Leaving Nigeria to study and being accepted into Oxford
Winning a lottery allowed him to walk the path that lead him to Oxford
Mo Yakubu was born in Nigeria, West Africa. His country’s lack of technology and equipment has dramatically hindered his passion for learning about computers. But with his determination to pursue his track, Mo convinced his parents to let him study abroad, and luckily, a lottery which his mother won led him to become a student in New Zealand.
Mo worked part-time jobs to support his financial needs, and when he met her wife, who was from Paris, she left New Zealand, and at the same time, he tried his luck on applying to Oxford University.
Mo lived in Paris even after being accepted at Oxford. He was working and commuting from Paris to England to continue his studies.
These are just the minor challenges of Mo’s journey as a student abroad. He shares how his background has forced him to exert double effort on his studies because apparently, his knowledge at that time was not as advanced as his classmates.
Despite all these, Mo has been successfully proving his capabilities and skills, which led him to his success now.
When I was in New Zealand, when I arrived there, the first thing I said to myself was what it took my parents to pay for my studies, and I know what they're going through. And I know it's not easy, and I told myself that I will never fail and I will not just fail, but I'll do my best in what I'm doing.
Hi everyone and welcome to episode number 36 of the Emigrant's Life Podcast, where we share stories of people who left their country to chase a better life. And through the stories you can find ideas, resources, and motivation to do the same. If English is your second language, and you have difficulty understanding the conversation, you can find the transcript of the full episode in the show notes at emigrantslife.com/episode36. I'm Daniel De Biasi. My guest this week is a software engineer from Nigeria, who studied in New Zealand and now lives in France. The way he managed to live his country is fascinating. Because he felt so lucky to have the chance to study abroad, he kept pushing himself and achieving new goals. One of his last achievements was getting accepted into Oxford University, where he's finishing his master's in computer science while working full time. Before moving to my conversation with Mor, make sure to subscribe wherever you listen to your podcast, it would be great if you could leave us a review on Apple podcasts or pod chaser. And now without further ado, please enjoy my conversation with Mo.
Hey Mo. Thanks for being on the show.
Thank you, Daniel. Thank you for having me.
No worries. It's my pleasure having you on the podcast. I had to thank Isaac, our common friend in New Zealand to introduce each other. And yeah, let's start with your story. Where are you originally from?
I'm originally from Nigeria.
Okay, and where do you live now?
I currently live in Paris, France.
And let's start from the beginning because you said you were born in Nigeria. And then you move to New Zealand, you study in New Zealand and then you move to your wife to Paris. So I'd like to say why did you leave your country?
So I was studying in Nigeria, I started studying computer science because I wanted to learn how to write software. And I wanted to be able to actually practice doing that. But then in my university in Nigeria, three years into my studies, I realized that I never touched a computer as part of that program. And that made me realize that Okay, I've got a four year program to study computer science three years in, I've never touched a computer. So I talked to my parents and ask them if there is a possibility to sponsor me to go overseas to further my studies where I'll be able to acquire the skills that I require. They kind of hesitated because of the financial situation. But they agreed that they will support me with whatever they can. And that's was what led me to leave Nigeria.
So you were studying computer science at the computer school?
We had computers at the university. However, one issue was a lot of people were like lots of the computers were broken. That's one thing. Most of the time there was no electricity to use the computers. And for some reason, we don't actually practice using the computers. So even the programming classes that we took were just on the board, like with some chalk. Yeah. And on paper.
Why did you decide to study computer? Did you have a computer head on? Why did you turn into computer science?
I came across a computer when I was quite young, we were taken on an excursion at school. So we go on this field trips, and I saw a computer then. And since then, even though I didn't touch it, I was fascinated by it. And then at some point, like we had the Symbian phones, so it's like a mobile phone before the smartphones. And I used to play with the operating system and move files and try to do different things. And I've kind of been fascinated about computers and software related since then. And yeah, that was why I decided yep, I love to do it.
So you decide to leave Nigeria, mainly for a better education in computer science. What age did you leave your country?
