(The author Philip Monday was enrolled as a full-time master student at UCAS in September, 2017 and trained at National Center for Nanoscience and Technology, under the support of UCAS Scholarship for International Students. He graduated in September, 2020.)
My name is Philip Monday, the first from the family of five (2 boys and 3 girls). I was born in the early hours of Monday 23rd may 1988 to a peasant family in Adamawa state, situated in the north-eastern part of Nigeria. I wasn’t considered old enough for school until the age 7 when my right hand could wrap over my head to touch my left ear (This was a traditional way of identifying if you are old enough for school in those days). Prior to beginning school my duty was to wash the dirty plates and take care of my younger ones, while mom goes to farm. Thanks to my Aunt who was teacher at the time, she convinced my father to put me in school. So, in 1996 I began my primary school education. I was really happy seeing my friends in class, at least I don’t get to be left alone at home now.
I put in my best in study, on the average, coming 3rd in Class. I came 4th in the first leaving school certificate exams, which marked the end of my primary school education in education in 2001. I enjoyed my primary school education as we were frequently engaged in games, dances, reading from story books and songs. I could still recall some of those songs. I missed school only when I was seriously sick.
Soon after, my primary education in Army Children School (ACS) Yola, I was offered admission into high school with Government Day Secondary School Army Barracks, Yola, where I studied science from 2001 to 2007. I finished my high school with good grades which qualified me to apply for the university. My score in the pre-university exams earned me a place in Federal University of Technology Yola (FUTY), now renamed Modibbo Adama University of Technology (MAUTECH), Yola, after a prominent man in my country. Securing admission in Nigerian universities is as competitive as it can be as there are numerous applicants with good grades, so your grade has to be really good. However, that is just one side of the story. You also need to have money to be able to pay for the exorbitant school fees. For someone like me, coming from a low-class family, whose only source of leaving is subsistence farming, with younger ones also in school. The idea of a university education was still an imagination despite the good scores. I decided to engage in some menial jobs to raise money for my fees and accommodation, I also served masons in construction sites to raise money and support my younger ones and some friends in need. During this time my mom was able to raise a small shop where she sells some provisions and cigarette after the days farm work. Soon I was able to pay for my first-year registration into the university.
Education in Nigerian universities are very intense, more theoretical and less practical, as there are only few instruments in most of our universities for experimental purposes, coupled with inadequate technicians to operate the available instruments. However, Nigerian graduates are the most brilliant and Educated in the whole of Africa. 8 out of 10 Nigerians living in the US have a college degree. Nigerians are considered the most educated immigrants in world. The most educated family in the UK is a Nigerian Family. A US based Nigerian Medical Doctor successfully operated an unborn baby suffering from heart disease in the US and was successful born after 9 months. It was a Nigerian that designed the Chevrolet car. A young Nigerian kid was offered admission into any university of his choice including Harvard for his outstanding performance in his High school exams to mention just a few.
On a personal level my learning experience has been a case of continual determination to achieve excellence, starting off from a second-class lower (3.45/5) in my first year in the University and rising to second class upper (3.9/5) in my final year. This can be attributed to share hard work and dedication.
Like many Nigerians, my desire to study abroad was connected to the need for a more quality education and exposure to more advance/modern experimental tools for scientific studies. China today is paving the way in technological development and research, its institutes are well equipped with modern tools, hence my choice to study here.
Upon Learning that I have been offered admission and scholarship with the university of Chinese academy of sciences for my MSc program, I found myself in an indescribable euphoria. It was just 2 days after I had celebrated my birthday. I ran all the way home sliding on the floor in celebration, saying Yes, Yes, Yes. My sisters were in awe at my jubilation, but were soon to join me in celebration upon revealing the news to them.
My Journey to China and Experiences.
Raising the money for the flight to China was the first Challenge I came across, as I needed to pay as high as 6000RMB for the entire process of visa application and air ticket. As my family wasn’t buoyant enough to raise this amount, I was left with the only option to borrow. Thanks to Louis Hitler my friend, who was already in China at the time, he lends me the money.
