Abroad Stories: A Chat with Richard Apeh


Many people travel abroad, and also wish to travel abroad for different reasons. In an interdependent world, the patterns and fluxes of migration have grown. The migration rate has continued to increase over the years. 

The saying “The world is a global village” holds true now more than ever. Thanks to technology and information spread, people are open to travelling out of their home countries to see the world and settle in a different place. This is not to say that people have not moved around in the past; it has just become more prevalent now. 

281 million people were reportedly living outside of their home country in 2020. This figure, which is the worldwide stock of migrant workers, is at an all-time high. This number comprises not only typical migrants who relocate freely, but also 20.7 million refugees and 4.2 million asylum seekers who are compelled to do so. 

The relevance of migration as a worldwide phenomenon has increased as a result of the significant increase in the number of individuals living abroad. This is a topic that is debated in various countries on a social and political level as well as in terms of population size.

Many people wish to move abroad but do not have any idea how. If you’re one of those people, I want to tell you that learning from people who have already migrated is the best way to get started. When you hear from them, you will have an idea of what to expect and also what the right steps to take are.

Recently, I had a chat with Richard Apeh to discuss his experience of moving from Nigeria to France. He shared how he moved from Nigeria, his motivation, and also some pieces of advice for people who wish to migrate as well.

Richard’s Background

Richard is from Benue state, Nigeria. He had his primary, secondary and university education all in Benue State. He attended St. Francis College in Otukpo and University at Benue State University, where he studied Computer Science. 

As a much younger person, he had a vision for life and a mission to contribute to society to make the world a better place. Consequently, he joined organisations that fostered this mission. The first organisation where he learned about leadership and society building was the Young Catholics’ Students (YCS) Movement. He learnt at an early age that we all had a contribution to make to society and that change begins with us. We can be the change we want to see in the world. 

This inspired him to remain engaged in working with people to contribute to society both at the individual level and the group level. That drove him to engage in many associations, projects and organisations like the United Nations. Because of his vision to continue to work with people, he decided to change from computer science to social science. 

His interest in community building and development motivated him to earn a master’s degree in international relations and diplomacy. He comes from a family of eight (8), and that also taught him to live in a community and navigate challenges to assert his presence amongst many. This has helped him in all his intercultural engagements and has helped him find it easy to relate to people from different fields and backgrounds.

He learnt to lead by joining organisations even though he was very shy. He learned to be more confident and motivated. He worked with the youth wing of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and many other Youth Associations in Nigeria, well as part of the press and debate club in school.

He was also the co-coordinator of the Youth Wing of the Nigerian Inter-religious Dialogue Council (NIREC), an organisation that promoted inter-religious dialogue and peacebuilding in Nigeria. This made him work at the national level with many stakeholders in promoting religious tolerance and building peace and social cohesion in Nigeria before he travelled abroad.

Richard’s Motivation and How He Moved to France

The first time he travelled out was for some training and workshops in 2012 and then for an internship in Kenya in 2013, where he was training to become a youth advocate, and it lasted for two months. 

His trip to Kenya made him understand what having better living conditions looks like and what is feasible and can be done back home in Nigeria. It increased his love to travel, and he saw that travelling was education and helped him see the world through a different lens.

Interestingly, Richard revealed that moving abroad was not initially his plan, but because of the work he was doing, had to travel in 2015, when he was invited to head the International Office of the International Young Catholic Students (IYCS) through global selection process held in the Philippines and he needed to work from the international office, which was based in Paris France. 

He was able to travel abroad not because it was his primary objective but as a result of his engagement and diligent commitment to the course of empowering fellow young people and promoting their rights. His commitment saw him rank high in the organisation which eventually made him the international president. Since the organisation was founded in the 1920s and the international office was created in the 1940s, he happens to be the second Nigerian to hold that position. 

For him, travelling abroad was not a goal in itself but a means to achieve what he wanted in life. He moved to France in November 2015. It was not a choice per se, but because of the position he held but has however come to love the country, its culture and its rich history. 

He has been to approximately forty (40) countries, and when I asked which country was his favourite, he said every country he’s visited so far has different things he admired, and every country is unique on its own. He finds remarkable things in every country he visits, and met amazing people too. If he had another opportunity, he would visit all the countries all over again. 

Challenges and Cultural Shock Faced in France

The first challenge was the language barrier because then, he could not speak French. He had to use Google Translate or find someone who spoke English. This limited his interaction with people. Fortunately, he did not need to speak French at work because it was an international assignment. Language only affected him on social and personal levels. 

He shared a shocking experience where he asked for information at the train station and was responded to in English, “I don’t speak English, I speak French. In France, we speak French.” He decided to learn French immediately after this experience. 

He hinted that understanding the language of the people when you move to a foreign country is important. If you don’t, there are kind people who can help you, but there are also mean people who would ignore you. You should also learn the acceptable norms and ways of life to avoid breaking unsaid/unwritten rules or norms.

Because he has been working on intercultural exchanges, he was open-minded and did not face culture shock as such because he understood that differences existed, so when he finds something new, it is not shocking but a learning curve. The only part he found a bit shocking was that they eat frogs, and this is about the only thing he has not yet tried. 

Also, he found that you get to pay for what you ordered or split the bills when you’re out for a social gathering. This way, nobody is left to shoulder all the responsibility, unlike in his home country, Nigeria. Richard submitted that travelling abroad has changed his life in a lot of ways for the better. He now understands different cultures and sees life differently. 

Richard’s Advice

Below are the pieces of advice Richard has for those who are intending to travel abroad.

  1. Pursuing your goal can enable you to travel abroad. Your purpose in life should come first, and the means will follow. 
  2. Travelling abroad should not be an escape route. You should have a purpose before travelling abroad because, that way, it will be easier to find your feet on the ground and find opportunities to help you grow.
  3. When you travel abroad, try to hide your shock. The best way to navigate is to keep an open mind so you don’t offend people. You can politely let them understand why you don’t engage in the activities they invite you to engage in.
  4. It may be devastating if you just travel abroad without a purpose, so defining your purpose while planning to travel abroad is the best way to go. If your sole purpose is just to escape the harsh reality of your country to get rich quickly abroad, you might be disappointed.
  5. Before you travel abroad, answer the following questions:
  • Why do you want to travel abroad? 
  • What do you want to achieve? 
  • What can you contribute to the country you want to travel to?

Answering these questions honestly will set you on the right path and give you clarity. 

In a nutshell, have a vision and remain committed to that vision. Go because you want to better yourself not because you are running away from your country. It’s important to listen to other people’s experiences, and research before you travel abroad.

Interested in similar stories? Check out this experience of an Asian student in Germany.

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