I was 21 years old when I initially left the country in 2007,
You leave your country and you went to New Zealand or you went to somewhere else first?
So what's happened was I originally applied to go and study in the US and I got admitted. I got my it I-20 applied to the US Embassy for a student visa. And I was denied a student visa, they gave me a reason that I needed to prove that my visit to the US will be a temporary visit. And I'll return back to my home country after the completion of my studies, which I provided all documents for, but I got denied. So that led me to go to Egypt, because I already left my university in Nigeria. And while I was in Egypt, I reapplied to the US again, for visa I was denied again. And after I finished my studies in Egypt, which was also computer related specifically in computer networking, I met a friend there in Egypt, who applied to go and study in New Zealand. And he told me about New Zealand and how great it is. And I thought, okay, I'll apply it to the same university where he was going to study. And I told my parents about it, and they said, Yeah, we'll see what we can do. And yeah, that's how I ended up in New Zealand later on.
it's crazy, though, that us rejected your application, because they want you to go back to your country after all. It's the completely opposite here in Canada, when you apply for a visa, they wanted to prove that you're gonna stay in the country because they invest a lot of money and resources to teach you something especially computer skill, like a US it's a big country for a technology and they teach you the skills and they wanted to go back to your country. That's, that's crazy. I know. And maybe this question might be a little bit personal, I feel free to know answer, if you feel like it. Correct me if I'm wrong, but to go and study abroad, it's quite expensive. How do you manage to study in New Zealand?
I was lucky. I think that's the short answer to that to give you a long version of the answer. So my parents had small restaurants that they were running. And at that time, to be honest, just before I went to New Zealand, wasn't something that they could afford. So two to go and study in New Zealand, and around that time, that business like picked up quite well. But in addition to that, there was the spaghetti company called Dangote that had a promo going on emiliania promo. And the words of that promo, and the value rather was worth about $10,000 US dollars at that time equivalent of Naira. So my mom, like we started packaging, like putting applications down for the promo, and we send them to the company and we won a million naira. And that's coincidence, that's crazy, unbelievable story, basically, was one of the main reasons I was able to afford the first year at least in New Zealand.
Oh, wow, that's such a crazy story. And did you all like a plan B or like a plan A if you didn't get this money? What was your plan before winning this money to go to New Zealand to move abroad?
I already said goodbye to my friends in Nigeria, and the university. And my study in Egypt was just a temporary one. So I didn't really have a plan B, other than going back to my university of Nigeria, telling people that well, it didn't work out. I'm back again.
Okay, so that was really lucky that your mom won this kind of lottery.
Yeah, I was super lucky.
And going forward a little bit. So you went to New Zealand, you graduated a University in New Zealand, but you did another master in New Zealand after university. And also, this is it like crazy that you actually got into Oxford in the UK? So I guess you are like a really good student?
Yeah, well, when I was in New Zealand, when I arrived there, the first thing I said to myself was what it took my parents to pay for my studies. And I know what they're going through. And I know it's not easy, and I told myself that I will never fail and I will not just fail, but I'll do my best in what I'm doing. And ever since then, I've been a good student. I was the best students when I did my undergraduates at Lincoln University in New Zealand, and my first Master's as well I was at a very good grade. So when I saw the opportunity to apply to Oxford, I knew it was the best university in the world at least according to the ranking then I thought, I'll give it a try. I may not get in but it wouldn't cost me anything if I try and I don't make it. And yeah, so my surprise I got in, which was pretty exciting. Yeah.
Yeah, I bet so you feel like this pressure to doing well in life because your family sacrificed quite a lot, especially financially to give you a good education.
I guess that's a really good drive to, to push in life and to the best of your life, isn't it?
So you with the money that your mom won through this lottery, you managed to go through the first year of university in New Zealand? How did you manage to do the other years? Did you work over there? How was the process for you to continue studying in New Zealand?