It was the first time I had to enter an aeroplane. The 14 hours to China was hectic but an amazing experience. Seeing so many people from different parts of the world was an amazing sight to behold. The thoughts of finally having the chance to visit the forbidden city and the great wall of China I had dreamed of overwhelmed me with so much anxiety, for I had read so much about it and watched in movies.
The hospitality we received from the very first day we arrived at the airport was amazing. Yanqihu campus offers a friendly, multicultural, diverse and serene environment to study with facilities for extracurricular activities. There, I made many friends from different parts of the world, among them are also some Chinese students and workers. The beautiful architecture and green environment are mesmerizing. Not far from it is the Yanqi lake and the oval shape hotel which attracts numerous tourists.
Soon after our registration and induction, classes began, I found the system of learning quite distinct from what we use to have back home in Nigeria. Here, studies are more inclined towards research and the system is designed to train students in the art of public speaking through series of presentations over the semester period. Although, this was quite hectic, however, it has helped to spur in us confidence and familiarity with our areas of research. The language classes were arguably the most interesting of all, yet the most emaciating as we had to go through series of written tests and dialogues in the writing and speaking classes respectively. The language classes have helped my communication with locals and in the market places. The panaroma class afforded me the opportunity to learn about Chinese history and mythology and to also learn about cultures of people from different countries and also gave me the platform to showcase my culture too. I made a lot of friends from the little Chinese I could speak.
I find the Chinese culture quite similar to Nigerian culture, in that it imbibes in the people the attitude of respect and good moral behaviour. They are always ready to help in one’s needs. I once dropped my phone in the bus and I was able to retrieve it with the help of a Chinese guy, who even paid for the taxi that took us to retrieve the phone from the police station. Many times, I lost my way, the Chinese are always there to help me find my way. These are memories I have taken to heart and shall return home with. The Chinese people (both men and women) are a hard-working people. The women specifically remind me of my mom, she’s very hard working too.
During my research I have received help from many Chinese students in our group, outside our group, and from other institutes whenever I am faced with some difficulties. They also helped me to settle down and created that friendly atmosphere.
Some of the difficulties I came across is in communication, as my Chinese is not fluent, I could not understand the manuals for the instruments which were mostly in Chinese. It actually took me time to grasp the use of the instruments, thanks to the help from the teachers and some Chinese friends.
As a supervisor, my professor has always pushed me to work hard, and to do things in the right way. Sometimes things don’t turn out as expected, but I do my best to work hard even if it means spending the whole night working, thanks to my friend who always offered me a place to stay in his apartment whenever I had to work through the night. The pandemic was also a big blow to the continuation of my work as we had to remain under lockdown for many periods up to our graduation time. Regardless, I was able to wrap up my Thesis and manuscript out of the results I already had.
My sadness ofcourse not able to continue with my work during the pandemic, and graduating without a published paper and hence returning home without a degree. I hope I can achieve that in the nearest future. My happiness however, is in the knowledge and exposure I’ve gained here, and the lives I have touched back home through this scholarship. The scholarship has not only provided for my upkeep here in China, it was a means by which my family, friends, and even those I know not were able to pay for their school fees, feed, clothe, pay for their medical bills and even establish small businesses for themselves. There is no greater satisfaction than meeting the needs of people in despair. For these achievements and the degree, I am expecting, I am sincerely grateful to UCAS and NCNST for their financial support.
The experimental knowledge I have gained and the ability to handle instruments such as the SEM, XRD, RAMAN Spec. NMR, GC-MS, in addition to the use of applications such as Origin, Mestronova, orientation imaging spectroscopy (OIM) etc. are a significant achievement and equipped me with the ability to conduct research. Most importantly, this program has improved my skills in public speaking thanks to the numerous weekly presentations that I have given in class and in the research group. I shall return home with these beautiful memories.