Island Journeys: What is it like being a foreign student in Dominica?


In the grand narrative of our interconnected world, an extraordinary revelation takes centre stage: one in 30 individuals around the globe identifies as a migrant, a poignant reflection of the diverse stories that shape our shared human experience. As unveiled by data from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in 2022 this revelation peels back the layers on a myriad of compelling stories, where individuals navigate the complex currents of life. From navigating the shadows of conflict, persecution, or environmental hurdles to chasing the elusive promises of employment, economic opportunities, familial ties, or educational aspirations, the motivations propelling individuals across borders tell a captivating tale of ambition, resilience, and the ceaseless pursuit of a brighter future.

Dominica has played host to migrants from diverse corners of the world. For almost four decades, the island has served as a home for American students pursuing medical studies at the renowned Ross University Medical School, until its relocation following Hurricane Maria. Over the past two decades, with the establishment of the All-Saints School of Medicine, migrant students from Africa and Asia have flocked to Dominica, seeking an accelerated path to their medical degrees. Among them are Miracle and Charles, who ventured from Nigeria to Dominica to pursue their medical education.

Miracle clarifies her intent, stating, “I did not come here in search of greener pastures. I came here to study medicine because it’s a shorter time. I didn’t want to study for 10 years. I came from a comfortable home, and my parents were willing to pay my tuition.” Charles, armed with a degree in microbiology, saw pursuing a medical degree in Dominica as a more time-efficient and cost-effective option, as per his parents’ decision.

Despite their shared goal and a similar immigration process to a Commonwealth country like Nigeria, their journey brought forth cultural shocks. Leaving behind life, family, and friends in Africa, they embarked on a transatlantic journey to the small island of Dominica. The journey to Dominica took two days for both Charles and Miracle who had to travel to a few countries before getting to Dominica. Miracle recounts, “I did not do my research and thought all along I was going to the Dominican Republic. I was naive.”

Upon arriving in the tranquil city of Roseau, Dominica, Charles experienced a sense of déjà vu reminiscent of rural areas in Lagos. The initial absence of open shops stirred thoughts of returning home. However, after the initial adjustment period, he found solace in the serene atmosphere, remarking, “I soon recognized – I’m not hearing the buzzing of generators [as in Nigeria]. The traffic and all that kind of stuff that we need to go through to get to work or where we have to go to, was gone, so I said ‘ok’ and began to relax.”

Though they eventually acclimated to their new surroundings, the journey was not without challenges. Language barriers, a common hurdle for migrants, prompted both Miracle and Charles to navigate the process of learning a new language. Charles, a fluent English speaker, discovered that his dialect was not universally understood. “It took me six months for most people to understand me; I had to start listening to locals speak so I could learn to pronounce certain words differently,” he notes.

Miracle encountered what she describes as xenophobia shortly after arriving on the island, recounting instances of people questioning her presence with remarks like ‘Why you in my country? Go back.’ She reflects, “There are people that will literally ask you, ‘Why [are] you in my country? Go back.’ I have been told, ‘Typical of your kind to do that.’ That happens a lot.” Charles also experienced being told, “Oh, you come out where you come out.”

Seeking a sense of community in their new home, Miracle found hers among fellow students at the university, actively participating in school events and volunteering for various positions. Charles, on the other hand, created a network by connecting with other Nigerians on the island and making Dominican friends. “One of the first friends I made was my landlady and her family. We are still friends today. I started working for them. They started giving me responsibilities. They’ve entrusted a lot of things to my care,” shares Charles.

While both Miracle and Charles missed their families, they also longed for their traditional meals. Charles reminisces, “I missed my pounded yam, I missed my Egusi soup and Jollof rice.” He adapted by ordering indigenous African ingredients from America. In contrast, Miracle found herself embracing the cuisine in Dominica, particularly expressing her love for dishes like crab callaloo. She observes, “You see things like pig foot soup? With some pumpkin or some beef soup? Oh my God, I cook it now. I love it.”

Miracle developed an affinity for Roseau, admiring its navigable layout and the inviting character of its lanes. However, she often grapples with a sense of being treated as a second-class citizen, particularly in aspects like the immigration processes in Dominica. She expresses frustration over systemic disparities that take a toll, citing examples like the discrepancies in nursing license fees. While Dominicans pay $400 for the registration and $200 for the registered nurse license, migrants like her are charged significantly more, with the total amounting to $1250 for the same registration and license. This discrepancy, without any additional rewards, poses challenges that she finds difficult to navigate.

On the contrary, Charles has experienced favourability with the renewals of his permits and his settlement in Dominica. Following the completion of his degree, he transitioned into a role as a practicing medical professional, married with children, and now regards Dominica as his home. Charles expresses genuine love for Dominica and has no regrets about his decision to move there. He acknowledges the evolution of Dominica over time, recognizing it as a lovely place. While acknowledging that improvements can still be made, he asserts that Dominica is a good place to raise a family.

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