So it was a combination of terms. Like you mentioned, I worked there partly. So while I was at university, my department gave me role. And they gave me a job to teach, to help like to teach students from like the previous year. So because I was already in the second year, then so the newest students I was helping and tutoring. So that helped, I was also working doing some side job and pizza delivery. And in addition to that, my parents business as well was doing relatively well. Although, in my subsequent years of studies, quite often, I paid my school fees a bit later than I was supposed to, because it was a bit difficult to meet the, like, deadline requirement. But yeah, we managed through and yep, I was able to finish successfully.
For the listeners, maybe they want to do the same thing can you share the number? How much roughly cost to study New Zealand, at least in the university went to?
Yes, sure. So in 2000, and when I got there it costs 20,000, New Zealand dollars at Lincoln University, the annual school fees, and at that time, when you convert it to a US dollar, it was just around, I think 13,000 or 11,000 US dollars, at that time. So that's just for the school fees. And then in addition to that, you had to pay accommodation fees, and then the feeding cost. So over three years period, so it's just a study cost about 60,000, New Zealand dollars. And then in addition to that, the accommodation and feeding costs. So overall, I think I'll roughly say about 100,000 New Zealand dollars really well with that period of time.
Yeah. That's a lot of money.
It is, definitely looking back now, it is a lot of money. And yeah, it's unbelievable that I was able to afford that really.
Yeah. especially coming from Nigeria is not one of the richest country in the world.
No, especially from the parts where I came from. Even in Nigeria, it's arguably one of the poorest parts of the country, if not the poorest.
Yeah, because there's not many people that can leave the country, that can leave Nigeria, right? Or is it common for people leaving
A lot of people leave, especially people in the southern part of the country, but not from the place where I was born and where I grew up, which is in the northern part of the country.
Okay, and do you have any regrets about leaving Nigeria?
I wish I did not have to in the first place. I wish there were, you know, the resources were there, the education was sufficient, and I was able to contribute to the system. But looking back now, I don't regret to be honest living other than my family and friends that are still been there. missing them. But other than that, no, not really.
And do you think you will move back to Nigeria at some point in life, or you think your life is going to be away from your home country?
That's a tough question to answer. To be honest, at this point, I will still love to contribute to its development really, given my like some of the skills, experiences I've acquired over the past couple of years. I would definitely love to go back to contribute whether it's permanently or not, that I haven't decided yet.
Fair enough you're still pretty young. How old are you now?
Still pretty young to make such a decision. But some people know exactly just I want to study abroad or whatever. And then I won't go back to my country because I missed my country. And I that's where I can see my life. Some people like me, no way. I will never gonna go back to Italy or my country. I can't see my life there anymore. Go back to your story. So you were in New Zealand, you got accepted into Oxford, and that's in the UK. So how did you ended up in Paris?
That's a very good question. So when I was in New Zealand, while I was still studying during my undergraduate degree, my wife came from France as an exchange student to do a semester in New Zealand and we happen to be in the same halls of residence at that time, so that was how we met and then she had to go back to France. But then she decided after her studies to come back to New Zealand and started working and we started going out together at that time. So basically, we got married and we got kids. And then when I decided to apply to study at Oxford, and surprisingly got accepted, we decided that rather than traveling all the way from New Zealand, back to the UK and back to New Zealand, again, it will be easier to live somewhere closer to Oxford in the UK. So given that she's French, we decided to move to France and base ourselves in Paris. And that also led me to apply for a job in Paris. And yeah.
So you were commuting from England to Paris?
Yes, pretty much. Yeah.
Every couple of weeks. Yeah.
Yeah. Even though like it's not too far. It's not like New Zealand, but still it's at least a few hours, or either drive or flight. I don't know how you got there.
Yeah, definitely. So I was basically taking eurostyle, which is a train that goes directly from Paris to London. And then once I get to London, I take either another train, so Oxford, about an hour or I take the bus back and forth. Yeah.
Oh, wow. So you will go for how long would you stay in England?
So whenever I go there, I stay for at least a week.
Okay. So that means you'll be able to follow some courses and do some classes online.
