. To ask why? To ask, why not? When you begin to meditate, bringing all the variables into the equation, sooner or later, you'll realize that it is all bad. Recently, I read an article, or maybe I was asked to fill out a form. I can't remember with certainty which one it is. But as I read through that writing, it was stated that students drop out of HSE University after their freshman year because of the academic rigor. I don't know the authenticity of the data or the theory, but I should say that a freshman year at HSE University can be challenging for many people. I wanted to withdraw. I lost focus at some point. I began to be very lackadaisical with my studies because I was losing myself. I could not see the light at the end of the tunnel because it was dark, gloomy, and petrifying. I didn't withdraw because I considered many factors. And one of them is reflection. I asked myself important questions. Daniel, are you not stronger than what you're afraid of currently? I began to imagine the bumps I've experienced all my life and how I navigated them. I thought about those whom my continuing and my progress are their source of inspiration. I was emboldened. Freshman year didn't turn out well, but I came out victorious and with my full self. Ready to start afresh.

During the summer, I met and discussed with people from different parts of Africa, from Chad to Mali to Mozambique to Botswana to Ethiopia to the Congo. I learned about the diversity on the continent of Africa. Some of the francophone Africans couldn’t communicate well with me in English, and I could not speak French. But just meeting them, far away from our continent, strengthened the brotherhood. We became brothers. Take, for instance, Khalifa, who is from Chad; he was almost nothing like me. He was darker than myself in skin colour, slimmer, and French-speaking, but the day I didn’t see him at work, I became worried. If it were to be in Nigeria, I would see Khalifa as someone from Chad and possibly as a threat to my country. In Russia, Khalifa and I became brothers. We became Africans. Most importantly, we became humans. Yes, we've got our differences, but none of them matter. I began to think about how lovely the world will be if we look beyond politics and dominance and start seeing the humanity of people.

Here in Russia I started learning about my country and some of the stereotypes I have had about Nigeria. Take, for instance, Victor, a member of my church at All Nations Christian Centre in Saint Petersburg. Victor is from the northern part of Nigeria. When I learned that he was from the northern part, I was surprised that he was a Christian. Before him, I had encountered another student from HSE University who is from Taraba State, a northern part as well. I had carried the stereotype that every person from Northern Nigeria is Muslim and that the person is illiterate. The media in Nigeria blinded my eyes to the lives of my countrymen from the northern part of my country. I am from the southern part, known for commerce and education.

The summer in Saint Petersburg gave me an opportunity to see beyond the stereotypes. But it was not just summer. If I had not had the good fortune of winning the scholarship from HSE University and coming to Russia, not only would I not be able to meet any of these people, but I would have clutched tightly, but ignorantly, the stereotypes I had grown up with about Northern Nigeria. It gave credence to the idea that studying abroad is beneficial to students' development and understanding of life. HSE University has a wonderful study abroad programme, also known as exchange, where a student can spend a semester or the whole academic year abroad. While I know that finances may hinder many students from participating in the exchange programme, the truth is that studying abroad can reset our mindset, reposition our worldview, and, most importantly, make us more reflective and thoughtful.

I didn’t get to visit places during the summer, as would have been expected of an international student. The places I visited when I came recently were taken by my former roommate, a wonderful young man who had recently graduated. My classmates and I also visited some places in the city, although it was before summer. But my not visiting places doesn’t mean that I don't realize that I am in Venice, Europe, a city adorned with arts, diverse history, and sparkling beauty. A city where the metro system was great and transportation was easy.

Summer break refreshed me, gave me new friends, made me more appreciative of things, and most importantly, I realized that although I’ve left Nigeria, Nigeria is still in me. The depth in which my country is in my heart is the best summer discovery, and I can't wait for that day when I'll see my father's land again.

Reflections by

Daniel Onyekachukwu Akabueze