Adjusting to Ethnic Differences While Studying Abroad

Semilore is a Study Abroad Student from Nigeria who is completing his degree in the USA. In his blog Semilore discusses how he adjusted to going from an ethnic majority to a minority. He also describes his experiences in embracing new cultures as well as being able to share his own with other students.

Hello! I am Semilore Olatunde, a Junior at Howard University, US from Lagos, Nigeria.

I would be sharing with you my experiences as a black person in UL and how I dealt with feeling homesick and out of place.

So far, my study abroad experience has been my longest time away from a predominantly black population. Well, I grew up in Nigeria which is the West of Africa so that part is quite understandable. But I school in America, right? Howard University (The Real HU!) is an HBCU in the capital of the US, DC. An HBCU is a Historically Black College or University and is predominantly black. At my HBCU, I was surrounded by different shades of black excellence and diversity, it was a new environment but it was super easy to feel at home.

Back to my UL story!

Coming to UL has been a lovely experience that I don’t think I’ll trade. I was pleasantly shocked to find that 20% of the UL student population was international (2000 students from over 100 countries!). Since the school has such a large pool of international students, everyone is friendly and mostly open to learning about new cultures, languages, and food. I had one small problem, the black population was really low and that was new to me.

During my first few weeks, I felt lost as I was almost always the only person of color in my classes – Or practically anywhere I was. I remember calling my friend back home to rant about missing my HBCU and how I had only spotted 5 other black people on campus lol. Well, there were more like 50 -100 black students on campus but I got to meet most of them later.

In my view, there seems to be a lot about other cultures that some people do not know though. I’ve had a lot of people tell me “Wow, you have such good English!” Which is really funny to me cos English is the official language of my country- Nigeria. I’ve also had a few other random, uninformed questions asked when conversing with people around Ireland. Most times I try my best to educate them and learn more about their culture as well.

Going to pubs and parties is a big part of any student life population. But as expected, I never heard any Afrobeat or Soca music. They barely played any songs by really popular African-American artistes like Travis Scott, Drake, Megan, and the likes(well, asides the occasional Lil Nas X – Old town road). Half the time, I had to be strapped with Shazam so as to get the music. [The Scholars Club has a nice playlist on Spotify that really helped also]

Down to the real part that’s probably helpful to you reading this – how did I deal with all this?

  1. Clubs and Societies

This is a really good avenue to meet Irish and international students, and most importantly, other black people. UL has an Afro-Carribean Society (ACS) and I got to learn about them during the week 2 recruitment drive (A must-attend!). You do not have to be from any particular country to find friends and love the club. There were black people from the US, Canada, France and other non-African countries in the club as well. The club met every week and there were lots of icebreakers and fun activities that enable you to know others quite quickly.

  1. Food

Food brings people together cos who doesn’t like food? Finding African food and restaurants was definitely a challenge for me in Limerick. In UL, the student life courtyard has food vendors on Wednesdays. This is a great time to grab some spicy Indian food or South African food from Enactus UL’s ReStart food stand.

I also used this opportunity to practice and perfect my cooking skills. I got my spices from major supermarkets and Indian spice shops. About every two weeks, I got friends I’ve been meeting together and cooked an African meal. This helped with bonding with friends as well as getting rid of feeling homesick.

  1. Music

At the ACS meetings, there was always a great African song mix. This helped me feel at home and groove lol. Also, the International Society had a party at the Stables Club every Friday. They didn’t play Afrobeats but after a while, there was a petition and they started allowing song requests to be sent before the party. This made it possible to listen to a very diverse music playlist as songs were getting played from all over the world. Oh, and of course, I played my music at home and when I met with my friends – had to introduce them to artistes like Burna Boy and Koffee.

  1. Volunteering

I personally LOVE volunteering. I’m introverted so volunteering helps me meet people and get out of my comfort zone (i.e my bed). UL also rewards volunteering efforts through the President Volunteer Award program – yes it’s given to Erasmus/Study Abroad students as well. I signed up for some one-off events like Culture night, Architecture Open House, PVA Award ceremony, etc but it is recommended to do some long term and consistent ones. The International Student Ambassador program is a great one and I’ve made friends from all over the world. The IED at UL also hosts events where you can speak to non-ambassadors, learn from them, and talk about your culture and experiences.

Overall, UL and Ireland are really wonderful. Great people who are open-minded and accepting of all cultures!

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