Yes. So one of the things that COVID helped me with, I was able to do a significant part of it online because of the requirements because we couldn't travel and we couldn't be physically present in the classes. So that's helped a lot. But yes, other than that, I would have had to be there physically, quite a lot.
And in your experience, in your journey, what was the biggest challenge that you had to face?
I think going to New Zealand when I go to New Zealand and realizing that my peers so the other students that I wasn't the same classmates that they were so much more advanced, they were so much more used to some of the tools that we we've been taught, then I was and realizing that I needed to do twice as much as them to be able to catch up with them. And in addition to that, after I completed my studies and trying to get a job in New Zealand, realizing that yes, even though we finished at the same university when I started watching realizing that I needed to work almost twice as much as like my colleagues to be able to prove myself to prove that yes, I can do it as well. So I think those are some of the biggest challenges I face in my life so far.
Yes, because you came from from Nigeria and you said you couldn't even use a computer at school so you ever competed with people they probably grew up with computers, the laptop and computers like in house and they can use it anytime they want. And then for you maybe it was like a little bit more challenge to figure out how everything works.
Oh, definitely. It was challenging for me it was very challenging. I had to do a lot more as you can imagine. And as we mentioned, as well.
And going back to what you say about the finding a job and proving yourself you were as good as other other people if not better, was that because you were an immigrant or was that because the color of your skin?
I think it's both but I also felt because of the color of my skin New Zealand compared to I guess a lot of other Western countries doesn't have as many black immigrants. So I felt like all the companies I worked at pretty much I believe I was the only black African mark in the offices that list that I worked in. So I always had this feeling that people may look down on me or feel not as capable and offs and as a result of that I've always tried to push myself to deliver good quality work so do sales as properly as I can.
Was this part of who you are one of the drive that pushes you to get more qualification and a certificate and more education in your fields just because you want to prove to others that you actually know your stuff?
Yeah, definitely. I think that's part of it.
Okay, no I ask you that question because I was in the same situation where like a similar situation when I moved to New Zealand because I couldn't speak the language I couldn't prove to other people I couldn't show the other people that I knew about the field and you're able to do the job I didn't know how to express myself. So for me a way to prove to other people that I was an "stupid" was to get qualification that I start studying get qualification with qualification. I think I landed my first job just because I got like a qualification in computer networking. Even though I didn't need the qualification to get the job I needed for myself to better now think of that I was good enough to apply for that job. I probably would have got it anyway. But I needed that qualification to prove to myself that I could apply for the job, I was good enough for the job. That's why I was asking that question.
Definitely, you're right. It's the same thing. And I think it helps, at least in my experience, it always helps because it's self reassurance that yes, I can do it. I can give it a try. I tried it, and I did it. I got it. And I know that okay, I can go, I can take the next step and see try to achieve the next challenge.
And you achieved quite a bit. All right, did you finish your master a lot further, you're still doing it?
So it should be finished this year. So basically, now we're going through my thesis and finalizing that, at this point.
Yeah, even just got to that point, it's, first of all, they don't let anybody get into Oxford, you need to be a pretty good student, you need to prove that you got what it takes to get into the school, but even then finish it yet. It needs a lot of effort. And also you will you say you have to find a job in Paris. So you were actually working while you were studying as well?
Yes, that's right. So going back to what you mentioned about Oxford, like getting in. I remember when I was in country University, no, rather when I went back to catch the university to get my transcripts, because to apply to Oxford, I needed to provide that. And I had a very good grade. So I went to the admission department and talk to them about getting my transcripts. And the guy asked me Oh, so what do I want to use it for? Because I asked him to translate it to a UK standard. So the equivalent grade, and I told him that I'm applying to Oxford University. And the guy like looked at me suspicious. Do you think you'll get into Oxford? And you know, I just ignored him and like, just kept quiet. I'll let him do the stuff for me after I got accepted, the first thing I thought about that guy. Yeah, I felt sigh I wish I could go back to him and tell him that, hey, this my admission letter, I've been accepted into Oxford. And back to your second question about studying while also working. Yes, I have kids, I have two daughters. I was working in France full time. And I was using my leaves physically to go to Oxford, in addition to taking unpaid leaves as well. So that was quite a lot. But I felt it's something that I needed to do and be done with.
