Then & Now: A Nigerian as a First-time E-foreign Student
A few months ago, N was offered a scholarship for a master’s programme at Beihang University (BU) in Beijing, China. With all his previous education (and entire life) experienced in Nigeria, He has had to adjust to how this new experience differs from his previous ones.
How did the application process go?
From the application process, there is almost an unwavering promptness with schedules.
I have found that admission and academic timelines at BU (and other schools in China I’ve since observed) vary only slightly from year to year. They can be predicted accurately to almost within two weeks. And the pandemic, which has disrupted academic affairs, has had minimal effect on these timelines. This is because BU – and i think China generally – finds ways to adapt.
Did you experience any delay?
Resumption is often within the first half of September. Documents with which to process visa are often sent late in August, and when they had not been sent by the end of the first week in September, without explanation, and with restrictions on travelling into China still active but very slowly easing, I was anxious.
We were contacted then that, due to travel restrictions, the school would not be sending the documents yet. However, the school was going ahead with resumption on September 14 as scheduled.
Of course, all these didn’t go seamlessly, but there were no grand problems. Channels were created to report technical issues and they were resolved as soon as possible; timelines were set for each activity for registration well in advance so students can plan ahead.
WeChat was central to all these arrangements. WeChat is like the Official message app in China. Groups and sub-groups were created as required and students from all over the world could connect and help one another with registration. School officials were also members of relevant groups and attended to queries promptly.
Documents with instructions were designed with pictures and visual directions on website navigations, especially since not all the websites have English versions. In the end, everything ran relatively smoothly.
The process seems to go smoothly even during a pandemic
I think all these could be achieved because BU (and, I think, other schools in China) already have a stable educational (and other) systems. This minimizes glitches associated with trying to adapt to disruptions caused by a situation as unprecedented as the pandemic.
By extension, I perhaps felt, for the first time, the difference between a developed and a developing country.
So how are classes going?
I am particularly fascinated by the two courses that are compulsory for every international student: Chinese language and Introduction to China.
Having to take a language course is predictable, but I did not anticipate the second course. Along the line, I discovered its importance. The course takes you through the basics of Chinese as a whole. It provides history and context to understanding what might be incomprehensible nuances about how to live in China and interaction with Chinese people. History, geography, economy, socio-cultural affairs, etc. of China were covered in the course. It is only after taking it that one has a full understanding of the implications of not taking it.
Also, the language course was designed around the ability to have conversations and navigate independently. Chinese is generally a difficult language to learn, so the course was designed to make it as accessible as possible. Examples are specifically ones a foreigner might find themselves needing to say when asking for direction or other queries, shopping, greeting, and general interaction with the locals.
What’s your opinion of the teaching method?
Having studied all my life in Nigeria, I find myself struggling with the more dynamic teaching systems and lesson structures. I have found myself obsessively requiring “handouts” and sometimes going overboard with notes-taking.
I obsess over the need to hear every single word a lecturer says because in my previous educational experiences, you just never know how mischievous a lecturer could feel when setting questions for tests and exams.
I have also found myself occasionally cursing what has been a terrible education in Nigeria. I have found myself clueless about what I have found to be basic knowledge, and have had to do a lot of extra studying to keep up.
This is significant because I have had degrees from two of the best federal universities in Nigeria. This has only gone to reinforce a long-cultivated sentiment: an average Nigerian student is automatically vastly disadvantaged amongst his or her peers everywhere else in the world.
Do you find online classes convenient?
Live classes are held over the Tencent Meeting app. China is on the far east of the globe and is ahead in time zone. Nigeria, for example, is seven hours behind China. As a result, for three out of five days, my classes commence at 2:50 am. Students are spread from as far as Southern America to Asia.
Some lectures, especially for classes scheduled for the morning in Beijing Time, concede to pre-recording their classes in consideration of students whose time zone are unfavourable. The videos are made available for download and self-study. Also, many class hold late in the evening and at night in Beijing and these classes are more favourable to attend live.
How do you find the lecturers and how they conduct their lectures?
Lecturers are generally friendly and accessible and willingly make concessions for students who might need them. I have been amazed by their civility, especially with the few lecturers who are somewhat difficult. Anyone who has been a student at a Nigerian university would automatically expect difficult lecturers to be uncivil.
There’s a standard that a break be given after every approx. 45 minutes of lecture.
Break after every 45 minutes?
Yes. It’s often a 5 minutes break but, depending on course and situation, could vary as long as 15 minutes.
If the nature of the course means a break can’t be taken after 45 minutes – for example, courses that are practical and which a unit of practice can’t be abruptly broken, then the teacher could give a 10-15 minutes break after, say, 1 hour or longer of the lecture.
So how would exams be conducted?
Due to the pandemic, some of the lecturers have easily declared that exams would not be written
Some lecturers are not conducting exams?
Yes. They have quickly found alternative ways of grading, including reports, frequent assignments, class presentations, etc., or a combination of these.
And how is the exam going for those that are conducting an exam?
I remember an exam I took for a course that was completed early. The professor already told us the exam would hold in a week’s time, on a Friday. A link would be made accessible at a specific time and would stop working on Sunday, meaning every student can take it at any time between Friday and Sunday.
The duration of the test would be five hours. The exam is, of course, not difficult or bogus.
In fact, as an undergraduate in Nigeria, I have frequently completed more voluminous “tests” in, say, 20-30 minutes. It was the first open exam I’d ever written and the experience was fantastic.
The lecturers aren’t interested in students failing exams. We had our class materials and the entire internet at our disposal to complete an exam that can be completed in 30 minutes, in five hours; with the additional privilege of three logins to restart within the set days.
In a way, they are helping you understand and pass the course
Yes. I found, after the exam, that there is already a systematic process to ensure you understand the course content as much as possible even if you are not a particularly studious student.
The class was generally interactive, so you pick things up unconsciously. The process of completing the exam actually requires you to read stuff in real-time, assimilate it, and reproduce it to respond to the questions.
The whole point systematically conditions you to be able to synthesize the class content.
This also relieves the endless pressure associated with exams, of which I, and everyone who has been a student in a Nigerian university, is familiar.
What do you feel about the grading system?
Understandably, I suppose, grading system at BU (and perhaps in other schools in China as well) is utterly different from what I have been familiar with.
An A is a grade in the 90th percentile, while anything lower than a 60 per cent is an F.
I am continually unravelling new ways in which schooling in a Chinese school differs from schooling in a Nigerian school. And I am always having to adjust to these myriads of changes.
And you would definitely be looking forward to travelling to China to resume on-site learning
I anticipate BU asking us to resume at the campus soon and what the experience would reveal about the things I’ve already perceive and the whole galaxy of others my imagination is incapable of conceiving but which waits to be experienced.
Life as a student can be without stress, and you should experience this. Speak with an International Education Advisory Personnel here to help you with your plans and budget for international education.