So why did you feel like you have to finish Oxford? I know, it's a huge privilege to be into the school. But do you ever like I don't know. Because at some point, maybe if like, Okay, I have I have a family, I can spend time with my family. I have a job that pays the bills? Why would I have to continue doing this sacrifice? What was the reason why you kept doing it?
I felt I needed to have something that's it's not just valuable in New Zealand or something that is not just recognized in New Zealand something that when I get it, wherever I go to in the world, people will be able to say that yes. Okay, this, this is an attestation that, yes, you are capable of doing it. And you've obviously done it. And also, as I mentioned earlier, I've always wanted to advance myself. So even at home, like when I'm reading books, I'm not into fictional books I love like non fictional books, learning about things, and whether they're in my field or not in my field. So I just enjoy advancing myself. And that's one of the terms that I felt Oxford will give me an opportunity to be able to get and it's has given me it's has expanded my mind beyond anywhere I've ever thought it would. So yeah, I think it's what's really worth it.
Yeah, no, it makes totally sense. It may be even like the people that you met, the networking you create going through this university is just such a privilege, right?
And speaking about reading books, I can see behind your background like a bunch of books, even the other day when we met before the interview I asked about, are you at the library? Because there are so many books behind you. Looks like you're in a library. That's how much you read, which is no easy when you have to travel.
I actually have like a Kindle as well. This is just my copy on my Kindle. I have so many more books. So like when traveling Now luckily, I can still bring up some books. And yeah, you're right about traveling though. It's like when we're moving from New Zealand. I had to get rid of a lot of books because it was just so expensive to ship them over.
Yeah, exactly. That's one of the things we have to keep in consideration when we are in a situation where Okay, we're leaving this place, but we don't know how long we're gonna stay here. We haven't figured this out yet. Even I don't own any book. Like a physical copy. I don't have even pen or paper. I don't ever for my face, I write everything on my iPad, I use my iPad as a notebook and reading books and everything's, it's a way of living that is different from other people, that people that they are settling they have their own house and our own home not true. And what do you think was their biggest upside about you leaving your country leaving Nigeria?
I think having gained lots of exposure to different possibilities and life sentence from different perspectives and meeting people from different backgrounds, different cultures. I think if I had stayed in Nigeria, I wouldn't have you had that opportunity, I wouldn't have known what is possible, I wouldn't have known that I'll be able to achieve some of the things that I was able to achieve. I wouldn't have known that I will be able to maybe at some points in time in my life, contributes back to, to Nigeria, or to different parts of the world.
Yeah. Which is probably the reason most people leave their country. Usually it's opportunities.
Oh, yeah, definitely. I think there are opportunities and having hope that turns out possible if you work hard enough for it. And if you work smartly, as well about it, I think it's very important. I think there are a lot of people that are still there that are looking for that opportunity. Maybe they went to the University, they did their best, but they didn't get that opportunity, because it's just not there. So being able to leave the country and knowing that if I do my own part, the opportunity will likely present itself. And I'll be given the chance to be able to take on that opportunity. I think it's really valuable. And something that I really appreciated.
Yeah. And do you feel lucky to be an immigrant?
Absolutely, absolutely. I felt very lucky to be an immigrant. Because, as I mentioned earlier, my story, my ability to even leave the country was just pure luck, because I couldn't have done that by myself. It's since just came along at a time. And I know, a lot of people that I studied with a lot of people that I know, we're very smart, that one had the same opportunity, and didn't have that opportunity. So me being able to get that opportunity, and going through the experiences that have gone through in life. definitely feel lucky about that.
This next question is a little bit tricky. And let's see where it takes us. If you could go back in time, imagine you have a time machine and you could go back in time to any point in your life, when would you go and what would you say to your young self?
You said to my young self so that's assume that I've already been given so then in that case, yeah?
Yeah. Unless you want to take this time travel to somewhere else?
No, no, that's fine. In that case, I wouldn't really go back in time. And the reason why I wouldn't is because out of fear of changing what I have now, I think I've been extremely lucky, as I've mentioned several times, and been blessed to have the family I have the career the knowledge that people have met along the way. So I've been very fortunate. And I wouldn't like that such change.
Yeah, walking on a butterfly or something change the course of your life.
Exactly, exactly. The butterfly effect.
And after living abroad for many years, what advice would you give to the listeners, they maybe wants to do the same thing you've done?
I think planning a long landing long ahead usually helps mitigate some of the problems. So for example, if you feel you want to work in a particular field, try to think of what you need to achieve that. So what type of studies you need financial resources, how you'll get the financial resources, it's also overall helps to, I think, have purpose in everything you're doing in life. Whether if it's just you know, you're traveling on vacation, overseas, because it's otherwise it can be quite difficult to stay focused. And I've met a lot of people in my experience that immigrants like myself that I felt, have lost track of what they wanted to do, or the reasons why they left their countries. So I think having a long term plan and also like having a system that keeps you on track while you're going through those plans along the way. So you know, you're still on the right path.
Do you have anything else maybe we didn't cover or things that you'd like to say?
Um, I think, once and I'll like to add is that Nigerians overall like when people hear about Nigeria's, like, the first term that comes to people's mind is like, you know fraudsters and scammers and so on. So this has given Nigerians around the world quite a bad reputation. And that's has also contributed so one of the main issues that Nigerians face when they want to leave the country and I guess what's our one thing I would like to say is, it's not all Nigerians that are, you know bad and you hear that over 200 million Nigerians a very small proportion of Nigerians do all those things, and we also get affected by distance. So whenever you meet Nigerians give them a benefit of doubt.
Yeah, you're totally right. It's not just within Nigeria with everybody. Even Italians don't have a good reputation overseas not all the Italians are related with the mafia so but you're totally right. There's some country there's the stereotypes for some country are no surprise at all. But as I said, Yeah, we should give like a fair shot to to all the people we meet in our lives. But actually, I didn't know that Nigeria has got like a such a bad reputation. I'd never heard of it before.
It's quite common. Actually. I guess I didn't know about it until I left Nigeria. And whenever like I meet people especially been in the IT industry. People all talk about all the Nigerian prince are you the brother of the Nigerian prince?
Did you find difference paid in different countries all over the country were similar?
I guess in Egypt, I didn't really stay there long enough. And also, because Arabic was the main language, I guess they didn't have that problem. Because Yeah, Nigerians spoke English, mainly. So there wouldn't be much targeted. In New Zealand. Yeah, that's the place I heard about it a lot, as well as in Australia, because I went to Australia a couple of times for work when I was in New Zealand, and yeah, in France, as well, it's quite well known, at least among my colleagues at work.
Okay, that's interesting. If the listeners resonate with your story and wants to get in touch with you, where people can find you?
I'm on LinkedIn. So if you look for Mohammed Yakubu can find me there. And I've just started created a website, more Mo Yakubu. So moyakubu.com. I will be adding content to it. But I think those are the best places I can be reached for now.
And as usual, all the links is going to be in the show notes at a maintenance life.com question it just say that you started a website. I'm curious, what's the reason why you started the website?
I just felt the need to share some of my knowledge experiences. And I taught having a website will be the best way to do that in this day and age. So that's main reason.
Awesome. Thank you so much more for taking the time to share your story. I really appreciate it.
I thank you very much, Daniel for having me.
No worries. It was It was my pleasure. Okay.
Thank you so much for tuning in this week. You can find the show notes with everything we discussed and the links to get in touch with more at emigrantslife.com/episode36. If you want to support the show, we can share this episode with a friend and you can leave us a review on Apple podcasts and portrays it. They will help this podcast growing and helping more people. If you'd like to be my guest on the show, you can visit emigrantslife.com/yourstory. Thanks again for listening. Talk to you in the next one. Ciao.
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